In the before times, before we all carried masks in our pockets, before the phrase “vaxxed and waxed” appeared in dating profiles, and before “have you had it?” was asked as casually as someone asking how your weekend was, I’d occasionally wander over the Walnut St bridge to WXPN on Fridays a bit before noon. Since 2005, WXPN, arguably one of the best public radio stations in the country, has hosted free mini concerts at noon at their headquarters in Philadelphia. Typically the set featured artists who are touring through Philly that night or weekend. I’ve made the stroll across the bridge to see The Bahamas, Hop Along, and The Pixies (!) and countless others.
After almost a year and half of cancelled and postponed shows, Free at Noon kicked off again in October 2021 with Heartless Bastards (side note: while I missed the noon show, I did see them later that night in the same space. If you get a chance to go hear Erika Wennerstrom sing live, GO!) And now, just a few months later, WXPN brought their Free at Noon series to Ardmore Music Hall, featuring Langhorne Slim, who was scheduled to play that same venue to a sold out crowd later that night.
To be honest, I didn’t know much of Langhorne Slim’s music before registering for a ticket. But it’s conveniently located, free, and I missed the smell of patchouli surrounding me, so I took my lunch break and headed to the show. At 11:57am, I slid my sunglasses down my nose as I walked into Ardmore Music Hall, shocked at the packed space. All of these people stepped away from their work, their lives, to spend 45 minutes listening to live music. Promptly at noon, Dan Reed, host for WXPN, stepped on stage to start the show. Airing across the local airwaves and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, Dan warmed up the crowd and then welcomed Langhorne Slim to the stage.
Langhorne Slim aka Sean Scolnick sauntered onto the stage in a grey suit and a beanie atop his head. It would be a solo set. He started strumming his guitar and after a few notes of singing, I was hooked. And really kicking myself for not buying tickets to the night set. He has an ease about his playing that is mesmerizing, and you can tell he feels every word he sings. Encouraging the crowd to sing along, we hopped and clapped along as we were all ignoring the realities of our workdays.
About half way through the set, he took pause to reflect on the past two years, the feelings of isolation, asking the crowd “who is in therapy?” After a few raised hands and yells, the man next to me proudly screamed “that’s not enough of you!” after he pulled his own hand down. Langhorne Slim looked out at the crowd and remarked on the “divine dance floor that we’re all gathered on today.” He mused how it was only noon and some of us were already a little drunk or high. He guessed that some of us may be on lunchtime Tinder dates, and hoped those that did got lucky after. He talked about how I think a lot of us felt during the early pandemic days: alive but not living.
Every show I’ve been to since the pandemic began, the artist has dedicated time to connecting. Connecting with the crowd, connecting with their feelings, and connecting with their deep gratitude to be able to perform again in a crowded room. Even if only for 45 minutes, we all experienced a lot more connection than at least I normally have on a Friday at noon.
This whole world is full of fear and grief
Love, it is the door, and faith's the key
Nothing is deserved nor guaranteed
I offer myself to Thee
This time almost exactly two years ago, I was blasting Begonia through my headphones at work. Her 2019 debut album, Fear, filled my ears with electric energy and personal lyrics. I was getting ready to start a new job, take a trip to Mexico, and then return to see Begonia perform at MilkBoy in Philly. Excitement was in the air.
But this was March 2020, aka when the world was put on pause.
Instead of going to a show on Friday, March 15, 2020, I was hunkered down at my apartment trying to figure out how to make a mask while eating too much charcuterie and DIYing cocktails. If anyone had told me it would be over a year until I saw another show, I think I would’ve laughed. And then probably cried.
But flash forward to Friday, March 11, 2022. Begonia’s tour was rescheduled, and she was back in Philly. After my ID and vaxx card were checked at the door, I noticed a bar full of people as I climbed the stairs to the stage at MilkBoy. House music was playing through the speakers as fellow concertgoers packed in towards the stage. I ordered a gin and soda and felt the familiar hug of the environment. While this wasn’t my first show since the pandemic began, it was the first time I was in a venue this small, packed to the brim, with folks who love live music as much as I do.
By 8:30 the opener, who I won’t name, went on. They crooned and overly vocalized every original and cover song they performed. Hot take: acoustic versions of Drake and Outkast should never be performed. Ever. After 45 minutes they cleared the stage (finally) and patrons headed to the bar to get in another round before the main act.
But then she came out. Alexa Dirks aka Begonia walked through the crowd towards the stage, her band mates in tow. Dressed in a matching set with jewels on her face, the crowd gently parted as applause and yells grew in waves. She opened the set with my personal favorite “The Other Side,” showing off her dynamic vocal range and captivating stage presence. You know how sometimes you’re disappointed with how an artist sounds live? This was the opposite.
And with my eyes closed
I listen in the night
Thinking it'd be nice
Just to see
The other side
A bit into the show, a friend joined me. He had never heard of Begonia, but trusted my taste. I think he’d say how glad he was he took the chance on coming out.
As the end of the show rolled in, she had performed most of Fear and a few hit singles. We had danced and swayed our bodies to the beats, singing along to some of the bigger hits like “Beats.” Despite her powerful voice and catchy songs, Begonia hasn’t reached mainstream success quite yet in the US. During the show she remarked how she’d be happy if only ten people were at the show, and I’m happy that the 200+ people in the room were a visible symbol of how talented and loved she is.
Begonia walked off the stage, again cutting through the crowd that parted as congratulations and praise were shouted her way. As she approached my direction, I couldn’t help but look her square in the eye, saying “that was absolutely incredible.” She paused, sweetly smiled and said thank you, and gently patted my arm as she walked by. The power of connection after two years of varying degrees of isolation…well, there really aren’t any words.
Go hug your friends if you can, listen to your favorite artists, and remember that electric feeling that can strike through your bones when the beat hits. Go enjoy the show.
Can you describe how to catch a feeling
Changing your mind isn't worth the dealing
But once you decide you're living at the ceiling
You can't get no high
You can't get no higher
Its' nothing, they explain it's like a diesel train
Better not be there when it rolls over
And when that train rolls in, you won't know where it's been
You gotta try to see a little further
They love each other, Lord you can see it's true
Lord you can see it's true, Lord you can see it's true
525 days. That’s how long I went without being in a dark music venue, surrounded by the smells of spilled beer, too much cologne, and my heart thumping in time to the bass level. Throughout the pandemic, every single person on this planet has suffered some sort of loss; family members, friends, connection, jobs...the list goes on. In times of great loss, we often seek comfort from the things we love most. For me, that love has always been live music. With the world beginning to open up (and precautions in place to ensure safety to staff and guests), it was time to break my 525 day streak. The show? Everyone’s Dead at Ardmore Music Hall.
After stumbling to show both my COVID vaccine card and ID at the door while a man checked my fanny pack, my ticket was scanned and I walked into the venue. Overwhelmed by the amount of actions that happened in under a minute, a woman grabbed my focus with a “welcome back” as I entered the hall. Sliding my sunglasses off my face, mask up, my eyes readjusted to the space. The smell of patchouli wafted through my mask, and I stared out at the sea of tie dye and concert goers of all ages. It was 7:40, and frankly forgetting what time concerts start, I took a walk around before grabbing a beer from the bar. It was impossible to not notice the eyes that peered out above everyone’s masks, full of both excitement and a subtle “does this feel weird to you, too?” kind of vibe.
20 minutes later, the crowd hushed briefly before filling the air with applause as the band came on stage. As I held my beer in my hand with my back pressed up against the bar ledge, my body felt heavy as the band started playing. It was the feeling described in romance novels, when the woman finally realizes she’s madly in love with some man, and her beloved appears in front of her. It was a swelling of the heart triggered but the sudden, all encompassing feeling of being near what you love most. It was the feeling of returning to my love, live music.
Let me start by saying that this is my personal top-10 album list of 2018. Ignoring what the critics say (though a few of these are critically-acclaimed), these are the albums I just can’t stop listening to from start to end. 2018 was a big year for female-driven work, from pop to folk to country, and all the genres in-between. I got to see 4 out of the 10 below in concert this year, and that definitely played into the ratings below. So without further ado, here are my top-10 albums of 2018. Comment below with your favorites!
10. Julia Holter, “Aviary”
I’ve been a fan of Holter’s since 2013(ish), and this album beautifully blends her atmospheric voice with ambient electronics and instruments. “Voce Simul” is one of my favorite songs to listen to while walking around the city on a cloudy day. There’s something sexy and haunting and intriguing about this album; each song is a new chapter that needs to be explored.
9. Frank Turner, “Be More Kind”
When asked to describe Turner’s music, I often describe it as “grown-up punk rock.” I saw my first Frank Turner show this past September at “Sea. Hear. Now.” and he, his band, and the crowd that loves him blew me away. “1993” will have you hopping up and down and “Blackout” reminds me of being at an underground pop rock concert in college in the best way possible. Listen to this when on a run, when you need a pick-me-up, or when you just want to feel good.
8. Cat Power, “Wanderer”
I’ve loved Cat Power since hearing her cover “Sea of Love” (originally by Phil Phillips) in the 2007 movie “Juno.” Mixing originals with covers, Power delivers another strong record after a 6 year hiatus. I love her cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” and “Woman,” which she co-wrote with Lana Del Rey, is another stand out.
7. Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
Is she country? Is she pop? Does it matter? Admittedly I didn’t listen to Musgraves before this album, but after seeing her debut on SNL, I knew I had to take a listen. “Slow Burn” is my favorite track off this album, but the album in its entirety is surely worth a listen (or two). Her lyrics are honest, yet playful and catchy.
6. Ariana Grande, “Sweetener”
I’m pretty sure this album is on everyone’s top lists, whether they are a pop fan or not. Grande’s latest album broke genre barriers and had everyone bopping along with her sometimes sugary, sometimes soulful, “Sweetener.” If you somehow haven’t hear it, start with “God is a Woman” and still listen to “Pete Davidson” to temporarily mourn the loss of the relationship. Follow that with “No Tears Left to Cry” and you’ll be singing along with Grande in no time.
5. Foxing, “Nearer My God”
I was turned on to Foxing with the release of this album, and I’m kicking myself for not listening to them sooner. This is one of the small handful of albums I turn on when I don’t know what to listen to. There’s energy, there’s power, there’s rock––it’s just a solid album. Hoping to catch them live in 2019. “Gameshark” was one of my top listened to tracks of 2018.
4. Florence and the Machine, “High as Hope”
I’ve never met a Florence and the Machine album that I didn’t like, and “High as Hope” is no exception. I saw Florence and the Machine in concert earlier this year, and that woman has more energy and spirit than any artist I’ve ever seen. Not to mention vocals that are almost unearthly. “Patricia,” a tribute to Patti Smith, is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and Florence’s full range really comes out in the opening track “June.”
3. Mitski, “Be the Cowboy”
I don’t even know what to say about this album, just that it’s really, really freaking good. There are pop elements in “Washing Machine Heart,” disco elements in “Nobody,” dynamic vocal range in “Geyser,” Robyn-like beats in “Why Didn’t You Stop me?” and the list goes on. Seriously, just listen to this album. “Old Friend” is my favorite track off of “Be the Cowboy.”
2. The Boxer Rebellion, “Ghost Alive”
Saw these guys perform at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia this year in support of this album, and hands down, it was my favorite show of the year. The album starts strong with “What the Fuck,” my favorite track off the album. Ranging from loud rock to softer melodies like “Here I Am,” the album highlights Nicholson’s dynamic vocal range and the undeniable talent of the entire band. In only 11 songs, “Ghost Alive” encompasses an entire range of emotions, and I am so there for that.
1. Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You”
Seeing Brandi Carlile perform at “Sea. Hear. Now.” slides in as a close second in the “favorite show of the year” category. Carlile puts her all into her performances, and that’s the same case in this album. Stand out tracks for me include “The Joke” and “The Mother,” and she’s recently released a breathtaking and moving music video for “Party of One.” Do yourself a favor and listen to this album at home, with the speakers up loud, and let her words and melodies fill your home and soul with all the feels.
There are some bands that put out a solid record among an otherwise lackluster discography, and other bands that evolve in such a way that the listener can identify with each album on a personal level as times change. For me, The Boxer Rebellion is set firmly in the latter category. Though I’ve been a fan since hearing We Have This Place Surrounded off their first album, Exits, in 2005. After 13 years of fandom, it was time to finally see their show.
If you’ve never been to World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, let me set the scene. In comparison to their larger downstairs venue, upstairs (where The Boxer Rebellion would be playing), is an intimate stage most often used for smaller acts. A bar lines one side of the space, with tables set amongst the floor for patrons to eat a meal and have some drinks while watching an act perform. Not exactly the traditional rock and roll concert venue. We were sat close to the stage, and as the band came out on stage, Nathan made the joke “I don’t think we’ve ever played while people are eating dinner.” But as soon as he started singing “When you fail to understand, you fail to recognize” from What the Fuck, a song from their latest album Ghost Alive, everyone put down their forks and knives.
The Boxer Rebellion is a LOUD band. Not loud as in “we are going to push our amps to the range limit” loud, as in, they are a fantastic rock band that produces music that fills the room. Their music takes over the space. Nathan Nicholson has a voice so pure, so strong, so impassioned, that it’s hard to not be mesmerized. I was sitting maybe 15 feet away from him and the band, and I could feel the music consuming me. He took the microphone off the stand and walked into the crowd while belting No Harm. He used the nearby electric keyboard to sing New York as the crowd quietly listened. We bounced along as the band rocked out Evacuate. Every single member of the band gave it their all, even if it was only for a crowd of 200. Nathan and Andrew Smith started the encore by sitting in the crowd with an acoustic guitar, making us feel like we were all part of this special night they created. Because we were.
I’ve seen hundreds of concerts, listened to thousands of records, and The Boxer Rebellion is still one of my favorites. They’ve evolved their music as their sound has changed and grown, and have lyrics so full of emotion that it’s hard to not hang on every word. Good concerts makes you content, and a great concert makes you feel the full range of emotions. I walked out of World Cafe Live feeling it all. If you get the chance, go see the magic they create on stage. And stand as close to them as you can.
Every once in a while, an evening at a concert turns into a really special experience. On an otherwise quiet night in Philadelphia, that magic was discovered with Neil Young at The Tower Theater. The stage was dimly lit–one large Edison bulb hung over center-stage, with flickering candles scattered in the background. Instruments were lined up in a semi-circle just waiting to be picked–from an old upright piano to several acoustic guitars. As the house lights dimmed, the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of Mr. Young.
As he slowly walked on stage, the crowd gave a warm welcome. Mr. Young walked amongst the instruments, waiting for one to whisper to him that it was ready to be played. After he selected a guitar, he started the evening with The Last Trip to Tulsa. Now maybe you can hear the way he’s changed over the years, but as the audience sat in complete silence listening to him sing “pulled over to the corner and I fell into a dream,” you’d be hard-pressed to say it wasn’t just as powerful as when he sang it first in 1969.
Mr. Young took a careful stroll among the instruments after each song, deciding which tune to play next. His tour crew occasionally fitting his harmonica holder over his head for songs like Four Strong Winds, or bringing a small acoustic guitar out for Pocahontas. While the crowd remained quiet and in awe for most of the night, uproarious praise rose when an electric guitar was brought out and the opening chords of Ohio were strung. Cast in a single downward spotlight, Mr. Young’s voice belted out across the crowd as he sung “four dead in Ohio.”
As someone who has listed to Neil Young and CSNY since they were too young to understand the meanings of the lyrics, I may be biased in my review. Neil Young represents a generation and a time that is (sadly) not much different than times we face now. He is a pioneer of 60s rock music and undeniably talented. As he sat under that single Edison bulb, no band to back him, just a stage full of instruments and a mind full of lyrics, he mesmerized this listener, and 3,000 other fans. Na na na na na na na...
To you, right now, I’m just some lady with a lot of videos of animals, writing into the void. I’d like to think I’m more than that. One of my favorite ways to get to know someone is by asking short, quick-fire questions. The questions are often random, sometimes not pertinent, but it’s an easy way to get to know someone a bit and break the ice (and also a quick way to tell if I’ll scare them off). Got more questions for me? Leave them in the comments!
What do you do for money?
Video production for a non profit.
What do you do for you?
Spend time with animals, craft, bake, drink whisky, and DIY things.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
You walk into Sephora-where do you go first?
Whichever stand is offering a new type of lipstick.
My last meal would be…
My nana's Mac and cheese, pulled pork sandwich, corn on the cob, and probably a piece of cornbread for good measure. And throw in some peanut butter pie for dessert.
Own any pets?
Two cats: Finn and Oscar.
Where do you live?
South Slope, Brooklyn
I'm afraid of…
Snakes and Sharks.
What's your number one, can't live without beauty product?
Carmex lip balm-there's always a tube or jar within reach of my hand.
Doughnuts or cupcakes?
What are five things you refuse to live without (and don't say your phone)?
Coffee, pets, hot showers, best friends, a way to listen to music
What's your dream vacation?
Somewhere quiet, local flair, full sky of stars at night, hot but not too humid, epic beauty. Where's that?
Who is your role model?
I don't have one. I believe we should aspire to be the best versions of ourselves, not someone else.
What's your favorite thing about yourself?
I consider myself a pretty self-sufficient, independent person. I'm ridiculously proud of myself for that fact.
What's your biggest insecurity?
The allergy on my hands.
What qualities do you value in your friends?
Honesty, deep love, hard-working. That last one sounds lame, but seriously, every one of my friends is working so damn hard, and it's inspiring and says great things about character.
Why New York?
I work in video production, so NYC felt like the natural place to do that. It's the city where things happen, right? Oh and driving gives me massive anxiety.
If not nyc where would you live?
Another city, but smaller. Somewhere that felt different, but home.
Favorite book of all time?
Let's go with Delicate Edible Birds or Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
If you were a cartoon what would your outfit be?
A black romper, boots, sunglasses.
I can't say that this is the absolute number one, but Fiona Apple's "The Idler Wheel..." is one of my favorites. And Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble." And I've lately been listening to a lot of Bluegrass and Jazz.
What makes you happy?
Friends, animals, music, a beautiful day at the beach.