The story of my love/hate relationship with country music is a post for another day. But for now it’ll do to say that I like (real) country music and I feel that there isn’t enough of it being played (or being marketed, at least) these days. So when I heard that everyone’s favorite folk/punk troubadour Frank Turner would be in Philly opening for Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, two country artists lauded for starting a resurgence of roots-based country music, I was excited. I’d heard of both of them but hadn’t yet given them a fair listen. I decided it was high time I went to another country show…my first in thirteen years. (Like I wouldn’t have gone anyway even if I hated country music. It’s Frank Turner, for pete’s sake.) To add to the fun, I dragged my sister along in an attempt to convert her to FTHC-acolyte status.
It was held at Festival Pier, a general admission, open air pavilion that’s part of Penn’s Landing, and it turned out to be beautiful evening, warm and sunny and breezy. My sister and I thought we’d get a place up front for Frank’s set, then give up our spots after he finished so we could sit on the beach, have a beer, and watch the other acts from a distance. The first part of the plan worked flawlessly – while we weren’t at the front of the queue, we still managed to snag a good spot at the barrier. But the space in front of the stage filled in quickly. Despite seeing a few familiar faces around us and hearing some talk that referenced Frank, we weren’t sure how many in that mass of people were there to support the first opener.
It didn’t take long to get an answer. Hearing the crowd sing the opening song, “I Still Believe”, at the top of their voices, my sister turned to me, her eyes wide, and said (shouted, more like), “Holy shit – Frank is very well represented here.”
The set was, unsurprisingly, short. Far too short – a mere ten songs where he normally plays almost three times that. The songs were obviously carefully selected too. “Try This at Home” and “Four Simple Words” and the more punk-influenced songs didn’t make an appearance and were replaced by gentler, folksier “The Opening Act of Spring” and “The Way I Tend To Be”. Frank played a stripped-down, solo version of “Glorious You” that was just heartbreaking. And, in one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a show, he invited a little boy from the audience on stage to play the harmonica solo in “Dan’s Song”.
Despite the fact that it was over just when it seemed that they were getting warmed up, their show was still as high-energy and intense as I’ve come to expect. I have no doubt the guys earned a few new fans that night and I’m glad for it.
With Frank’s set over, my sister and I went in search of some refreshment. Unfortunately, in formulating our game plan for the evening, we failed to consider just how many people would want to attend an open air concert on a beautiful Friday night in early summer – the place was a mob scene. It took forever just to get away from the stage area, and once we finally did, we had an interminable wait for a few insanely expensive beers. And by then, we realized that it had gotten so crowded, there was no place to sit to enjoy it. We sought refuge in the only relatively calm place left on the grounds – the entrance area. Which ended up being a bit serendipitous because this happened:
Afterwards, since neither of us were too keen on wading back into the scrum of intoxicated country music fans, my sister and I decided to end the night on that high note. So, having not heard more than a couple songs from Jason Isbell’s set, we left, headed to a bar close to home, and spent the rest of the night talking about how we can’t wait until August when Frank and the Souls come back to town so we can do it all over again.