Philadelphia’s Community Gardens

Can a small plot of land in the city of Philadelphia unite residents, produce sustainable food, increase property value and provide for the less fortunate? The Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS) and many community gardens in the area are doing just that.

Community gardens in Philadelphia are an overlooked treasure. It provides a space for socializing, keeps food costs down and beautifies the community so residents can be proud of where they live.

Eileen Gallagher, a City Projects Manger for PHS, manages the City Harvest Grant. This grant provides for over 35 community gardens in the area and is funded predominately by the Greenfield Foundation.

Unexpected ingredients in the City Harvest project are inmates from the Philadelphia prison system.

“The inmates grow all of the vegetables from seeds that we give out. Last year they grew 20,000 seedlings,” Gallagher said.

City Harvest collects the seedlings and delivers them to the 35 gardens it supports. The gardens decided how many veggies they can grow. The inmates involved are low risk inmates who usually only have one month to six weeks left on their sentence.

“Right now, the gardeners that participate grow food and donate it to a local food pantry,” Gallagher said.

The donation of fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantries present fresh food options for residents who could not afford fresh food for their families. That is the main focus of the grant.

“There are some gardens that having been giving to their church and their neighbors for years. We asked them to weigh and document how much food they give out each month. 25,000 pounds of food has been given in the last two years,” Gallagher said.

Vacant lots within communities used to provide opportunities for gardens to take root. In recent years, that formula has changed significantly.

“I’ve been doing this job for 20 years now. Before, when there was a vacant lot, no one really cared about that. Over the years, the real estate value of property has increased so much, that it’s hard to find a vacant lot to make a garden,” she said.

Gallagher also notes that social and community organizations have worked hard to clean up areas that housed vacant lots. Philadelphia Green is one of the organizations who has a contract from the city to clean up. They mow grass, pick up trash and put up wooden fences.

Most gardens are regulated by PHS or the Neighborhood Garden Association, very few are owned by the gardeners. The cost to maintain a plot in a community garden varies based on the garden’s size. The fee can range anywhere from $5-15.

Gallagher stresses that university students can help out and feel apart of the community.

“We work with a lot of university students, usually from March until May. That is when some of the gardens start planning and getting cleaned up from the winter,” Gallagher said.

PHS has a community outreach program called Philadelphia Green; they are responsible for recruiting volunteers and handling any interaction with the community. PHS also works closely with Mayor Nutter’s administration; there is a plan underway to ‘green’ the entire parkway.

“We’ve been getting more groups that want to come. A big part of our program is to work with volunteers. It’s a huge help for the gardeners,” Gallagher said.

While it may seem that everyone in the community would be in agreement with starting a garden, any potential plans must be made public information and anyone who wants to start a garden needs to attend a class. The class is usually once a week in the evenings for five consecutive weeks; it is offered twice a year.

“We require them to go through a course called Garden Tenders. You have to make a petition and make sure the people in the community know what’s going on. Make sure you know who owns the land,” Gallagher said.

PHS and Philadelphia Green also help to maintain and manage contracts for more high profile public spaces like Logan Square, Fairmont Park, City Hall and planting along the Delaware River.

Gallagher explains the reason why community gardens are so successful:

“The key is community involvement. The gardens that have been here for 25 or 30 years last because everyone there has a common goal.”

You can contact Morgan Wade at food@campusphilly.org.

Free Yr Radio Concert Series

Independent radio dares to be different. These stations operate as non-profits and take joy in bringing great music to the airwaves that is normally ignored on commercial stations. Independent radio puts emphasis on community involvement and listener support and is always looking for new ways to connect with its audience. Luckily, independent radio has good friends to help them with such a venture.

For the second year in a row, the Free Yr Radio campaign set out to raise awareness and funds for independent radio and its programs across the country. Created in 2007 through a partnership of Toyota Yaris and Urban Outfitters, the Free Yr Radio program helps a number of independent radio stations campaign to increase exposure and listener support through various promotional activities such as free concerts hosted by each station respectively.

10 nation-wide shows are planned to run during this year’s concert series between May and October and will benefit such stations as KEXP in Seattle, WERS in Boston and WVUM in Miami. Great bands like !!!, Mudhoney and No Age, and Yeasayer are lined up to help the cause.

In addition to these promotional concerts, participating radio stations are also giving their listeners a chance to win a brand new Toyota Yaris to help boost listener appreciation. In an effort to further raise funds, the Free Yr Radio campaign will release a digital compilation featuring exclusive tracks from the bands of the concert series and more special features. All profits from the sale of this compilation will be divided among the 2008 Free Yr Radio benefit stations.

The Free Yr Radio tour made its stop in Philadelphia at a University City Urban Outfitters on Aug. 12.

I love when fashion and music collide so when I discovered that the benefit show was actually inside the store, I was ecstatic. I had never been to any one of the three floors of this specific Urban Outfitters, so it was definitely an experience to see it all decked out with a stage and dee-jay booth. I wasn’t surprised that Urban Outfitters was a part of this movement. They have always been a company that is forward-thinking in their style and very supportive of various independent programs like free radio.

The crowd was not overbearing and exactly what I expected, with one exception–people were actually dancing, something that was single-handedly brought on by the famously sheik DJ Dave P who kicked off the event. Dave has proved that he can be a hit with any crowd that’s willing to let him in. He spins with a lot of European influence and his style is truly club, not like most of the dee-jays today who just play what’s on the radio from an iPod or Mac and scratch to make it look like they’re being productive. Dave did his job and he did it well. In no time half the crowd was swerving and breaking like they were at a rave in Brussels.

This stop on the Free Yr Radio tour benefited WPRB in Princeton, NJ and featured The Secret Machines, a New York band that has toured with the likes of Cat Power, Coheed and Cambria and Stone Temple Pilots. The Secret Machines is a band for anyone who enjoys the art of making music. For this band, it is not about the flashy lyrics or the grandeur of performance. It was easy to get a sense of their attention to detail. Throughout their enjoyable, fluid set, it was obvious that they took great care in perfecting their art.

As befalls all great bands, The Secret Machines had to endure sound difficulties for a good chunk of their set. Singer Brandon Curtis lost his vocals for a good amount of time, but kept on trucking through, unfazed. Outside of being a tad bit muffled at times, the technical problems didn’t hinder the band’s performance in the least. The Secret Machines, with their Doors-like ambiance, turned a clothing store into a coffee house and the crowd loved it. This was a perfect band to have representing such an event.

This year, Free Yr Radio was bigger and better, reaching more cities and people than before. Its mission to keep independent radio alive and kicking is far from over.

For more information, please visit freeyrradio.com

You can contact Cara Donaldson at entertainment@campusphilly.org

Get Out and Volunteer

What comes to your mind when you think college? Roomates, parties, all-nighters, cold pizza, and, oh yeah, class. What might not register is the abundance of service and volunteer opportunities available to college students in and around the Philadelphia area and beyond.

In his book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, Frederick Buechner writes that vocation is, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Over the years, many organizations, both business and collegiate, have mandatory days of service, or at least have become more volunteer conscious in programs offered to employees or students.

Basic community service at colleges is a partnership with companies and is held on a regular basis during semesters. But students don’t have to be limited to things offered through their colleges. They can go outside collegiate walls by means of an internet search.

Around Philadelphia, there are great opportunities like Philly Cares Day and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. For those not too keen on fun in the sun in the tropics, there is the Alternative Spring Break. During this time, students can also travel to other countries or states for service through Project Appalachia or Habitat for Humanity.

“The whole point of volunteer work is to build bridges within the community,” Beth Ford, Campus Minister for Community Service and Social Justice Programs at Saint Joseph’s University said. “Small volunteering could lead to big opportunities to help the world.”

“Probably the easiest way for students to efficiently balance volunteering with school work is by taking service learning classes,” Ford said. These classes can be in any subject and usually touch on some point of humanity and dignity. Not only do students get classroom experience, but they then have the chance to apply what they have learned to real life situations through volunteer work.

Some service can be linked to career goals much like internships. You could choose your service with the rest of your life in mind or you could do something completely random that may have a personal connection in your life or be related to a hobby. For example, if a student is interested in having a career in health care, they might seek out volunteer opportunities at a hospital or hospice center. These opportunities can vary from day long to much longer.

By doing service, students can definitely learn more about themselves and their community while building relationships and meeting new friends or contacts for the future. Any volunteer work looks good on your resume and your service leaders can write a recommendation and be a great reference.

Loyola College in Maryland poses a number of questions to help their students who are considering volunteer work including: What am I looking for in a community service experience? What population(s) do I wish to serve? In what kind of setting do I wish to serve? What are my career goals?

My hope would be that your community service would make you question our city,” Ford said. “Volunteering is a time to be learning and exploring. It raises helpful questions to help you in your life to come.

Outside of personal or spiritual benefits, volunteering has future career benefits as well. In an age of business suits and briefcases, a surprising amount of college graduates are choosing a different route, a humanitarian one.

Come September, Katie Dalton, a recent Saint Joseph’s graduate will travel aboard to spend a year working with the Corrymeela Community.

The Corrymeela Community is an organization that promotes reconciliation and peace-building through the healing of social, religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland.

Back in high school, Dalton was required to do service– mostly a series of drives–so she was new to volunteering when she came to Saint Joseph’s. But based on what she gathered from the university’s website regarding volunteering, she made her decision to attend college there. She had always been drawn to service and now that she was in an environment conducive to it, she was drawn to it more and more.

Or maybe too much, Dalton joked.

Dalton has been in various volunteer organizations during her time at Saint Joseph’s, including one that lead her to this position in Northern Ireland. While on Project Appalachia, Dalton met Holly Meyers, who, at the time, was part of the Faith Justice Institute at Saint Joseph’s. Meyers had just gotten back from her experience with Corrymeela and her words inspired Dalton to look into the program.

Dalton signed up for the Northern Ireland study tour through the service learning courses and took a class on violence and religion in the country concluding with a trip overseas. She visited the center and her fate as a volunteer seemed sealed after that.

I was very interested in the peace movement there and wanted to observe and study more to see how they work for peace,” Dalton said. “I became frustrated with the class because it was only that–a class. So it was rewarding to be there in the country making a difference you can see, really working with the people.

While Dalton is not 100% sure what her duties will be during her time with Corrymeela, she knows she will be working with the other volunteers to make people feel welcome and running certain programs through the center.

After her year in Northern Ireland, Dalton plans to attend graduate school to further her undergraduate degree in sociology, but ultimately wishes to work more with non-profits service organizations. She believes that volunteering during college or anytime after is a great way for anyone to reevaluate their life.

When people say to me, ‘It’s really good what you’re doing, but I could never do that.’ it frustrates me,” Dalton said. “Some people are so self-absorbed that they think they can’t connect with someone they believe to have nothing in common with. Funny thing is, is that they do.

In a 2003 lecture series, Timothy Brown, S.J. tackled the question of why service? A few of his answers included, …to reconcile our differences, attempt to understand different political viewpoints, believe that our city can be safer, live not as individuals but as members of a community, break the cycle of poverty, transcend and broaden our viewpoints, respond to the environmental dangers which threaten our planet, seek world peace in a world fractured by division, connect to one another, [and] live in solidarity with those most in need…

On Sept. 27, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will play host to Campus Philly’s College Day, a day of music and freebies that will also include The Involvement Fair, an opportunity for students to get involved with numerous non-profit and volunteer organizations.

Bringing these volunteer opportunities to Philadelphia college students will hopefully bring about the world change and life experience that people like Brown and Buechner envision.

You can contact Cara Donaldson at entertainment@campusphilly.org

The Diner Scene

You are leaving the club with your friends at 3 a.m. on a Friday night when you suddenly realize that you would die for some blueberry pancakes at that very moment. Unfortunately for you, the whole city seems to be shut down and everyone is asleep—even 7-11 has failed you tonight. Do you go home and attempt to make the pancakes yourself or wait until morning when the crowded restaurants open for brunch? Neither: you go to the diner around the corner, an old friend that is open for you 24-hours a day.

The diner is an undeniable icon in this country, a symbol of comfort food, relaxed conversation and good old-fashioned Americana. For college students in particular, the Philadelphia diner scene is a crucial aspect of everyday life. Where else can you find all-night service, crotchety waitresses, tasteless coffee and dirt-cheap omelets? For those who are new to the Philly environment or have not been raised in the Northeast, the diner obsession may remain somewhat of a mystery. Although it is typically New Jersey, New York City and Long Island that are deemed “Diner Country, U.S.A.,” Philly definitely does her part in keeping the spirit alive.

Before the days of sprawling restaurants and “faux-diners” like I.H.O.P., these gems were housed inside miniscule structures with as little as eight stools surrounding a counter and grill run by one cook. They were initially modeled after railroad dining cars, and some were actual retired cars that had been stationed in the neighborhood to provide cheap meals to travelers. Although Webster’s dictionary defines it simply as a “restaurant in the shape of a railroad car,” this is rarely seen as the defining characteristic anymore.

Philly is home to dozens of diners, many of which have historical significance. The Mayfair on Frankford Ave. is a classic that was first opened in 1932, and the Melrose Diner on Snyder Ave. opened a few years later in 1935. Although they have seen some changes in appearance and ownership over the years, both continue to stand strong. The Trolley Car in Mount Airy is also a renovated diner from 1952 that is now a staple in the community.

Unfortunately, with the emergence of the fast food giants in the 1950’s-70’s, these charming little greasy spoons were nearly eliminated in many parts of the country; luckily for us, the Northeast continued the tradition which still persists today. For many who remain loyal to the older establishments, there is a level of nostalgia involved. As the owner of the Trolley Car quips, “It’s always the 1950’s in our magical little part of the world.” Even the grouchy waitresses, lack of elbow room, and obnoxious noise level can have a certain charm all their own. As one student stated about the South Street Diner, “Excellent food, open whenever, good service and downright cheap…who can complain?”

One of the advantages of the diner scene is the diverse crowd it attracts depending on the time: everyone from truckers to crying infants can show up for breakfast on any given day. In many areas, however, the late-night shift is dominated by college students. Some campuses stake out their own territory in the area—the Philly Diner at 39th and Walnut, for instance, is often regarded as stomping ground for UPenn students and others living in University City. The atmosphere is one that encourages conversation, as you are permitted to spend an hour chatting over a cup of coffee while other restaurants would hustle you out the door ASAP. The diner is also conducive to the psychotic college student schedule, when we eat dinner at 2 a.m. or want French toast in the afternoon after pulling an all-nighter.

The food, of course, can range from anything imaginable. There are always hamburgers, French fries, club sandwiches, eggs, pancakes, coffee, apple pie and cheese steaks to choose from. Some more refined palates would argue that diner food is a greasy excuse for a meal, while others argue that it’s the best you can get for the price. For those who miss Mom’s home cooking or are just sick of getting scalded by the waffle machine in the dining hall, the diner is a tempting way to spend five bucks.

The diner scene in Philly may not live up to Jersey’s infinite number of options, but it certainly has the sassy attitude and sense of comfortable familiarity the city is known for (and we have to give Jersey something they can be proud of.) With some of the local favorites standing for decades and others being built and renovated all around the area, it’s easy to believe that Philadelphia diners will be feeding students round-the-clock for years to come.

You can contact Dannie McGuire at professional@campusphilly.org

Career Fair Prep

A career or internship fair is one of the most efficient ways of finding a position and exploring options for your future, but it will be a waste of time if you don’t come prepared. Philadelphia will be hosting a number of great opportunities this autumn and it’s up to you to take full advantage of the abundance of jobs.

Getting ready to attend a career fair can require more effort than your typical job interview, as you will be meeting with up to dozens of employers throughout the day.

A professional résumé is a must—capitalize on your school’s career center, where the pros can provide valuable advice as well as help you with editing. If this isn’t an option, use an online résumé template and get a couple friends, parent or an expert to read it through for you. Be sure to print out plenty of copies and keep them organized so you don’t embarrass yourself by running out or fumbling for them during an interview.

Some employers suggest bringing a career portfolio; this can be a particularly good idea if you have job experience or done work that could impress recruiters and stand apart from your résumé. The standard portfolio includes copies of your résumé, a list of references and samples of what you consider to be your best work.

You may think that business cards are just for pretentious men on Wall Street, but they will be expected of you as well. There are a lot of cheap options for students at places like Office Depot or Staples, as well as do-it-at-home methods on your own printer—handwritten cards are unacceptable. According to Peter Vogt, a career coach at MonsterTRAK, you should include your “name, contact information and perhaps your major and the career you’d like to pursue after graduation.” You’ll want to leave one of these cards at each of the corporate tables you visit.

Before you visit, find out which companies will be attending the fair and do some background research on each. This will allow you to formulate intelligent questions for your interviewer and let them know that you’ve done the legwork and are aware of what’s going on. These questions should not include “How much do you pay?” Remember that you are a product, and you want to look the part. Leave college gear like backpacks, jeans, T-shirts and sneakers at home. Go the extra mile to show recruiters that you can be a young professional and strive to be over-dressed rather than under-dressed.

It’s difficult for a lot of people to view themselves as a product, but it’s a necessary skill. Imagine that you are a bottle of OxyClean; no one would ever buy the merchandise if it wasn’t sold with passion and confidence. Part of marketing yourself includes developing your own mini-infomercial. Take the time to come up with a thirty-second run-down that will identify who you are, your goals and your strengths. Spending a couple of minutes to really think about how you want to be perceived will pay off when you have a limited amount of time to pitch yourself. Quintessential Careers’ Dr. Randall Hansen also suggests pre-registering for the fair if possible, so that “employers get a chance to prescreen applicants and possibly make note of applicants they want to meet at the fair.” Give yourself every possible advantage.

When the day of the event arrives, remain confident and don’t let nerves get the best of you. Bring along a pen and a notebook for jotting down contact info or other notes and try to arrive early. Recruiters are faced with the daunting task of interviewing up to hundreds of people in one day, so it’s best to catch them before they get too tired and ornery. The usual interviewing skills apply here: give a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, show enthusiasm and use your commercial to give them an overview of what you have to offer. Show your interest by using some questions from your research and don’t waste your time with companies you have no interest in.

It’s important to view the fair as a valuable learning experience. Leave your résumé and business card with every representative you talk to and take down their contact information in return. Use this as an opportunity to network with recruiters and fellow job-seekers alike. Some companies provide goodies and swag at their tables, but they won’t appreciate you sneaking handfuls of pens or laser pointers into your briefcase. After speaking with the employer, ask for the best method of contacting them: email, phone, snail mail or in person.

As with every interview, the work doesn’t stop when the fair ends. Take notes on what you discussed with whom and keep these notes organized. The next day, send out personal thank-you notes or emails to everyone who took the time to speak with you. This follow-up is the most important step of the process, says Vogt. “Most job seekers fail to take this simple step, often losing out in the end to those who did express their thanks.” Don’t make empty promises, however; if you say you will follow up to schedule an interview, do so. Flaking out will only ruin your professional reputation.

Now that you have mastered these skills, you are ready to tackle the upcoming Philly career fairs with vigor. The Jobadelphia Career Fair, for instance, will bring dozens of top companies to the Wachovia Center on Sept. 10. The MEGA Career Fair takes place the next week on Sept. 17 at Lincoln Financial Field and will include hundreds of potential employers. Obviously, there are many more career occasions through the city of Philadelphia and your own college career center, so keep yourself in the loop and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible!

You can contact Dannie McGuire at professional@campusphilly.org

Tropic Thunder Review

I was able to see a digital screening of Tropic Thunder at USC. Immediately following the screening was a Q&A with the films producer Stuart Cornfeld, who provided some interesting insight behind the movies creation.

Released Aug. 15, Tropic Thunder depicts a director who is having trouble making a war film with his superstar cast. His remedy: send his five staring actors to a remote location out of the country in an effort to help them get into character. Things get out of hand, however, and the five actors stumble upon some unfriendliness with no easy way back home.

At the beginning of the movie, trailers and commercials play that help provide some back-story to the actors in the film. The first commercial was a little jarring to me, but the rest were fairly funny and received huge reactions from the crowd.

Some might assume the funniest actor in the film is Ben Stiller, but in fact it was Robert Downey Jr. who played Kirk Lazarus—an Australian actor who has his skin color darkened to better play his African American character in the film they are making. “I know who I am! I’m the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude!” he says in the film.

Cornfeld mentioned in his Q&A that they got Downey Jr. to play the role by having an acclaimed make-up artist photoshop an image of the actor as an African American in the way the artist would actually do the make-up. This image was sent to Downey Jr. along with the script and happily he took the role.

The second funniest person in the film was surprisingly Tom Cruise who played a balding, hairy, fat studio exec. His role was supposed to be a surprise cameo, but paparazzi managed to get photos of him in costume last year.

Cornfeld mentioned to the audience at the screening that Cruise’s role was his own idea, as is some of the stuff he does in the film.

Ben Stiller and Jack Black were both funny, but I wasn’t terribly impressed by either. Stiller plays a famous actor who made some bad acting choices in the past and tries to redeem himself at the wrong time. Black plays an overweight, drug-addict actor known for playing multiple roles in the same film.

Interestingly, Cornfeld mentioned a lot of actors turned down Black’s role, not wanting to play a fat actor. “What do you think you play in every other movie you’re in?” Cornfeld commented.

As far as the writing, some of the jokes were hits, while others were misses, but this is usually the case with over-the-top movies like Tropic Thunder. Not every joke will be funny to everyone, and most likely, the movie won’t be for everyone. If you’re a fan of Ben Stiller’s work though, Zoolander being one of your favorite movies (it’s one of mine), then you’ll love Tropic Thunder. If you’re not a fan of Stiller’s work, still check this movie out. Comedy wise, it probably won’t get any better than this in 2008.

You can contact Lucian Tucker at lucian.tucker@gmail.com

PixelJunk Eden

I’ve had Xbox Live for years now and have only downloaded one Xbox Live Arcade game—Streets of Rage 2. However, after only having Playstation 3 (PS3) for a few months, I’ve downloaded two games from the Playstation Store. One is an addictive, yet frustrating puzzle game called Echocrome where players must use perspective to distort reality. The other game is PixelJunk Eden.

A $9.99 purchase, PixelJunk Eden feels more like psychedelic, interactive art than a simple video game. Gamers play as a grimp, a small, fantasy creature, who must scour Eden to collect fifty spectra which are scattered throughout ten gardens. To reach the spectra, gamers must jump, spin and swing through the various gardens to destroy what are called Prowlers and retrieve the pollen they release. The pollen is then used to grow nearby plants, leading gamers deeper into the gardens.

PixelJunk Eden is the kind of game that can be explained a lot better by being shown rather than played. Luckily, there is a feature in the game that allows players to record themselves playing and then post it on to YouTube. Alternatively, the recording can also be saved locally on the Playstation 3’s hard drive, but it appears as though a video cannot be both saved locally and online. The video quality is not great, but the game does not rely heavily on super high-resolution graphics anyway.

The game takes a little getting used to, although X is the only button that ever really needs to be pressed. Pressing X makes the grimp jump. If jumping from the proper surface, the grimp remains connected to its original location with silk. The silk allows for swinging and destroying Prowlers, but the silk can be destroyed by enemies or by remaining connected for too long. Pressing X releases the silk. And while in the air, holding X makes the grimp spin, allowing it to pass through plants unattached.

After a little practice, swinging and spinning from plant to plant becomes second nature, while playing becomes more and more addictive.

Bumping in the background is a variety of techno-hip music that fits the game well. PixelJunk Eden’s soundtrack is not particularly exciting, but it does intertwine well with the game-play. For example, the better you are doing, the louder the music gets. When your time is almost up, the music gets faster.

The color of the plants, background and enemies change much like the music does. There are multiple spectra in each garden. When one is collected, the color of everything in the garden changes. There are times, however, when gardens feel drab and objects become hard to make out due to everything being in a similar shade.

New elements are introduced in PixelJunk Eden the further players advance so the game always feels fresh and challenging. But the game never becomes too frustrating. In fact, it is downright relaxing. Not once did I really feel like throwing my controller into a wall and yelling obscenities. This makes PixelJunk Eden a great game to play when gamers feel stuck on some other confusing game and want to take a break by playing something simple. And for only $9.99, PixelJunk Eden should be on every gamer’s Playstation 3.

You can contact Lucian Tucker at lucian.tucker@gmail.com

The Hush Sound Tours Philly

Fresh off their stint with Panic At The Disco, Phantom Planet and Motion City Soundtrack on The Honda Civic Tour, The Hush Sound and their Dancing Across The Country Tour made its Philadelphia stop at The Theatre of the Living Arts on Aug. 22.

In an interview before the show, bassist Chris Faller said that watching bands like Phantom Planet subconsciously helped us prepare to be the bigger band on this tour.

While they didn’t have as big of a turnout as the last time they played the TLA (a sold out house), the Chicago area band and their support still delivered a great performance.

The Dance Across The Country Tour, which singer/guitarist Bob Morris said is a lyric from…the song ‘Medicine Man’ brings out newcomers The Morning Light, old friends Steel Train and new friends and label mates The Cab.

When I go to shows these days, I’m always looking forward to the bands I don’t know. I can’t remember the last time I attended a concert where I hadn’t seen or heard the music of one of the bands on the bill before and previously passed judgment. Sometimes I have some knowledge of all of them which is cool. But I get so excited to see bands I haven’t a clue about because I’m always on the lookout for someone new to love.

On this tour, The Morning Light was that band.

This Pittsburgh band shocked me to my core, which just goes to show that you should never assume. I had heard of them before but never seen them live and definitely didn’t think they had any fans (no offense, guys). But they did have fans, lots of them and they gained one more with me.

While their front is typical emo-band-makes-good, their music says otherwise.

I’m a big fan of crazy bass riffs and the bass guitar in general, but the ones Andy McDonald was turning out made me love them even more. The sound of The Morning Light is both unique and amazing, combining soul with a little indie, but still mainstream sounding enough to be popular. I also detected a little Something Corporate influence in the style of keyboardist Harrison Wargo.

Maybe it was because the guys were playing in their home state or maybe this is how they are every night, but the band seemed just genuinely happy to be on stage.

Songs like Honest and Brand New Friends were played to promote the band’s self-titled new album due out Sept. 23.

In the realm of criticisms, I only have one. I can always appreciate how singers, especially stationary singers, feel the need to contribute something other than standing at a mic stand belting it out. But please, Bobby Garver, breaking out the tambourine and the cowbell isn’t cute anymore. We’ve seen it all before. Just sing, you’re really good at it!

In any case, I think we can expect mature and wonderful things from this band. This was definitely the highlight of my night.

I don’t really know what to say about Steel Train. They’ve got a fun yet classic feel, but I just didn’t like them. They were by no means bad, just typical. It seemed to me that they were trying very hard not to be like everyone else. I think that type of thing should be a natural progression, unforced.

However, Steel Train was very energetic and very much fueled by audience participation. Singer Jack Antonoff encouraged lots of clap-alongs and various whoops and hollers from the crowd every chance he got. Although Steel Train uses too make fake bell sounds for my taste, they make great music to dance to. I also got the impression that they guys didn’t much care what they looked like and enjoyed being goofy and having fun, however the dramatic 80s touch just didn’t translate for me.

But the guys redeemed themselves when they channeled a barbershop quartet for an acoustic number and then again when they covered Abba’s Mama Mia.

And then there was The Cab.

After seeing this band twice on tour with Cobra Starship, I thought I was convinced that I didn’t care for them. But like they say, third time’s a charm.

Having actually talked to singer Alex DeLeon and bassist Cash Colligan this time around, I now know some things about The Cab that I didn’t before, factors that contribute to my new-found love of them: All the members graduated from high school just a little more than a year ago and probably the most endearing, three of the five members are named Alex.

We kind of eliminated the whole Alex thing from the band, Colligan said. We call Alex the singer, Singer, and Alex Johnson our drummer, Johnson, and Alex Marshall on piano, is Marshall. People like to make up some things like, ‘Oh, the singer makes them call him Singer.’ We’re just very simplistic, non-creative people, so the first nickname to pop up we take. You sing. You’re Singer.

I also know that I like them less because they decided to cover *NSync’s It’s Gonna Be Me. Just kidding.

The Cab opened their set with I’ll Run, the biggest crowd favorite by far and continued to wow their Philly fans with tracks from their debut album, Whisper War.

DeLeon is the perfect match for the type of music The Cab wants to make. His swagger fits the jazzy soulfulness of songs like Bounce (one of DeLeon’s favorites) and his vocals soar on Take My Hand. On the other hand, Colligan prefers the more upbeat songs.

[I like] anything we can get going live, Colligan said. Obviously there’s a couple songs that are just for listening ears only. But I’m down for the live energy of songs.

Guitarist Ian Crawford just amazes me with his solos on songs like That 70s Song where he played an incredible riff…behind his head! The band also played Vegas Skies which according to DeLeon, they never do.

If the *NSync song didn’t throw me off, the one from Aladdindefinitely did. Yes, they broke out A Whole New World and it wasn’t half bad! As strange and funny as it is, I think it’s good that a band is versatile enough to be able to play all these songs.

Alternative Press Magazine called The Cab The Band You Need To Know in 2008, a title of which DeLeon said is something that needs to be taken in stride.

All we can do is tour and write our music and hope that people…have a positive response, DeLeon said. If people choose us to be a part of something like that, we’re really excited, but we don’t necessarily think we should or shouldn’t be there. You cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Nods like that, plus the fact that they are just super nice guys, is why The Cab will be going straight to the top sooner rather than later.

By the time The Hush Sound took the stage, the crowd was more than ready for them.

The band entered in darkness except for a small decorative lamp that adorned the piano of co-vocalist Greta Salpeter.

This band has grown up immensely since the first time I saw them back in 2006 on the Black Clouds and Underdogs Tour. They are a group that is very simplistic and all about their craft, something that I appreciate. Their style is not too flashy and they wow the crowd with nothing but talent.

The band is touring in support of their new album, Goodbye Blues,which they recorded with Kevin Augunas, an effort drummer Darren Wilson described as laid back…and easy going.

THS’ set consisted mostly of songs from Goodbye Bluessuch as Molasses and Hurricane. I noticed that Salpeter definitely has a greater vocal presence on this new album, whereas in the past, she and Morris shared the effort or it fell solely on Morris.

I think my favorite new song is Medicine Man, which Morris revealed is going to be the next single. They also treated us to some oldies including Like Vine

s, Don’t Wake Me Up and Wine Red on which they were joined by Crawford from The Cab.

THS brought their show to an end with a cover of Jackson 5’s I Want You Back and the first single from the new album, Honey.

Morris described the title Goodbye Bluesas a reference to all the trials and tribulations he and his fellow band mates have gone through during their evolution to established artists. In listening to the album, you can tell that any troubles The Hush Sound may have had in the past are gone and all that remains is good, solid music. This point is driven home even more when you see the album performed live.

You can contact Cara Donaldson at entertainment@campusphilly.org

Rancid

On Aug. 10, Rancid played at The Electric Factory alongside Big D and the Kids Table and The Percocettes. For those unaware (although this group would be in the vast minority) Rancid has been dominating the punk scene for the last 15 years combining straight up punk rock with ska and elements of street and pop punk. Their most recent release was the late 2007/early 2008 B-sides compilation “B-Sides and C-Sides,” and they are expecting an album of new material later this year.

At about 8 p.m., Philly punk band The Percocettes took the stage in front of their pink zebra striped amplifiers. Led by both singer and guitar player Cole Della-Zucca and bass player and backing vocalist Toothless George, the band played a blend of punk reminiscent of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The crowd responded relatively well for an opening band, some getting decently into the music towards the end of the set.

After a little wait, the seven-piece Boston ska band Big D and the Kids Table took the stage playing their brand of fun, sometimes politically driven ska. Throughout their set, which was roughly 45 minutes to an hour long, they played most of their fan favorites, opening with Steady Riot. They also played My Girlfriend’s on Drugs, LAX, Noise Complaint, Souped Up Vinyl, and Shining On.

Midway through their set singer Dave McWane explained their issues with their last tour. Apparently, they went through 3 vans that have all broke down, making them late for shows and making their last tour significantly more of a bad time than it should have been. Prior to giving thanks to their fans for making the last tour worthwhile, McWane announced that for the first time in the bands career they had rented a tour bus (although, this was because buses are apparently more reliable than vans). Soon after that, they played several more songs, including covers of the Morphine song “Early to Bed” and the Jonathan Richman song “New England.”

About a half hour later, Rancid came on the stage with an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The room darkened and the band’s name showed onscreen as the famous track from the movie was played. Soon after this, the band opened with “Radio,” a single from their album Let’s Go. This began an hour an a half of what can only be called a “punk rock extravaganza.

Overall they didn’t say much throughout their set, mostly choosing to do it straightforward. About midway though they played the popular “Maxwell Murder,” which is single handedly popular for Matt Freeman’s intense bass solo. Normally the solo is roughly 10 seconds long, but guitarists/vocalists Lars Fredrickson and Tim Armstrong ran offstage, allowing Freeman to take center stage and extend the already intense solo into about a minute long.

A little later on they played the legendary track “Knowledge,” which was from the ever influential Operation Ivy, the former band of Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman. Towards the end of the show, Lars played the song “The Wars End,” by himself on stage, allowing the crowd to sing most of the vocals. Soon after, they closed their show with only one encore song, which was perhaps their most famous single to date–“Time Bomb.”

Before I criticize Rancid, let me preface it with the fact that I absolutely love this band and would perhaps not even be interested in punk rock if I didn’t hear them so long ago. I think they played a great show, and I’m not going to say Big D outperformed them, because that wouldn’t be entirely true. My only issue with Rancid, and why I think Big D has a leg up on them, is that it was very obvious that Big D had 10 times more fun than Rancid. Big D got on stage and allowed themselves to just go with the flow, while Rancid, it seemed, wanted to control every aspect of their live show. It seemed like they had playing down to a science. Maybe that’s what a band that’s been around for 20 years and still plays punk shows has to do. It’s just nice to see a band that still jokes around with each other onstage.

Regardless of this, Rancid is an incredibly important band. I’m sure there are countless people who know of punk rock almost entirely because of them, and they still played an amazing show. Everything they did can only be described as larger than life, and that’s what they are essentially. I’m sure many will dispute this, but Rancid somehow finds a way to sell a large amount of records, play sold out shows, and still stay an extremely punk band.

You can contact Chris Banks at chrisbanks@temple.edu

Leftover Crack

Roya Butler Wharton ’12

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of Campus Philly.

Few bands can charge their politics with ska-punk adrenaline quite like Leftover Crack. They take the original agenda of Operation Ivy and infuse it with the righteous indignation of Rage Against the Machine. While many bands whine about the current political situation, Leftover Crack is speaking out.

Campus Philly was able to interview frontman Stza at the band’s show Aug. 1 at the Trocadero and discuss his music, politics and musical influences.

Campus Philly:Leftover Crack is rooted in the urban jungle, yet you’ve grown widely popular with suburban teens.

Stza:Well, I grew up in the city of Manhattan. I understand that a lot our fans are from the suburbs. And for those suburban teenagers, I guess you live in a cookie-cutter suburban life where every house looks the same, and your parents are republicans, and you want to rebel against them, so I guess we’re a good choice. Why not?

CP: Did your band start this crusty punk phenomenon?

S:No, we did not start crusty. I merely happened to be one. There were many before me. I definitely didn’t start any trend there. Crusty was always “cheek” back before I was a punk even. But I grew up in New York City, and I think that crusty has a longer history in New York. I’m not sure where it started, but there were probably a lot more crusties when I was growing up in New York City than there were in most cities.

CP:How did it get started?

S:When I think of Crusty, I think of bands like Reagan Youth and Nausea. I think of them as the prototypical crusties. Amebix is another band. Crusty’s kind of off shoot of hippies. They started out as hippies who were also political punks. Then they started hating the hippy lifestyle about love and peace. They were into peace, but were also about revolution.

CP:What do you think of pop culture’s continuing role in the dumbing down of society?

S:I think that it’s very successful, and it will continue to perpetuate itself. So that everybody’s really stupid. Not that they’re not right now, but they’ll just get dumber. People won’t even really notice it, I don’t think. Generations and generations will go on, and people will just be dumber and dumber.

CP:Your critics have described you as a symbol of failure for the youth. What do you think of that?

S:Sure I’d love to be a symbol of failure in the eyes of society, because society has failed me, and it’s failed most kids. And if they’re too dumb to figure that out, then they’re just going to have pretty miserable lives. Same thing with the cookie-cutter suburban life. That’s pretty boring. I don’t think I’m a symbol of failure in society, but for people who don’t want to be a part of society.

CP:As a symbol for kids, you’ve amassed this army of followers. What do you think of this?

S:We’re in Philadelphia. This is one of the two cities where we have a lot of people that come to see us play.

CP:Then you at least have an army in Philadelphia, right?

S:I don’t know about that. I don’t feel like the kids that come to see us have this undying devotion in that they’ll do anything for us like an army. When you say army, we don’t really have a cause to follow. We don’t offer any solutions. We are here to influence people to a certain extent. Some things make sense, some things don’t.

We’re trying to do something different with the band. Maybe be not so in your face political, but still all the songs in a way are more political. We’re trying a different thing.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of Campus Philly.

You can contact Roya Butler at roya@alumni.upenn.edu