Why every musician in Philly should crash the Philly Music Scene Group Photo
Next Sunday morning, scores of musically-involved Philadelphians will gather at the Art Museum steps to re-create an event that took place five years ago.
In 2009, local music photographer Lisa Schaffer organized what was billed as the first-ever Philadelphia Music Scene group photo. Through photocopied flyers handed out at World Cafe Live and The Fire, as well as word of mouth, Schaffer rounded up a gathering of musicians, concert promoters, studio owners, a few children and a dog, all of whom congregated just off of Eakins Oval, posing in a motley Sgt. Pepper‘s esque group.
I’ve long admired Schaffer’s photography; she has a knack for capturing intimate moments and candid details in a way that few others can match. Shooting concerts, she is the exemplary definition of “fly-on-the-wall” – Schaffer is not a photographer who makes a big production out of pushing and shoving around the foot of the stage with long lenses best used for covering the Syrian civil war. She’s somebody who chills to the side and, in the end, gets the best photos. (Check out her amazing coverage of the Last Waltz Philly show.)
In short, Schaffer rules. But something about how she called the resulting image a “Philadelphia Music Scene Group Photo” didn’t sit well with me at the time, and it makes me a tad concerned for Philly Music Scene Photo Shoot II.
A quick scan of the faces on display in the 2009 image finds people easily recognizable to the WXPN community – Jim Boggia,
Birdie Busch, Rob Berliner of Hoots and Hellmouth, Raph Cutrufello of Hezekiah Jones, Adrien Reju, Mutlu, Ross Bellenoit, Phil D’Agostino. We also see musicians whose names maybe aren’t as prominent but are nonetheless active in the same circle: singer / pianist John Conahan, multi-instrumentalist Anam Owili-Eger of Up the Chain. Behind-the-scenes folks like Hal Real of World Cafe Live, and scene super-fans like Mandy Dollar.
There’s just one thing. This is only one group of musicians and associates – a thriving group, to be certain – but it’s nevertheless one small segment of a much broader, more vibrant, more eclectic music community. And while this portrait – an undeniably positive idea – was meant to showcase “The Philadelphia Music Scene,” it might be more accurate to call the resulting crew “The Fire Music Scene” or the “Folk Fest Music Scene” or the “People Ali Wadsworth Has Sang With Music Scene.” I’m teasing a little about that last one, of course, but the point is that this is a photo of a Philly music scene, not the Philly music scene.
In the photographer’s defense, I don’t think Schaffer necessarily wants it to be this way. In an invite-only Facebook event page for Philly Music Scene Photo Shoot II, she wrote “Please invite other Philly Music Scene favorites. I know I’m going to forget some. (sorry)” When I swapped messages with her about the shoot on Facebook, she said she invited everybody she could think of, irrespective of genre. Shaffer wishes to shoot an inclusive, comprehensive representation of the Philadelphia music community as much as I want to see one.
But that’s going to take some work. Everybody isn’t necessarily connected to everyone else, and the unfortunate result is that some scenes are left under-represented…or barely represented at all. In the 2009 photo, Kuf Knotz appears to be the lone delegate from Philly’s hiphop community. An amazing, thriving community that has nurtured the likes of The Roots, Meek Mill, Chill Moody, Lushlife, Reef the Lost Cauze, Tiani Victoria, Mic Stewart, Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro and more. One face in a crowd of a couple hundred.
You could say the same for the city’s indie rock, hard rock, electronic and punk scenes. I would love it if members of DRGN King, Ruby the Hatchet, City Rain and Cayetana showed up at the Art Museum next Sunday. The avant garde / experimental world that gave birth to the Data Garden label and the Fire Museum Presents series could stand to be showcased in this group. And while I’m still learning my way around Philadelphia’s classical and jazz worlds, I have a hunch they weren’t tremendously represented the first time around either. (Shaffer tells me that, thanks to the help of Jay Davidson, a number of jazz players made their way into Group Photo mark one.)
Suffice it to say, “music scene” means a lot more than folk / roots / Americana. And when the broad term “Philadelphia Music Scene” is applied to something, my ears perk up – and when I look at whatever that thing is, I want to see something as varied, as vibrant, as bustling and exciting as our city looks to me: all styles, all ages, all genders and races, all doing amazing things with music. The 2009 group photo felt, to me, like a party of one group of friends. For 2014, I encourage those who weren’t invited to crash the party. And you know what? They’ll probably be happy to have you.
The Philadelphia Music Scene Photo Shoot II is Sunday, April 27th at 7 a.m. on the Art Museum Steps, and if you’re a musician of any kind, I hope you can make it.