I recently spent the weekend in my beloved Philadelphia at the Independent Authors Conference. It was a great weekend and I met loads of new and amazing professionals and enjoyed having the chance to focus on various aspects of my craft and business. This is not about the conference, however.
As I looked at the Saturday schedule, I noticed that things were wrapping up around 5PM. As I don’t get out of town on my own all that much, I began to think about how I’d spend the evening. None of the sports teams had a game at home I could make, so I looked at a few other events. There were a few that seemed interesting, but then I though I’d reach out to Philly legend Reuben Frank, who in addition to being an authority on Philly sports, is a huge supporter of local music.
So, I tweeted him, asking for his recommendation on what I should check out. He responded with:
“Amazing triple bill at the First Unitarian Church with the incredible @katiebandellen, the fabulous @Glad_eee
and the perfect @chrisfarren/@jeffrosenstock (why doesn't Antarctigo Vespucci have a Twitter?) ... it'll be 117 degrees so don't bring a jacket”
I considered a few other options, including just crashing at the hotel and binging Daredevil season three, but then I found a still, small voice in the form of Avery, my protagonist in The Last Good Day, a young musician himself (as I once was in younger days). I could hear him pulling me to the “BUY” button the ticket site. “You can call it research for book three in the series even” I imagined him saying… Then, I remembered something I’d said recently to a group of young people who are just starting their NaNoWriMo projects.
“Do things worth writing about. Then write about them.”
I clicked the button, bought my ticket, and, since I’m old and I’d been running around all day, I took a twenty-minute nap and then caught an Uber to the show.
We all waited outside the church for about thirty minutes before they let us in. It was every bit a church basement. It looked like a smaller version of the church basement from SPS where we had the graduation dance back in ’87: Dark wood paneling and a simple stage. Ceiling fans that were not spinning and a small raised platform that would serve as the stage, a small sound board off to the side. Along the back wall, a series of tables were organized with artist merchandise.
There was a palpable buzz in the room. I might not have known anything about these bands but everyone else seemed to. Beyond the merch tables, there wasn’t food or beverage available for sale but everyone brought their own. As long as it wasn’t in glass, it was good so I stepped out and popped into a store around the corner and got some supplies for the evening and returned, finding a spot towards the back, near the steps where there was a wall I could lean on. (No seats.)
The first band was Gladie and featured Augusta Koch on lead vocals with Matt Schimelfenig. They were a lot of fun. Their vibe reminded me a little of Best Coast although her voice made me think of Beth Sorrentino, not because she sounds like her, but there’s something about the way she phrased things that reminded me of Beth’s solo work after Suddenly Tammy!
At one point Augusta sang “I am angry, I am lonely, but I’m not convinced it’s you” with what felt like deep meaning yet humor. I love that line. As a writer I sometimes focus too much on the impact of one good line, but that’s a damned good line. I really enjoyed their show and would totally recommend you check them out HERE!
The next artist was Katie Ellen. She’d come past the line as we were all waiting to be let into the basement and seemed very friendly. I got a folky vibe seeing her outside but when she and her band set up I noticed she was setting up an electric and from the first song, this woman shreds. The sound from her full band really filled the space and I was blown away by her playing and unique, nuanced vocals. She brought Liz Phair to mind in terms of overall mood, but she definitely rocked harder than Liz. Check her out HERE!
After her set the lights came back up and I noticed that the crowd had grown. There was a little buzz in the area and a group of young men, probably early twenties moved into the space directly in front of me. Once Antarctigo Vespucci had settled in on stage, the leaders of the group Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock seemed to play a game of Rock-paper-scissors or something and then launched into their first song.
It was a tight vamp, drums coming in after a bit, band clearly tight. I was into it. Then, as the vocals kicked in, the room simply exploded. Every single person in front of me knew the words and shouted along. Every head was in motion, including my own at this point, and the mood was simply among the most joyous musical eruptions I’d ever experienced, and I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen four times. This clip doesn’t do the sound justice, but check it out HERE!
It was loud and celebratory and I was instantly swept up in it. The three young men in front of me danced with unabashed excitement, signing the words to song after song to one another as though it was something that they alone were sharing. Constant hugs and crowd-surfing was observed throughout the whole set. The dad in me got a little nervous as a few of the surfers nearly brained themselves on the ceiling fans, and one young man very nearly landed head first, but, as I had all night, I tried to remain in the moment, way outside of my comfort zone, where I’ve become far more comfortable over the last year.
They were loud and musical and held sway over the now packed basement of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia throughout their whole set. I don’t know exactly who to compare them to. I felt like I heard a little bit of The Gaslight Anthem, with whom they share a drummer, so it might just be that. The songs were tight and catchy and easy to dive into. The crowd was fun and it was one of the purest experiences of shared music I’d ever enjoyed. Everyone seemed to be saying “I’m so glad I’m here!”
I should say more about their songs and each of the players in the band. They were a very tight unit and I left there a fan, to be sure. But there is a little more I want to say about what brought me there to begin with as well. I can’t recommend this band to you enough, unless you are not a fan of fun. Check them out HERE!
All in all, it was a really fun night that I won’t soon forget, not only because of the amazing artists I was able to enjoy. I’ll hang onto this one not only because the scene is totally going into book three in my “Avery & Angela” series, but also because it was something so different than anything I’ve done in the last ten years. I still love music. I’ve gone to a few concerts but it was always months of planning and saving up for tickets. I haven’t just found a show the day of and given it a chance in over a decade. Yes, I’m older with more responsibilities than I used to have. Yes, I have plantar Fasciitis, and probably don’t get enough sleep most of the time, but I don’t think that those things should make me stop seeking out new experiences or even, as was the case with the show in the church basement, revisiting stuff I used to do all the time.
Do stuff worth writing about and then write about it.
I think that’s good advice not just for the writer in me, but for the guy who’s trying to model living a full life to his children. I work really hard as a parent, as a writer and publisher, and as a mixologist at the greatest bar in the world. I have a lot going on, for sure, like we all do, but in addition to everything else I learned that weekend in Philadelphia, I learned this:
I’m not going to be of much use to anyone if I don’t continue to step out of my adult comfort zone and mosh around with some millennials in a church basement now and again.
Thanks again to Reuben for responding to my tweet. It was a good night. I’ll have to give you another cameo in book three…
And thanks to the bands and their fans. What a blast!