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