NonComm 2018

WXPN’s Annual Festival Features Music the Matters

The 2018 Non-Commercial Radio Convention (NonCommvention), a whirlwind of music and discussion, descended upon World Café Live at WXPN Studios in Philadelphia for the 18th straight year last week.  Once again, proving the power of music.

For four days and three nights, more than twenty-five bands took to the stage and the result was nothing less than awe-inspiring. The take-away from my perspective is that this country will not surrender to intolerance.  These musicians and industry professionals will not let it.  Specifically, the intolerance of foreigners, of women, and of the disenfranchised.

This was made clear early on by the Jeff Rosenstock Band and their unrestrained plea with our present government to just let people live before they dove into a riotous, punk ballad of “USA.”  When he drug the audience into the depths of the “tired and bored” repetitive lyric I think everyone in the place legitimately felt tired and bored of the persecution of people who don’t fit a certain mold.  Rosenstock was more hurt than angry and he passed that hurt onto the rest of us.

On Day 2, Brandi Carlile absolutely captivated the audience throughout her set but was particularly riveting when introducing her latest hit, “Mother.”  She related to the audience that she has a wife and family and that she feels compelled to talk about them every time she’s in front of a microphone.  She feels that her way of life is being threatened and she has to bring it to the forefront at every opportunity.  And this provided one of the more powerful moments of the Non-COMMvention when she brought her pre-school child Evangeline on stage.  She broke into “Mother” and with the words:

“The world has stood against us made us mean to fight for you
And when we chose your name we knew you’d fight the power too.”

the chills went down the spine.

But all was not activism and anger.  There was a lot of fun as well.  Rayland Baxter, Nathaniel Rateliff, Sweet Spirit, Angelique Kidjo and others gave upbeat, often raucous performances throughout the week.  Among the more memorable came from the local group Low Cut Connie.  The funky, soulful music complete with lead singer, Adam Weiner playing his piano with his feet, was thirty minutes of happiness.  I never had the opportunity to see Jerry Lee Lewis during his prime but this was probably the closest thing to it.

Low Cut Connie
Low Cut Connie at NonComm 2018

Among several bands hailing from beyond our shores were Gang of Youths from Australia and Jaye Bird from England.  Although their styles could not be more different, they both managed to leave the audience overjoyed.

Gang of Youths exuded so much energy on stage that when they descended into the crowd I was fearful for some of those closest to the action.  Not that GoY were in any way violent or insensible, but their energy was uncontainable.   Their latest hit, “The Heart is a Muscle,” uplifted the entire house and I am sure put the crowd in touch with their own heart muscle.

And Jade Bird was simply adorable!  That may not be an acceptable adjective for a young woman today but it is true nonetheless.  Throughout her performance, she shared her experiences trying to break into the music industry with a humor and wisdom that belied her twenty years on this planet.  When she completed her haunting rendition of “Furious” you could hear a pin drop in the audience and her reaction was priceless:  She was genuinely blown away by the captured audience and quipped that after three weeks on the road playing honky-tonks she had forgotten what it felt like when people actually listened.

Sweet Spirit
Sweet Spirit at NonComm 2018

So, the 18th annual Non-Commercial Radio Convention is over.  But there is something to be taken from this assembly of some of the finest new talent in music.  It is obvious that they recognize the role of music in getting people to think about life around them.  And it is equally obvious that they will not allow the progress made by our great nation in engendering tolerance and mutual respect to be thwarted by people who don’t believe in either.

Rock On!
Steve Wildwood

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