WHYY Connections Festival makes music at Penn’s Landing

    8:30 PM

    Estimates from the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation suggest there are 10,000 people here right now at Penn’s Landing watching Dr. Dog.  The last-minute rush of fans has doubled the audience for the West Philly indie rockers.

    This show came together through a partnership with the DRWC, and with booking help from Live Nation. We’ve seen a little girl in light-up sneakers spinning in circles, and an elderly lady in a wheelchair clapping her hands. The turnout has exceeded expectations.


    7:45 PM

    The crowd of people pushed themselves against the stage barriers during Justin Towne Earle’s set, bouncing and clapping to his troubadour folk. Wrapping up his set, Earle said he was going to “watch a little bit of show, and then keep wanderin’.”

    If there was any worry about the success of his inaugural Connections festival, the beer line doing laps around the upper plaza should put that to rest.

    We have just raffled off two guitars to two lucky people. I say “we” because your humble blogger was asked to model the Fender Squire Stratocaster onstage. I’m not a musician. I’ve never before walked on stage and faced 2000 people holding a guitar. I had a personal moment up there, looking at the sea of faces and pondering a path not taken.

    “Is this where Dr. Dog is?” we’re asked many times at the WHYY tent, under the glow of streetlight. This is a free event; people can come and go as they please. It seems few people are leaving as the headline act, Dr. Dog, prepares the stage. 

    Oop, here they go…



    6:30 PM

    Justin Townes Earle is now on stage, taking the porch theme over from Birdie Busch. He’s playing his acoustic guitar like it was a percussion instrument, flanked on one side by a lady fiddler, one the other by a woman playing a saucy standup bass in her knee-length, fringed dress and cowboy boots.

    “I’m a hard dog to keep under the porch,” growled Earle, the son of legendary troublemaker Steve Earle as he picked and slapped his way into another folk-country song.

    The mayor stopped by. A charged-up Mayor Michael Nutter more or less promised that the WHYY Connections festival would be an ongoing, annual event. Looks like we might be on the hook for a while.

    “You young people are going back to school on Tuesday,” said Nutter. “You parents are happy about that.”

    The sun just went down, and an enormous cargo ship–floating high, likely an empty hold–blocked out Camden for a second as it slowly drifted behind the stage. Close to 2000 people are here right now for a last summer swing. The aqua-green fence at the entrance is laced with locked bicycles. 


    5:30 PM

    The Baseball Project just kicked off, sans Peter Buck (REM), alas, who has suffered a back injury. Solid and steady rock and roll from a crew that knows how to do it from doing it for a long time. 

    People are talking about Kuf Knotz set this afternoon, easily the act with the most dynamic sound so far, with horns, beats, multiple singers, and, of course, a nod to Cabaret (see below).

    The feast of sound floating up from the riverbank was broken up with R. Eric Thomas, story-slam MC who kept it clean while telling the tale taking a vacation with his parents driving endlessly through the Redwood Forest.

    During the last act, students from the Hussian School of Art finally turned their canvases around so the artists can face the stage. While the bands play, art students have been painting in acrylics. The works will be auctioned off after the festival, through Hussian’s Facebook page. (Or, through “The Facebook”, as E. Eric Thomas’ mother says).


    4:30 PM

    Kuf Knotz took the stage with his smooth-sax hip hop. His “Money Makes the World Go Round” could make Joel Grey (Cabaret) pause for a second.

    “Family-functions can get a little funky,” said Birdie Busch from the stage. In her long flowing skirt and braided hair tucked into a baseball cap, she seemed to have stepped directly off her front stoop.

    When she stepped off stage, she explained this event on the Delaware River “feels like we’re all playing hooky from a barbecue we’re supposed to be at.”

    Toy Soldiers said as much while quaffing an after-set beer in the Member Oasis. They ran their 25-minute set at a quick clip, focusing on their upbeat numbers rather than the longer, laid back tunes.

    It’s a family event, said guitarist Matt Kelly, and people of all ages are “ingrained to move to a stomping blues.”

    During Birdie’s set we spotted out first dancers: a pair of young ladies, with what looked like henna tattoos, twirling together in what could be described as a Burning Man two-step. We expect more as the day cools into evening.


    3:30 PM

    Toy Soldiers just finished their rocking blues set, with a piano player doing his darndest to channel Pinetop Perkins and a pair of the prettiest hollow-bodied electric guitars this side of Chicago. Heads were spotted bouncing to the 2nd and 4th beats, shaking on the blue note.

    A steady stream of people are drifting into Penn’s Landing, seeking their seats on the concrete steps, some settling into beach chairs that have doubtlessly already put in their time at the shore.

    Speaking of guitars, here at the WHYY tent has a pair of pretty Fender Stratocasters up for raffle. 

    Morning Edition host Joanne Allen has just introduced Birdie Busch, with band.

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