Cosmo Baker has had plenty of high-profile gigs, but he’s never started a party quite like the one at 12th and Arch Streets last week.
“I’ve done things with bigger crowds,” says the South Philly DJ. “I’ve played on beautiful mountaintops. I’ve done things at the Guggenheim Museum. But never anything like this. This was one of one.”
As workers inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center tallied votes for Donald Trump and Joe Biden on Thursday, Nov. 5, revelers danced to the feel-good songs Baker played for the #CountEveryVote block party, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” and Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”
Playing “happy, uplifting, powerful positive tunes” starting at 7 a.m., Baker was the first DJ up at the block party, and the music he played left many of those who came intending to argue to stop the count “almost befuddled,” Baker says.
“It took the wind out of their sails. They couldn’t be seething with anger, because here I am playing Luther Vandross, and everybody was happy."
Baker was followed by other DJs who kept #CountEveryVote going before he returned on Friday night when the party was at its peak. He went viral on a clip that featured YG’s “FDT,” and an organizer with the nonpartisan group Joy to the Polls celebrated him on Instagram Saturday morning, declaring: “Last night a DJ saved democracy.”
He intends to bring some of that spirit to Dance On Philly, a virtual dance party being staged at the Fillmore on Saturday as a fund-raiser for Musicopia, which supports music education in local schools, and Dancing Classrooms Philly, which aims to “foster, self-esteem, social awareness, and joy in children” through ballroom dance.
The event is being billed as “A City-Wide Virtual Dance Party Celebrating Democracy, Freedom and Love,” and more succinctly as “Part Soul Train, Part TikTok.”
Dance On Philly is the brainchild of Andy Hurwitz, the Philadelphia music entrepreneur who coproduced the virtual fund-raiser Love From Philly in May that raised $92,000 for microgrants to musicians and music-industry workers via the nonprofit 30 Amp Circuit.
Cohosting with Baker will be Philly singers Zeek Burse and Lauren Hart, Pennsylvania Academy of Dance Arts creative director Kimberly D. Landle, Erin Coleman of NBC10, and children’s artist Alex Mitnick.
The model for Dance On Philly is dance party TV shows of yore like Soul Train, the 1970s soul and funk show that carried on until 1996, and Dancin' On Air, which was produced in Philadelphia in the 1980s.
Those seeking to show off their moves can use Zoom to enter what is being billed as “Club Inclusion: The World’s First Interactive Nightclub.”
Powered by Philly DJs and dancers
Hurwitz got the Dance On Philly idea during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic watching interactive streams on Twitch by Baker and Philly hip-hop and house music DJ Rich Medina.
Baker, who is the Dance On Philly music director, will play two sets during the show. He has also booked Medina, along with DJs Jabair, Abby Klein, and AliceXtra.
“The driving force is to celebrate the DJs and the dancers of the city,” says Hurwitz.
Local dancers will join the show at the Fillmore from BalletX, Klassic Contemporary Ballet Company, Pennsylvania Academy of Dance Arts, and other groups.
Social distancing guidelines will be strictly enforced, says Hurwitz. “We’re allowed 34 people total in the building,” including hosts, DJs, dancers, and camera operators. (The Fillmore, which is operated by Live Nation, has a capacity of 2,500.)
A maximum of three dancers will be on stage at once, says Hurwitz, with nine on the venue’s large dance floor, “though it will look like a lot more” thanks to four HD camera operators.
He hopes to make both Love from Philly and Dance on Philly annual events supporting local musicians, along with artists from all disciplines.
Joy, happiness, good energy
At last week’s dance party at 12th and Arch, Baker says, “I could feel my role shifting from somebody out there to entertain and electrify people defending the vote counting process, to something more celebratory. And to me that was just amazing … It just felt really incredible to be part of a very profound moment in history. And to be right at the center of it.”
For Dance On Philly this Saturday, the first of his two sets at 8 p.m., will have a We Are Family theme. It “won’t necessarily be kid-centric, but it will be about joy and happiness, and good energy,” he says. “One of the things I’ve always believed is that music is ... a force for allowing people to feel together.”
His late-night 11 p.m. set has a Philadelphia Freedom theme. That means Philly-made songs like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' “Wake Up Everybody” but also rare grooves like Southern soul man Ernie Hines' 1972 “Our Generation" and recent, politically engaged cuts by Anderson .Paak, Sault, and Michael Kiwanuka.
“In these last couple of weeks, music in the streets has really impacted people,” Baker says. “I want to take the energy that I felt in the thousands of people that I was among in the streets of Philadelphia, and the hundreds of thousands if not more who watched what we did, and were inspired by the way that collectively we put ourselves up as a barrier to those who were trying to steal our democracy.
"And I’m going to take that joy, and all you feel from all of that, and put it into song.”