Welcome home Martha Graham Cracker, Philly’s beloved drag queen, plus 9 more events this week

Philly's First Lady of Drag makes her triumphant return home this week.

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The popular cabaret entertainer got backing from the Kimmel Center to write and record the all-originals collection “Lashed But Not Leashed.” (Brad Larrisonfor WHYY)

The popular cabaret entertainer got backing from the Kimmel Center to write and record the all-originals collection “Lashed But Not Leashed.” (Brad Larrisonfor WHYY)

The Welcome Home Show: Martha Graham Cracker with Johnny Showcase, PJ Brown, and ILL DOOTS
Aug. 18, 9 p.m.
Theater of Living Arts, 334 South St., Philadelphia
Tickets: $20

In case you’ve never seen a performance by Martha Graham Cracker, here’s a description from Dito van Reigersberg, who channels the diva in heartrending and hilarious cabaret performances that are among the best and — and most uniquely Philly — drag shows in town.

“When I appear upon the stage, you will see a glorious Amazon of a woman. She will be taller and hairier than you ever expected, but also incredibly beautiful. Maybe if you took all the most feminine things and the most masculine things, that’s what you would see, like some kind of amalgamation of gender that you never thought possible,” van Reigersberg says with a laugh. “Does that make sense?”

Somehow, it does. Over 10 years, van Reigersberg, a co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company, has created Philly’s most beloved drag character. Martha is earnest, sharp, tender, and provocative; a singer with a velvet voice who’s unashamed of her chest hair; honest and a little rude in a way this town loves. She’s long performed a monthly show at L’Etage and frequently closes out the Fringe Festival, building up a loyal following.

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Then, last winter, van Reigersberg decamped for a six-month stint in Las Vegas, leaving Martha fans posting mournfully to Facebook about how much they miss her. Van Reigersberg missed Martha too; his Vegas stint was a drag variety show, but he played an alien diva by the name of Dusty Moonboots.

“It felt like I was playing the first or second cousin to Martha Graham Cracker,” said van Reigersberg. “I missed her.”

He missed the audience interactions that are one of Martha’s signatures. She’s a master of improvisational banter and loves to make people deliciously uncomfortable by plopping down in their laps. And he missed Philly too: the greenery, the modest signage, the people.

“The audience is constantly changing in Vegas, as a performer you’re the host and the party-goers change every two days,” said van Reigersberg. In Philly, loyal fans come back show after show.

“This city feels like home to me … why not enjoy a place that makes you feel so welcome and supported?” said van Reigersberg. “I feel like I would go back to Vegas for a short time, but I think Philly will always be home.”

Martha won’t be closing out the Fringe this year — though van Reigersberg will be performing as part of “Do You Want a Cookie,” a Fringe cabaret extravaganza — so this is your best chance to catch her back at home. She’ll be singing old favorites and new tunes, including covers of Prince and Dolly Parton, and a ballad about how much she missed her hometown.

The People’s Poetry and Jazz Festival, with Lenny White and Friends
Aug. 18, noon-8 p.m.
Black Writers Museum in Vernon Park, 5800 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia

This Saturday, the Black Writers Museum, which collects works by black writers and promotes literary expression, is celebrating its sixth annual People’s Poetry and Jazz Festival outdoors in Germantown’s Vernon Park.

“Poetry is a soulful medium,” said Supreme Divine-Dow, founder and executive director of the Black Writers Museum. “And poetry and jazz have a history of walking hand in hand, especially in the African-American experience. They’re both collaborative mediums. They come from a soulful place, a place of creativity and ingenuity.”

Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Lenny White is headlining with his eight-piece band. There will also be African dance and drumming, a vendor marketplace, and an open invitation for people to share their (family-friendly) poetry.

57th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival
Aug. 16-19
Old Pool Farm, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
Ticket prices vary

The longest continuously running outdoor music festival returns to Schwenksville this weekend with more than 100 acts and an expected 30,000 music-lovers for four days of camping, dancing, and, of course, music. This year’s must-see acts include Valerie June, a Tennessee native who blends her folk with funk; Grammy Award-winning Patty Griffin; and actor-turned-musician Jeff Daniels, performing with his son Ben.

Adult Night at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center
Aug. 16, 7:30-9:30 p.m.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Plymouth Meeting Mall, 500 W Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania
Tickets: $14.95

Get in touch with your inner child by competing in LEGO-building competitions and games, no kids allowed. There’s a raffle to win LEGO prizes, and an award for the best dressed. The theme is sports, so wear your best jersey?


Mustard Seed Film Festival
Aug. 16-19
Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St., Philadelphia
Tickets: $8 for individual films, $80 for a weekend pass

This festival celebrating films from South Asia and its diaspora returns to the Asian Arts Initiative and the strange little tunnel on Pearl Street. Yes, some of the films are screened outdoors in a tunnel under the Reading Viaduct, which is really delightful. This year, the festival kicks off with an evening of performances by South Asian drag queens and kings on Thursday.

Other highlights include “Keeping Up with the Kandasamys,” a Romeo-and-Juliet style romp in which two mothers try to pry apart their star-crossed and infatuated children; and “Drawn Together,” a documentary about race, gender, and appearance in comics, cartoons, and cosplay. See all the films here.

Last weekend of Chestnut Hill Restaurant Week
Aug. 16-17
Various restaurants
Tickets: $35, may vary by restaurant

It’s your last chance to get a good deal at more than a dozen Chestnut Hill restaurants, including Tavern on the Hill, Banjara Indian Bistro, and the Chestnut Hill Brewing Company. They’re each offering a $35 special, such as a bottomless mimosa brunch at the Breakfast Boutique or a four-course dinner at Thai Kuu.

Philadelphia Obon Festival
Aug. 18, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Obon is a Japanese celebration of one’s ancestors, a yearly festival based on Buddhist belief, when spirits can visit the land of the living, and the living may ask their guidance. It’s celebrated differently everywhere, though a joyful dance — bon odori — is almost always done. Here at the Shofuso Japanese House in Philly, now holding its sixth annual Obon Festival, there will be dancing, taiko drumming and tea ceremony celebrations.

Collingswood Crafts and Fine Arts Festival plus Market Night After Party
Aug.18 and 19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, New Jersey

More than 150 craft and fine artists will be vending at this juried festival, selling handmade musical instruments, watercolor paintings, repurposed antique finds, and more. After the stalls close on Saturday, it’s Market Night, a sort of after party featuring special deals at Collingswood restaurants and a diverse array of events, from a Wild Woman Story Slam to an outdoor screening of “The Princess Bride.” The Philadelphia Tightwire Walkers will close out the night with fire breathing, juggling, and, of course, tightwire walking. And they’ll give adults and kids opportunities to try their hand at circus arts.

Nature Scavenger Hunt at Lorimer Park
Aug. 19, 2-3 p.m.
Lorimer Park, 183 Moredon Road, Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

This family-centered event will send kids searching for items amid the natural surroundings of the 230-acre Lorimer Park. Some hiking will be required, and prizes will be awarded for the first individuals and groups to find all the items.

This article is part of a new effort recommending things to do in the Philly region. Tell us what you think.

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