Orchestras, busking and Led Zeppelin: Andrew Lipke reflects on ten years at World Cafe Live and beyond
As we begin to celebrate our 10 year anniversary of our new home at 3025 Walnut Street I wanted to talk with a few of the local artists that performed around here. I remember like it was yesterday – I heard their voices echo throughout the building, thinking to myself this is really happening! We built a building and they have come! This week I spoke with Andrew Lipke about the ten years we’ve spent in this XPN home.
Helen Leicht: Andrew it’s been ten years since I first heard you busking upstairs at the World Cafe Live in Philly. I remember hearing you and Kate Gaffney and thinking how amazing you both sounded. It was the beginning of a very wonderful journey for all of us at WXPN and the World Cafe Live. It was the beginning of discovering so many wonderful local artists. Can you share your memories of ten years ago?
Andrew Lipke: Well, I remember it was very early! This was obviously before I had children so I wasn’t much of an early riser. But I remember it was Kate, myself and John Francis playing out on Walnut Street at something Iike 6:30am. I had just started to try my hand at playing acoustically without a band as my band for many years during and just after college had broken up, so to say I was “green” is an understatement. And busking – for those folks who have never tried it – can be pretty tough to do. Playing for no one in general and not caring whether anyone else cares can be hard for someone used to an audience of some sort…. I remember figuring out that, for me, if I imagined the sky as my audience it felt much better than playing for folks walking by. But getting a chance to see the new venue on the day it opened and touring the entire building was unforgettable. I knew this was the beginning of something really amazing for the Philadelphia music scene. I just had no idea how truly amazing it would grow to be.
HL: Favorite shows you performed?
AL: In the past 10 years I’ve had so many incredible experiences on a stage of some sort that it would be impossible for me to list them all. But some of the highlights would have to be playing the Sgt. Pepper’s celebration you organized, playing the Free at Noon, playing the XPoNential Festival – all three times were incredible! Then there was opening for Ray Davies at the Tower Theatre, performing my music for the first time with a Symphony Orchestra in Indianapolis, first time at the Electric Factory with Get the Led Out, the Philly Last Waltz show last year at the Trocadero, playing the monthly Franzschubert & The Schuubs party at the WCL – some of the most fun gigs I’ve ever played! Oh and playing City Hall with the Azrael Quartet…. there’s just so many. This city, and WXPN in particular has just been so good to me over the past 10 years. When I think about it I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
HL: Share with us a few of the artists you’ve met that have influenced you?
AL: The artists I’ve met over the past 10 years that have had the greatest influence on me are not the most famous ones but the local and regional artists that continue to inspire me by their musicianship, creativity, and vibrant, positive energy. Hezekiah Jones, Chris Kasper, Joseph Conyers, Steve Hackman, Matt Glandorf, Mary Javian, David Bradley, Griz, Paul Hammond, Ron Gallo…I could go on for days. This city is overflowing with talent.
Meeting Johnny Mathis a few months ago was pretty thrilling. I remember hearing his voice as a child in South Africa and to see him still have that voice at 80 some years old and carry himself with such conviction, humility, and grace was amazing.
HL: How many albums have you recorded?
AL: I’ve released five original albums and an EP of cover songs, and I’ve produced around 25 or so local and regional records.
HL: When you aren’t working on your solo music you are touring with Get the Led Out. How did you connect with this band and what’s it like covering Led Zeppelin?
AL: Well, funny thing is I connected with the guys through Kate Gaffney! She was recording her debut record at their studio – Fat City – and asked me to come in and play some piano, rhodes, and organ parts. The studio owners – Paul Hammond and Paul Sinclair – were impressed with me and about a year later Paul Sinclair called me up and asked if I wanted to fill in a few gigs with his Zeppelin tribute band. I said sure – not having any idea what to expect really – and here I am 9 years later writing these responses in a theater in Kansas on our way to play Red Rocks in two days!
Playing Zeppelin is probably what you would expect, really fun!! It can be nerve racking at times because we play everything note for note from the recordings and a lot of folks know every note… so you have to get them right. But what I enjoy about being in GTLO the most is the people. We have become an incredibly tight knit – albeit it slightly dysfunctional – family and there is just so much mutual love and respect within the group. I’ve seen many different sides of this business, and I know that this is a very hard thing to find, no matter what music you’re playing.
HL: I understand you recently worked on a few of Amos Lee’s songs. How did that come together?
AL: Almost everyone in Amos’ incredible band is a good friend of mine and a few years back I did some “emergency” last minute arranging of the Guns ‘N Roses song “November Rain” for their show at the Academy of Music. So when Amos booked a show with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks my name was thrown in the hat as someone who could do some orchestrations for the concert. Working very closely with Amos’ long time band member – and probably one of the kindest most genuine people I’ve ever met – Jaron Olevsky, I wrote orchestrations for four of his songs for the concert, which sold out and from what I understand was a thrilling success! It was such a treat to see pictures of my friends on that legendary stage in front of 9500 people and to also be there in spirit, nd at times in the strings, woodwinds, and brass! 🙂
HL: You also have been part of LiveConnections. Can you explain how you got involved with this organization?
AL: I was invited by Hal Real – whom I met while busking 10 years ago – to attend a round table discussion probably 7 or so years ago when he was developing the plan for what would become LiveConnections. Then about 4 or so years ago David Bradley approached me to create a Bridge Session with Joseph Conyers from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Rebecca Harris, an exceptionally talented violinist who I have since enjoyed a fabulous, multi-faceted artistic relationship with. The process was a blast and since then I’ve been involved in the creation of 3 additional Bridge Sessions, served as artist in residence at Science and Leadership academy creating art from Coal, performed through LiveConnections affiliate concert series ClassicAlive, and met some of the most talented, dedicated, and driven people in existence.
HL: Recently you worked on composing a piece for LiveConnections. Tell me about this new project?
AL: Mary Javian, who is one of the driving forces behind so many wonderful things happening in music in this city, graciously included me as one of three composers from different backgrounds to be commissioned to write major new works for three distinct ensembles. The ensemble I was to write for is the Curtis Institute of Music’s string quartet in residence The Aizuri Quartet and my background was…rock! Well, the funding came through and the piece I wrote will be premiered on November 6th downstairs at the World Cafe kicking off ClassicAlive’s new season. To say that hearing a group at the caliber of The Aizuri Quartet give the world premiere of a piece I’ve written is a dream come true is an understatement. It’s impossible to put into words how thrilled I am at this opportunity. The piece itself is a modular piece that can be performed with or without my involvement, but nestled inside it is a song that serves as a sort of “single” from the piece. It contains the kernels of all the thematic material that is more fully explored and developed in the larger piece, but can live alone. The song is called “Let Me.”
I just have to say when I think about the past 10 years and how my expectations of what my career would look like and how things would progress has changed and adjusted to what reality brought, the one thing that is consistent is the unbelievable support WXPN, The World Cafe Live, and in particular you, Helen, have given. Not just embracing what is clearly popular and successful at the time, but encouraging people to find their voice, giving artists room to grow and change, and being supportive and involved in the lives of so many music makers and music lovers in this city. It is with the utmost appreciation and gratitude, and I feel I can speak for many local and regional artists, that I say, Thank You!!
Andrew Lipke will perform with the Aizuri Quartet at World Cafe Live on November 6th. More information can be found here.