What Community Is For: How a group of musical friends organized a Magic Gardens livestream concert to benefit Morris Home
Josh Kirwin, who fronts the tongue-in-cheek, ironically self-aware psychedelic rock outfit Tubey Frank, has been quietly productive during his time in quarantine following the release of his 2020 LP, Twomoreaphobiaoreaphobia. Events of the last couple months — one of those being the murder of Dominique Fells, a Black transgender woman from York, PA — have emotionally impacted him, and set a series of musical events in motion for his band.
Partnering with Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a historic art space located on South Street, Kirwin is bringing “live” music back on August 28th in the form of a benefit show for Morris Home, a nonprofit organization that supports transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. With the help of other Philly artists Eleanor Two and ThebandIvory, as well as collaborators Cherry-Veen Zine, this project was built from the ground up with connection in mind.
The livestream is a reimagined version of what would have been Tubey Frank, Eleanor Two, and ThebandIvory’s indefinitely rescheduled show at World Cafe Live. Feeling driven by the pain within Philadelphia’s transgender community and looking for a way to offer any sort of immediate support, Kirwin and Frankie DeRosa (of ThebandIvory), and Lauren Hawkins (aka Eleanor Two) deliberated on the best way to provide much-needed resources to people in need, and how they could also encourage others to do the same.
“Some of my closest friends and chosen family are trans,” says Kirwin. “And I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that I needed to do something within my skill set to make sure I did what I could to help,” Kirwin said.
Prior to the pandemic, Tubey Frank was scheduled to play Magic Gardens’ Twilight in the Garden concert series, which was cancelled as restrictions on public gatherings took hold. “…so I talked with Allison Boyle from PMG,” says Kirwin. “Since PMG is outdoors, we could come on their off day and record a concert with some pretty nice cameras to show off this amazing art installation.”
Hawkins recalled the situation’s urgency when she and Kirwin discussed what sort of tangible change they could make through music and how best to connect their art to the public. “Josh called me on the day Rem’mie Fells was found,” she says, and they talked about ways their art could help. “Not to soap-box too much, but this is a time when people are or should be asking what community is for. It’s also a time when we’re increasingly aware of people on the margins who suffer disproportionately from economic hardship, social exclusion and violence. I love Philadelphia for its diversity and believe it is a testament to the city’s character that Morris Home is the only organization of its kind in the country.”
The livestream itself showcases a supergroup of sorts, exemplifying the best of each artists’ songs in a newly reimagined way. Kirwin and DeRosa had already been working on a new version of one of Tubey Frank’s songs, seamlessly weaving a complex string orchestration behind the comfort of his psychedelic sound. “When we all got together that day to film, everything fell into place so effortlessly,” DeRosa said. “We know from experience that first-time-band rehearsals don’t usually go well but everyone melded immediately both musically and personally.”
Eleanor Two brought her track “Sharp Objects” to the table, completely stripped. “[It’s] one that I’ve never recorded or played for an audience, so it was open to interpretation. Before the set, I had only written a guitar and a bass part and relied on the crew to make it all work with almost no guidance – guitars, synth, viola, bass, drums, everything. They all earned my highest praise, because by the final take it was a complete song.” Along with all three bands, Kirwin enlisted the help of one of Philly’s most performative drummers, Keaton Thandi (The Dawn Drapes), and bassist Erik Kramer (Rosemeat), to bring the newest versions of these songs to life.
“The full band thing was a super alive and electric feeling, I loved it,” said Kirwin. “I loved it so much that I almost want to give it a band name, but the rest of the gang will probably think I’m crazy.”
As far as day-of specs, the crew assembled a full professional studio right in the middle of PMG. The set was filmed by cinematographer Asher Johnson with help from Cherry-Veen Zine’s Paige Walter, who also produced the event. She has been part of Tubey Frank’s management team since the start of quarantine, and is equally as passionate about Kirwin’s 0-to-100 creative style and give-back attitude. “I want people to know that this isn’t just another Zoom or Insta livestream,” Walter says. “It was professionally shot and edited in the grotto at the Magic Gardens, a museum with a national presence that preserves the culture of the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ The artists featured are real up-and-comers in the scene, and have been working hard during quarantine to keep musical performance and production alive. We’re excited for everyone to see the video, but more importantly, we ask that people donate to Morris Home, a nonprofit whose mission is close to our hearts.”
And there is a lot of heart behind this project. Everyone involved found some personal connection to the cause, now more than ever. “The Morris home is an incredible source for our trans siblings who need resources to be healthy and taken care of,” said DeRosa. “I’m very lucky to be a part of the queer community as a non-binary artist so I know first hand what it means to get resources to people who need it. Trans people are the most marginalized group of people, particularly black and brown. Morris Home is here to reach out and give resources to folks to need it. They refuse to overlook our trans family and I’m here for it.”
The livestream happens on August 28th at 7 p.m. ET via phillymagicgardens.org or Tubey Frank’s Facebook page. A $10 donation is encouraged, though the stream itself is free.