On Stage: Philly still loves Bowie

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By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

David Bowie may be gone but he is far from forgotten – especially with events such as the “Philly Loves Bowie Week.”

“Philly Loves Bowie Week” is an annual volunteer production of a family of fans of the Starman – music lovers who felt it was important to gather together as a city to celebrate the life and work of a truly one-of-a-kind performer.

On January 11, the grand finale of “#PhillyLovesBowie 2019” will be a concert billed as “A Night of Stardust.”

The show, which will be held at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, www.utphilly.com), is a fitting end to Philly’s annual tribute week to the late rock icon. It is also fitting that one of the featured performers is Phoebe Legere.

The event has sold out three years in a row — Wilmington in 2016, World Cafe Live in Philly in 2017, and at Union Transfer in 2018 — and is returning to the stage with an all-star lineup.

Dan Kauffman (Glim Dropper) returns as the music director/drummer along with Keith Giosa on keys, Vahe Sarkissian on guitar, Joe Grillo on sax, Richard Ratner on bass, and Mark Teague on guitar. Lance Davis (Grady Hoss and the Sidewinders) returns as the vocal director and has enlisted Jeffrey Gaines, Ari Rubin, Michael Baker, Ava Cherry and Richard Bush to sing Bowie’s songs.

The most direct link to Bowie is Phoebe Legere, who will be doing vocals and playing her cherry red Gibson guitar. Legere was Bowie’s hand-picked opening act for the entire “Sound+Vision Tour.”

Phoebe Legere

“I went to a rehearsal for this show last Sunday,” said Legere, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a branch of the New York Public Library. “There is so much talent on this bill. The songs are strong, and the lyrics are brilliant.

“They have assembled a cracker-jack group of killer musicians – young men who are fabulous players. They get it right – the first time. I was happy to be invited to be a part of this.”

Legere got to stand on stage and hear Bowie perform many of his greatest hits during the “Sound+Vision Tour,” which featured set lists of songs specially requested by his fans.

“I opened for David Bowie on his national tour in 1990,” said Legere. “We remained friends ever since and encountered each other in New York a number of times in the years after the tour.”

According to Legere, “We toured all over the country together. I watched him night after night from the wings. Every performance was different. It was an education. After the shows we’d hang out for hours talking Tibetan Buddhism, Marc Bolan, Nina Simone, politics, the androgyny that is the heart of courageous and exuberant creativity, you name it.

David was down-to-earth and yet unearthly beautiful. He was intelligent, thoughtful and kind. The last time I saw David Bowie it was a few months before his death. He was on his bicycle. I was walking on Second Avenue. David pulled over and hugged me for a long time. We talked for about 20 minutes. It was a very private conversation.” 

“A Night of Stardust” will feature more than 25 of Bowie’s greatest songs and will cover Bowie’s catalog from “Space Oddity” to his final studio album before he died – “Lazarus.”

“I’m playing guitar on ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Heroes,’” said Legere. “On the Nina Simone song ‘Wild Is the Wind,” I’m playing accordion and piano. And, I’m singing Freddie Mercury’s part on ‘Under Pressure,’ the song he and Bowie did together.”

Legere, a talented singer, songwriter, instrumentalist who has released close to 20 albums, plays seven instruments including one she invented to help physically challenged children play music — the Sneakers of Samothrace. She is a Juilliard-trained composer and an internationally recognized visual artist. She offers small collectible paintings after each performance.

Her most recent album “Heart of Love” is a hymn to life on the American Highway – and a Top 20 Americana album.

“The musical genre is folk/Americana,” said Legere. “I play guitar, Native American flute, piano and accordion. It was released in 2017 and immediately went Top 20 on the roots charts. It’s all originals – except for my cover of ‘Jambalaya.’”

Legere’s music is a blend of Americana, Cajun, New Orleans jazz, country, folk and blues. She is an award-winning accordion player, virtuoso piano player, a rural folk blues guitar stylist, and an award-winning songwriter.

A standard-bearer of the Acadian-Cajun renaissance, Legere is descended from one of the original Acadian families in North America.

Her album “Acadian Moon,” which was released in 2015, received strong radio play in Canada. “Heart of Love” is faring even better – on both sides of the Canadian-American border.

“A DJ friend of mine gave me a list of every Americana station in America – and a list of college stations,” said Legere, who has performed at prestigious venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and at the Congrés Mondial Acadien.

“I sent out 400 envelopes with the CD along with self-made heart-shaped chocolate lollipops. That resulted in me reaching the Top 20.”

In reality, the deejays were suckers for the music – after being lured in by the lollipops.

Legere, whose debut album “Trust Me” was released by Epic Records in 1986, has a long and diverse artistic resume.

She has appeared on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC, NBC, PBS and Charlie Rose. She also received the prestigious Acker Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2014. In 2015, she appeared in HBO’s documentary “It’s Me Hilary.”

While still in her teens, Legere was signed Epic Records as a songwriter. She led a number of influential New York bands, including Monad, 4 Nurses of the Apocalypse and her nine-piece swing-punk outfit Swingalicious.

After the radio success of her 1989 album “Marilyn Monroe” (Island Records), and her appearance in numerous underground films, Legere shifted her focus to avant-garde classical music and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her work with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.

Legere, who has had six of her original plays with music produced in New York City, did not enter the world of entertainment unprepared.

She graduated from Vassar College, studied composition at the Juilliard School. She also studied piano at the New England Conservatory, and film scoring, orchestration and jazz arranging at the NYU Graduate School of Music Composition. Additionally, Legere studied composition with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Morton Subotnick, Wayne Oquin and Dinu Gezzo. She also studied jazz arranging with Ira Newborn and Rick Shemaria.

According to Legere, the death of the record business is a much-needed correction.

“Life in the music business is never easy,” said Legere, who has been embraced by the Outlaw Americana community and music lovers around the world. “It’s so competitive. At one point, record companies felt artists didn’t have to be musicians. Female artists got signed because they were pretty. They didn’t need good musicians. They could just use machines.

“They didn’t have to deal with intelligent people. Intelligent people are like lightning rods. They’re really doctors. They’ve been doctors for thousands of years. I was signed by Epic Records when I was 16 so I really know about the abuse and sexual harassment – and unethical practices. Now, big record companies are falling apart.”

According to Legere, “Right now musicians have a golden opportunity. For the first time, we can shape our own careers. Musicians are no longer the slaves of music corporations. We are free to invent the music we hear in our hearts today and invent new ways to deliver it to the listeners of tomorrow.” 

Legere was too talented – and too smart – to be sucked into the world of being just another pop princess.

“I got involved in very avant-garde music more than 15 years ago,” said Legere, a versatile artist who created a 15-person, rideable giant Eagle sculpture that runs on alternative energy (learn more about The Shamancycle at Shamancyle.com). “I did an epic poem with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra – singing the poem and improvising the music.”

In another of her many projects, Legere is the executive director of her own nonprofit organization — The Foundation for New American Art.

The Foundation for New American Art is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that fosters art and music education programs geared to underserved communities.The goal is to educate, nurture and strengthen the artistic and musical spirit of the children of low-income communities, as well as provide support for after-school programs.

Legere visits schools, military bases, libraries with encouraging workshops — most notably her “Songwriting from The Heart.” Proceeds from Legere’s lectures and public performances will go to The Foundation for New American Art.

“I am dedicated to nurturing the visionary artists of the future,” said Legere. “Art and Music are not extra-curricular. Art and Music are integral to the harmonious development of the human heart and soul.”

Legere practices what she preaches.

“Right now, I’m working with a program here in New York – the Lower East Side Children’s Chorus,” said Legere. “It’s close to where I live in the neighborhood around Avenue D.

“Music can be so powerful. To stand there and stomp on a distortion pedal – there is no thrill on planet earth that is like that. It’s the power of vibrating strings.”

Video link for Phoebe Legere – https://youtu.be/Eq7VPpA1pTM.

The show at Union Transfer on January 11 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other “#PhillyLovesBowie 2019” events this weekend are “Baby Can Dance: A Bowie Burlesque Show” on January 10 at 8 p.m. at Ruba Club (416 Green Street, Philadelphia), “The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret” on January 11 at 7 p.m.  at L’Etage (Sixth and Bainbridge Streets, Philadelphia), “Sound & Vision Happy Hour” on January 11 from 6-9 p.m. at The Trestle Inn (339 North 11th Street, Philadelphia), “Serious Moonlight – The After Party” on January 11 at 10 p.m. at PhillyMOCA (531 North 12th Street, Philadelphia), Donny McCaslin Group on January 12 at 8 p.m. at the Foundry (29 East Allen Street, Philadelphia), and “A Snowy Bowie Skate” on January 13 from noon-6 p.m. at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest (Penn’s Landing, Delaware Avenue, Philadelphia).

Other upcoming shows at Union Transfer are Noname on January 12 and the Lemon Twigs on January 15.

The Verve Pipe

On January 10, the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) will host multi-platinum alternative rock band The Verve Pipe — a band recognized worldwide for its radio hits “Photograph,” “Hero,” “Never Let You Down,” and the massive 1997 Number 1 single “The Freshmen.”

Depending on the venue, the Michigan-based group, which features Brian Vander Ark (vocals, guitar), Lou Musa (lead guitar), Randy Sly (keyboards, backing vocals), Joel Ferguson (bass, backing vocals), Sam Briggs (drums, percussion), Channing Lee (backing vocals), Craig Griffith (harmonica, backing vocals), performed three different types of shows when they were touring earlier this year — a full electric rock show, a pared down acoustic/electric show of the band’s hit songs and fan favorites, or an acoustic reimagining of the group’s platinum-selling major label debut album “Villains.”

“We’re not doing the acoustic ‘Villains’ any more,” said Vander Ark, during a phone interview last Friday as the band was travelling on Interstate Route 80 from Dubois, Pennsylvania to a gig at the City Winery in New York. “We’re still doing some acoustic – and more stories this time out. We’re trying to tell a linear story.

“I try to keep a set list from all our shows so that I can look at what we played the last time we were in each of the places we’re playing again this time. That way, we don’t tell the same stories.

“When we play this week at the World Café Live, it will be a full-on rock show. But there will also be some acoustic numbers – and we will tell some stories. We’ll play a lot of ‘Villains’ songs, some from ‘Underneath’ and a handful of new ones.”

In 2017, The Verve Pipe released its latest studio album, “Parachute,” along with the band’s first-ever live album, “Villains – Live & Acoustic (recorded at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI).” With a new lineup and a renewed energy and focus, lead singer/principal songwriter/co-founder Brian Vander Ark and the band, play original music that is distinguished by innovative arrangements, soul-searching lyrics and layered vocals.

“We recorded ‘Parachute’ in 2016,” said Vander Ark. “A lot of these songs were written by individuals in the band as a shell and then brought to the rest of the band to fill out. This is the best we’ve ever done. I’m surrounded by talented people. We cut the album at our bass player Joel Ferguson’s studio. We played live in a room to do the demos. We’d work on songs and then record together in the studio.

“We started with one song 18 months ago and about every three or four weeks, we’d put up another song on social media. After a while, we collected the songs and put the ‘Parachute’ album out. Staying in people’s faces is the way the industry is right now – keeping everything fresh.”

In addition to recording rock albums, The Verve Pipe expanded its repertoire in 2009 to include writing and recording “A Family Album,” a critically-acclaimed introduction to the world of children’s music, as well as the band’s 2013 follow-up family-oriented release, “Are We There Yet?”

“Eight or nine years ago, we put out a kids’ record and it was huge,” said Vander Ark. “We do kids’ shows and the merch sales from these shows keeps us afloat financially. It’s nice to know we have that revenue source. Now, we’re back in rock and roll and put out two records.”

The Verve Pipe has been making top-flight rock and roll records since its formation in Michigan in 1992. And, there is no end in sight.

“We’re working on our next album,” said Vander Ark. “We try to go into the studio for a two- or three-day block of time and get a song done. That’s what we’ll be doing over the course of the next year. We’ll be putting some singles out along the way.

“We still place a lot of importance on the album. I care about a catalogue of albums that are photographs of certain periods of time for us.”

Video link for The Verve Pipe – https://youtu.be/5FY2k2KUf-k.

The show at the World Café Live, which has Looseleaf as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

The World Café Live will host a very special event on January 12 – the Light of Day Foundation WinterFest.

The Light of Day Foundation WinterFest returns to the World Cafe Live with a talent-laden line-up featuring Willie Nile along with special guests Jesse Malin, James Maddock, The Weeklings and Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan — all playing in full band configuration.

“The first Light of Day was in 1998 which was put together by Bob Benjamin and me,” said D’Urso, during a phone interview Monday afternoon. “The first ‘official’ Light of Day was in 2000 at the Stone Pony.”

The Light of Day Foundation, Inc., utilizes the power of music to raise money and awareness in its continuing battle to defeat Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses such as PSP and ALS within our lifetime. 

The Foundation’s mission is to fund research into possible cures, improved treatments and support for patients who suffer from those illnesses, their families and their caregivers to help improve their quality of life. The primary fundraising efforts are an annual series of concerts.  Since its inception in 2000, Light of Day has raised over $4.5 million in the fight to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. What began as a single concert in New Jersey has grown into approximately 70 shows in 13 countries on three continents.

The concerts and the organization began as a birthday party in November 1998 at the Downtown Cafe in Red Bank, New Jersey to celebrate the 40th birthday of artist manager and music industry veteran Bob Benjamin. Benjamin had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and in lieu of gifts, asked that donations be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

Joe D’Urso

More than $2,000 was raised that night. Spurred by the generosity and support, Benjamin reached out to friends, including concert promoter Tony Pallagrosi and musician Joe D’Urso, and formed the Light of Day charity, taking its name from a Bruce Springsteen song.

The first official Light of Day concert was held at Asbury Park’s legendary Stone Pony in November 2000 and primarily featured local, unsigned artists. The critically acclaimed Pittsburgh-based band Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers (managed by Benjamin) headlined the show, which featured a surprise appearance by local hero Bruce Springsteen, who joined the Houserockers for a raucous hour-long set.

Over the years Light of Day has grown from a one-day event into a festival spanning 10 days. Performers at Light of Day have included Bruce Springsteen, Michael J. Fox, John Rzeznik, Ed Kowalczyk, Darlene Love, Southside Johnny, Jesse Malin, Alejandro Escovedo, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys, Jakob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Badly Drawn Boy, Pete Yorn, Gary US Bonds, Joe D’Urso and Stone Caravan, and John Eddie.

“I’m very involved with Light of Day,” said D’Urso. “I’m a vice president on the board and the treasurer. This is our fourth tine ofr Light of Day in Philly.”

Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan is an Americana/Jersey Shore rock-and-roll band that has been around for a long time.

“We put out our first album release in 1991,” said D’Urso. “I’m the only original member left. The current line-up has been together about 20 years.”

That line-up features drummer Sam LaMonica, bassist Jerry Scaringe, guitarist Greg Lykins and D’Urso.

Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan released their 14th album “Jersey Diner” earlier this year. The 14-song album features 11 songs written by D’Urso and three covers of songs by Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Sandy/Harry Chapin.

“We play 70-80 shows a year,” said D’Urso. “I tend to do tours rather than just gigs. We do two European tours a year and that’s about 40 shows. We have to work around other band members’ schedules because Jerry has a rockabilly band called the Slippery Chickens and Greg is in a band called The Liberals.

“Our music is a mixture of Jersey Shore and Americana. Influences are Americana rockers like Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Bob Seger and acts from our backyard such as Bruce (Springsteen), Southside (Johnny) and Little Steven (Van Zandt) – all good songwriters.

“Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan never started as a bar band. We never were a cover band. I’ve always been a songwriter. I’m a lyricist. I learned to play guitar and then started a band. Now, we’re on our 14th release with ‘Jersey Diner.’”

Video link for Joe D’Urso – https://youtu.be/5-4GXiKRGXc.

The Light of Day Foundation WinterFest on January 12 at the World Café Live will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are “Grunge-A-Palooza Presents: Pearl Jam & Weezer Night” on January 11 and

Ruby The Hatchet, The Age Of Truth, Wasted Theory, and Brain Candle on January 16.

Big Daddy Graham

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Big Daddy Graham with Spins Nightly on January 11 and 33 1/3 Live’s “Killer Queen Experience — Performing ‘A Night at The Opera’ and ‘Queen’s Greatest Hits’” on January 12.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Cerebelles. Mighty Joe Castro and the Gravamen and The Cozy on January 11, Kicking Down Doors with Vilebreed on January 12 and Earth Song Music Lessons Winter Concert Series on January 13.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present “Friends of the Brothers: Allman Brothers Celebration ft. members of Jaimoes Jasssz Band, Dickey Betts Band, Les Brers” on January 10, EPMD with Hezekiah, Dell P, Mic Stew, and DJ Gary O on January 11, and The Samples with Rugby Road on January 12.

The Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org) is hosting “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” now through January 20.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents David Sedaris on January 11.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will host Albert Lee on January 10, Earl David Reed on January 11, Alex Skolnick Trio on January 12 and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder on January 13.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) is presenting  Caitlin Canty with special guest The Oshima Brothers on January 10 and  Scot Sax Philly Soul Revue plus Suzie Brown and Sally & George on January 12.

The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com) is hosting “Cash Unchained – A Tribute to Johnny Cash” on January 11 and Bark at the Moon on January 12

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, http://www.jameyshouseofmusic.com/) will present The Kennedys on January 11 and Visible @ Night on January 12.

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