In February, when the coronavirus was first causing travel restrictions and tour cancellations around the world, Andy Hurwitz had an idea.
The veteran Philadelphia music business insider made his first call to producer and engineer Phil Nicolo.
“I said, ‘Let’s do a show,’ " says the Ropeadope Records founder and music attorney, explaining the origins of Love From Philly, the three-day music festival that will kick off Friday at 5 p.m.
Love From Philly will be a music festival unlike any that Philadelphia has seen. That’s in part because it’s a COVID-19 relief fund-raiser for local musicians and venue workers that can only be viewed online, streaming live at lovefromphilly.live.
But it’s also because unlike real-world festivals that bring traveling musicians to town, this one will feature a lineup entirely of Philadelphia acts, performing from the isolation of their own quarantines.
The lineup of the multi-genre virtual event includes Kurt Vile, Freeway, Christian McBride, the War on Drugs , Low Cut Connie, John Oates, Ursula Rucker, Kevin Eubanks, Bahamadia, Lauren Hart, Rob Grote of the Districts, Arnetta Johnson, and G. Love, who has custom-written a jingle for the festival.
“ ‘This corona stuff is real,’ ” Hurwitz remembers telling Nicolo. “Every venue is going to be shut down, and all these musicians are going to be stuck at home with nothing to do.”
Through 30 Amp Circuit, the nonprofit Hurwitz cofounded in 2017 to promote health and wellness among Philly musicians, Hurwitz is giving out $330 micro-grants to local musicians and venue workers, drawing from $50,000 received from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2019.
Meanwhile, Craig Kaplan had an idea of his own. A marketing entrepreneur, Kaplan has a musical family history: His father, Shelly, was a cofounder of the original Electric Factory at 22nd and Arch Streets in 1968.
When the pandemic canceled Kaplan’s planned promotional events with chefs and athletes, “I had a bad 10-minute period where I was like, ‘This sucks!’ ”
“Then I thought: What matters to me most? Music. My mind went to the workers at all these venues, and I decided to create an event to help them out. Since then I’ve been working on this 10 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s been great.”
Kaplan got in touch with Schoolly D, the West Philly gangsta rap pioneer born Jesse Weaver, known for his innovative 1980s hits like “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?”
“He told me, ‘Call Andy, he’s working on something similar,’ ” says Kaplan, who then joined forces with Hurwitz.
Schoolly had by then already taken part in a Love From Philly live stream from Studio 4 in Conshohocken, organized by Hurwitz and Nicolo and featuring the band Trapt Rabbit.
That March 13 show was marred by technical difficulties, with too many people crammed into a small space.
But it got word out about 30 Amp’s efforts. Hurwitz started to hear from people, ranging from “blue-collar cats you see hustling to gigs all over Philly” to music teachers, opera singers, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“The stories were real. People are like, ‘I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ ”
With Kaplan and Hurwitz working together, and teaming with Philadelphia digital marketing and event company Our People Entertainment, the current iteration of Love From Philly grew.
Friday’s “Busking on Broad” bill features emerging acts like rocker Ali Awan and hip-hop band Ill Doots mixed with stalwarts like Charlie Ingui of the Soul Survivors and Don Lee Van Winkle of the American Dream.
Saturday is Jazz Fest day. The lineup is impressive, with Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, organist Joey DeFrancesco, sax great Odean Pope, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, poet Ursula Rucker, sax player Tom Moon, and trumpeter Matt Cappy with rapper Chill Moody.
Sunday brings in Vile, Oates, Freeway, Schoolly D, Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie, Man Man, Eric Slick of Dr. Dog, and DJ Cosmo Baker. Late addition the War on Drugs will perform as a full band, with members playing in different locations around the country.
The musicians aren’t being paid but are eager to express solidarity.
“I’m happy to do it for Philly,” said Vile. “I wouldn’t say no to something like this.” The guitarist whose spring tour has been rescheduled for autumn has been spending his quarantine listening to the Dead Milkmen and Thelonious Monk, reading a John Prine biography, watching Seinfeld reruns, and working on new music.
“The reality is awful,” he says. “But I’ve been wanting to be home for a while, so at least I’m with my family.” He says he liked the way his performance turned out on Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion special, and “I’m working on making this one look and sound cool because it’s for Philly.”
“I rep Philly to the fullest,” said Freeway, the North Philly “What We Do” rapper born Leslie Pridgen. “If this is something positive and is going to uplift the community and help spread awareness, I’m with it.”
Freeway has been a spokesman for kidney disease awareness since receiving a transplant in 2018. His suppressed immune system has made him “extra cautious.”
“The whole experience made me cherish life a little more and put things in perspective. I took [the virus] serious from the rip. I took a ride though the neighborhood in North Philly land; it shocked me how people are interacting with each other. It’s crazy to me. I need people to buckle down and take this thing seriously.”
Hurwitz says 30 Amp has given out 38 micro-grants so far, with many more to come with funds raised through Love From Philly fest, plus a $20,000 donation the nonprofit received this week from the Automobile Association of America. Details on how to apply are at 30Amp.org.
“It’s been exciting sharing with musicians,” Hurwitz said. “I feel like Ed McMahon.”
30 Amp is among several organizations helping out music workers in need.
Gregory Seltzer, founder of the Philly Music Fest, has awarded 260 $250 micro-grants, with 75 more to be paid. He and his wife, Jenn, are working in conjunction with WXPN-FM (88.5), which has committed $25,000 to the Music Community Relief Fund.
The Love From Philly fest, Veasley says, “will demonstrate the breadth of the music that Philly makes, from R&B to hip-hop to singer-songwriters to rock to jazz.”
But the fest will also "spotlight what the virus is doing as it affects musicians and people adjacent to what musicians do. Venue owners, bartenders, servers, engineers. Everybody. There are a lot of people hurting. We need to amplify the message that we need assistance. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”