Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A look back: 2016 Philadelphia Folk Fest

Shoutout to IRadioPhilly for rebroadcasting Folk Fest Nov. 23-27! It gives me an excuse to offer my own unique flashback from this year's Fest.
This one will stand out in my memory because I was granted access to the areas that only performers, Folk Fest stage/technical crew, and other VVIPs are allowed -- making for a perspective of Folk Fest I never imagined possible.

Finally tracking down Philly rising talent Hurricane Hoss after her "first big rodeo" on the Main Stage, she was still in costume, but transitioning back to her real-world self, Sarah Larsen. She knew that my day had been more challenging than it ever should have been. Maybe that's why she was able to talk me past security.

She said that Hurricane Hoss represents "all the best parts of myself." It was after our interview for my Friday coverage for Digital First Media Philly, when she introduced me to Saturday evening Main Stage performer Si Kahn, who instantly welcomed me by bringing me an urgently-needed plate of really delicious food. Kahn justified it by coining a phrase he attributed to Thomas Jefferson about it being important to freedom of the press by feeding them. I haven't been able to verify that, but THIS GUY GETS IT!
Kahn is a fascinating cat, who really deserved a story unto himself. But a blog post will have to do. The son of a rabbi, he grew up in State College, moved to the south to be an activist for the civil rights movement (Kahn informed me that "We Shall Overcome" actually has 12 verses), and also founded the Grassroots Leadership organization. Among the other causes close to his heart is Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay. Kahn's been recording since 1974, he knew Pete Seeger, has written four books, has a degree from Harvard, plus a Ph.D!! If I didn't have a deadline to meet at the time, I would've hung out and picked this guy's brain through the night. But you'll have to settle for this playlist instead.

When I asked him about the state of folk music, he said, "It's fabulous," and appropriated the quote by Mark Twain that the reports of the death of folk music "have been greatly exaggerated."
But wait, there's more! Who should I encounter on my way out, but the Where's Waldo of the festival circuit -- Souderton native, singer/songwriter and renowned Forrest Gump impersonator Paul Dengler, who has a new Instagram.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A chick-lit standout of 2016

As soon as I cracked open "Finding Tambri" by Georgia Author of the Year finalist Sherry Meeks, I knew this was a book for my wife, who is a bathtub reader. That means you don't lend her any reading material that you don't want wrinkled from water exposure.
Yes, I know I passed the buck. Don't judge me.
Tambri is a bitter, lost soul after her young son dies, leading to her marriage to her high school sweetheart falling apart. However, it looks like she could be on the cusp of finding love again.
The author uses a non-traditional narrative of short stories from different character perspectives, which my wife said made "Finding Tambri" hard to follow because of the way it jumps around.
"It's about the trials and tribulations of marriage and relationships. She's an excellent writer and brings you close to the characters," my wife says.
The 211-page "Finding Tambri" is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and you can find more at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Beatles' unique connection to Philly

It was terrific meeting John Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, this year when she came to Sellersville Theater with The Mersey Beatles. One thing she said that sticks with me, because of how mind-blowing it is, is that there are 5,800 Beatles tribute bands worldwide. You can't say the same thing about the Backstreet Boys!
Julia is a tiny lady. At right is my good friend, Rick White.

 Hey, wot's that Mersey Beatle doing? Messing with my hair?

A little before that encounter, I paid a visit to Plymouth Meeting dermatologist Steve Binnick. In his clinical room, I was surprised to see a photo of the genuine Beatles that looked something like this.
Dr. Binnick explained that his dad, Bernie, was a co-owner of Philadelphia's Swan Records, the label of Freddy Cannon, Danny and the Juniors, the early records of The Three Degrees, and Link Wray in the pre-"Rumble" days. Swan also was the first American record company to release The Beatles' No. 1 "She Loves You." 
Other small American labels that put out Beatles singles, before Capitol Records assumed control of their American releases, included Vee Jay and Tollie. They're highly collectible.

Dr. Binnick has retired, and sadly, that's likely the last chance I'll see that picture. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

WMGK proves every time that Southeastern Pennsylvania's Got Talent

My ears were ringing judging this year's 102.9 WMGK House Band Competition. However they were also treated to some high quality live bands in the quest to see who gets selected to represent Philadelphia's classic rock radio station during major events such as the Big Bad Bonfire, Brew Blast and opening for classic rock acts during their annual summer concert. The official house band also gets the coveted prizes of $1,000 of new gear and two days of recording studio time.
So far, advancing to the finals are Taggart, Green Machine, and a band I personally got to witness rise to the cream of the crop, Kategory 5 (Obviously spelling doesn't count).
It's a challenge coming up with a score for vocals, stage presence, crowd reaction (Full disclosure: stupidly over the top fans hurt your score!), musicianship and adherence to/understanding of MGK's playlist.
Each band must play the same assigned song by MGK. That night's was "Desire" by U2. Since I was in a cover band for 6 and a half years, and that was one of our go-to tunes, I paid close attention to each band's reading. I was impressed that all four showed their attention to detail by having a harmonica for the solos at the end.

Party Hat was quite fun, with a set that featured "Back in Black" (AC/DC), a well-executed "Jump" (Van Halen), an inspired version of The Doors' "Break on Through" with the Jim Morrison spoken word "Dead Cats, Dead Rats" -- which unfortunately was spoiled by a drum hardware malfunction --and a song rarely done anywhere -- "One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx. They stood out because of their keyboards-forward approach. Would like to know they sequenced The Who's "Baba O'Riley!"

For the record, I LOVED AM Radio. I want their clothes! What ultimately hurt their chances was they leaned classic pop, rather than classic rock.

Before you send hate mail, it's because that I know the difference that MGK keeps asking me to judge. I was in the radio biz 15 years; I know what I'm talking about.

Chester County's Exit Strategy had the unenviable task of following Kategory 5. Here's their rendition of .38 Special's "Hold on Loosely."

My favorite part of their set was a spirited performance of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog."
Upcoming semi-final rounds are taking place Aug. 11 at Havana in New Hope, and Aug. 18 at Chickies and Pete's near the sports complex in South Philly. The finals are scheduled for Parx Casino the 25th. 8 p.m. is the start time, 7:30 for the finals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Forget her not: Southern chanteuse Kim Meeks

"Forget Me Not," a four-song EP about heartbreak by Macon, Ga. singer/songwriter/keyboardist Kim Meeks presents a pop/jazz vocal performance that will remind you of Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan. She gets outstanding instrumental backing from producer and engineer Joey Stuckey. Dude plays everything, and his guitarwork brings additional artistry.

Aimed at those of us 'of a certain age,' "Everybody's Pretty" is a profoundly melancholy narrative about hitting the wall.

Although the song does make me smile because I initially thought she was singing "everybody's pretty when they YAWN" ... which is when people look pretty ugly.
Fortunately this live performance of the song dispenses with the unnecessary 48-second, scratchy-record surface noise intro that's on "Forget Me Not."
"You're a drama queen/looking for a king. But just one won't do.
With your heart out on your sleeve/everyone can see that it's all just a game to you," Meeks sings on "Inside," which has a neat piano hook.
The title track is memorable for its unexpected soft-loud dynamic shifts.
Learn more about this artist at and
And if you thought that was interesting, check back here later. I'll tell you about her sister Sherry's fiction novel, "Finding Tambri."

Friday, June 17, 2016

'Cause what else are you gonna do on a Tuesday?

Held in honor of the Summer Solstice, ValleyArtScene and Grace Notes Piano Studio sponsor the fourth annual Make Music Upper Perk -- a whopper of a free music event, especially for the Upper Perkiomen Valley, Tuesday June 21.
The first notes begin at 10 a.m. and wrap up with a 9 p.m. campfire in New Goshenhoppen Park ... ON A TUESDAY. There's metal, classical, folk, concert bands, rock, and much more, to discover by a lot of people you've probably never heard play before.
Venues are Java Good Day Cafe, 231 Main St., East Greenville; the Upper Perk YMCA, 1399 Quakertown Road, East Greenville; the Upper Perkiomen Library, 350 Main St., Red Hill; the Upper Perkiomen Community Thrift Shop, 301 Fourth St., Pennsburg; the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, 105 Seminary Ave., Pennsburg; Art on Main, 218 Main St., East Greenville; Pennsburg United Church of Christ, 775 Main St., Pennsburg; outside at St. Mark's Church, 81 Main St., Pennsburg; and the Upper Perkiomen Community Life Center, 104 Main St., East Greenville.

Also in honor of the solstice is June 18th's yoga and holistic Moyo Festival, held 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 4335 W. Skippack Pike on the Schwenksville side of Skippack Township.

Need to get word out about special public events in "Ticket" magazine and Shoot me an email at

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pet Sounds at 50 and reflections on talking to Brian Wilson

It was 50 years ago this week that The Beach Boys' released their celebrated "Pet Sounds," which featured signature hits like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows."
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

A magnum opus from Brian Wilson, Wilson and a band featuring Beach Boys alumni Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin are on a world tour performing the ambitiously creative album in its entirety.
While you're waiting for the September tour dates in southeastern Pennsylvania, a special four-disc "Pet Sounds" anniversary edition is set for release on June 10. It includes mono, stereo and alternate mixes, vocal harmony tracks in isolation, and insight into Wilson's Phil Spector-esque use of full-on live takes, with flutes, saxophones, xylophone/marimba, and even bits from the dog barking session that graced the outro to "Caroline, No."
During the studio chatter on that track, Wilson can be heard saying: "Hey Chuck, is it possible we could bring a horse in here, if we don't screw anything up?"
Then someone chimes in: "Brian, my horse would be so bitchin' in here."
Brian Wilson signs an autograph in a photo from the "Pet Sounds" 50th Anniversary booklet.
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

Other neat outtakes are work-in-progress versions of "Good Vibrations," various live performances through the decades, the unused backing track "Trombone Dixie" and humorous custom introductions for radio stations for "Caroline, No."
As sweet as that tweet comes across, Wilson himself is friendly enough, but frustratingly tight-lipped and disengaged when talking one-on-one about the tour, "Pet Sounds," "Love and Mercy" ... anything.
"Ticket" writer Dutch Godshalk and I were astounded that a phone interview we did with the famously tortured genius took maybe 14 minutes. Here's a couple different theories I have about that:
  1. Brian Wilson is one of these cats that plays mind games with the press. Bob Dylan took it to a horrifying extreme in the 1967 documenatary "Don't Look Back."
  2. Wilson justifiably has trust issues and doesn't open up to very many people.  
  3. A catastrophic combination of past drug use and mental illness may be contributing factors to him staying within an invisible insular bubble, in the name of self-preservation. When I asked for his thoughts on the opiod problem in America, he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. When asked how his daughter, Carnie, and her husband -- musician and 1985 Souderton grad Rob Bonfiglio -- were doing, he said he hadn't talked to them in some time.  
In sad conclusion, this world is an extremely cruel place for purely original and vulnerably sensitive people like Brian Wilson. It just grinds them up and spits them out. "I Just Wasn't made for These Times," indeed!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bookmark this link now!

While researching for an interview with Peter Murphy, who is back on the road for the first time in a long ol' time, I made the mind-blowing discovery that someone had managed to archive the playlists of just about every episode of "120 Minutes."
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tyler C., whoever you are!

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Sunday night MTV music video program was a direct pipeline from risk-taking college radio to the mainstream. How else could "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Under the Bridge," or "So Alive" by Love and Rockets have broken through in the era of ridiculous big-hair metal, Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block?
Speaking of Nirvana, I made a discovery from the "120 Minutes" archive that they stole the riff from "Come As You Are" from Killing Joke.

And who remembers a Philly band called The Wishniaks?


Then there were moments of unadulterated, you-had-to-be-there weirdness like this!!!

As you move through the years, from VJs "Downtown" Julie Brown ("wubba, wubba, wubba") to Carolyne Heldman to Kevin Seal to Dave Kendall to Lewis Largent, etc., it's fascinating to review the transition from the tail end of '80s new wave to the '90s alternative rock boom, and eventually to the re-branded 2000s show, "Subterranean."
That so many volunteers spent time VCR-ing shows, and writing down the songs, at home back in the pre-internet time is a testament to the awesomeness of  "120 Minutes."
It's a walk down memory lane with one colossal and blissful fall down the rabbit hole!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Local live music highlights

I posted reminders to about some home-grown talent performing this weekend.

There's No Good Sister, with a show at Steel City Coffee House Friday night, the 11th.

And at World Cafe Live on Sunday the 13th, youngster Ben Kessler plays his 100th show ever

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What you'll see at the 2016 Philadelphia Auto Show

It's Auto Show time again. It runs through Feb. 7 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
In case you missed it, I was live tweeting from the Media Preview Day Jan. 29.
A rep from Volkswagen told me over lunch that Detroit is the one and only A-level auto show. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are B-level shows, and Philadelphia is considered a C-level show. Now doesn't that just give you an inferiority complex? Philly's auto show is a fun time, and we should be proud of it. 700,000 square feet, 250,000 people and influencing $3 billion in sales doesn't sound C-level to me.
Somehow I doubt New York's going to have the Fiat Pope Francis rode in during the 2015 World Meeting of Families, like we have!  
The pope could've had a limousine, but instead chose a compact. The car was auctioned off during the Auto Show's Black Tie Tailgate preview event to benefit Catholic Social Services, Casa Del Carmen, Mercy Hospice and the Philly archdiocesan schools of special education.

One tweet that really got people's attention was of this Kia.
This year, I finally got around to doing a Camp Jeep Test Track ride. That camera wobble was due to the rough terrain of the off road simulation.
The Wrangler's 285 horsepower is sexy, but it only gets 21 mpg highway ... as opposed to the new Honda Civics that get 42. That's the truly great thing about the Philadelphia Auto Show -- you get to see what all the noteworthy manufacturers have to offer (some are even offering test drives) under one roof.
For example, you probably wouldn't think about Rolls Royce if it was out of your price range, but it doesn't hurt to look while you're here.
Dr. Fred Simeone of the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia was on hand at media day to highlight the 50th anniversary of the first American victory in the World Sportscar Championship races, and the cars from the museum's collection that won it all for the U.S. in 1966-1969. The motivation for trying to make a name for the U.S. in world racing, Simeone said, was that Caroll Shelby and Henry Ford Jr. had a mutual dislike for Enzo Ferrari, whose namesake race cars typically dominated the circuit. "Was it a big deal? Was it expensive? You're damn right," Simeone said. The rare 1965 Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT 40 Mark II and Ford GT Mark IV are part of the museum's eye-catching display at the Auto Show.

Besides the new Auto Show eKEY, here are just a few of the other fun interactives at the show.

As the old Exxon ad used to say: "Happy motoring."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brian Bingaman meets Ryan Bingham

Ever since WXPN started championing the music of Americana singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham in 2007-2008, it's given me fits of existential angst: Maybe if my name was a few syllables shorter, and had I been in Texas, I coulda been a contender!
Bingham's song, "The Weary Kind," was the main theme of the movie "Crazy Heart," and won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Now that's a rare hat trick!!! Here's "Crazy Heart"'s star, Jeff "The Dude" Bridges, performing it.

I recently fulfilled a professional goal, that I used to joke about ("Who's that guy running around out there imitating my name?!"),  by interviewing Bingham. Here's a link to that story for you. When I asked him what songs he'd like to hear in a Ryan Bingham tribute show -- because you know my next step is to create a "Brian Bingaman Sings the Songs of Ryan Bingham" concert -- he left it wide open. "I just hope that whoever was doing it would play the songs that inspired them," he said.  This would be one of them.

Now how the heck do I get that gravelly, raspy Tom-Waits-meets-Steve-Earle sound? The guy is 34 years old and sounds like that.