Todd Carmichael has big plans for the City of Brotherly Love: By the end of next summer, the La Colombe CEO and cofounder hopes to bring an activism-oriented version of SXSW — the mega tech, music, and film festival that takes place annually in Austin, Texas, — to the streets of Philadelphia.
"Our Philly 'SXSW' won't be a showcase of Silicon Valley but a forum to showcase civil engagement and an array of the issues that really matter," says Carmichael.
In the meantime, Carmichael is hosting a yearlong series called Hope & Fury every first Friday at La Colombe's Fishtown headquarters. Each event features a free live concert preceded by a panel discussion about challenging topics in the current political and social landscape.
The intent is to celebrate local musicians while igniting conversations to inspire activism on issues like gender equality, racism, fair wages, and fair work weeks.
"White people don't talk about race. They just don't. And it occurs to you when a huge part of the population isn't talking about it, nothing is going to change," says Carmichael. "It's topics like these that, with Hope & Fury, we seek to do exactly as the name describes — awaken a bit of fury inside you but also engage in problem-solving so that you leave with a notion of hope that there are things you can do to create change."
In August, the event brought together West Philly rapper Chill Moody, soulful singer-songwriter Donn T, and clinical psychologist Tim Barksdale. The topic for the night focused on destigmatizing mental illness.
"Where I'm from, we literally live in a war zone. A lot of people from the 'hood suffer from PTSD, but they're not diagnosed with PTSD," said Moody. "There are bullets flying over our head, regular suicides. People turn to coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol because they're readily available, and it's all they know — and then they're looked at like thugs, rather than like a soldier suffering from PTSD after experiencing complete chaos."
Speaking to a crowd of about 300, most of whom stood holding free, 16-oz. cans of Yards Brewing Co., IPA, Moody passed the mic to Carmichael, the curator for each panel, before Barksdale jumped in to address the topic. Afterward, Moody and Donn T played a 30-minute set under their new joint project, &more.
"Not all artists will engage in the panel discussion; it depends on what the artist feels comfortable with," says Carmichael. "But we choose artists whose music and lyrics touch heavily on the subject at hand."
Sometimes a spoken-word artist will perform, creating a flowing gradation from conversation to poetic discussion to music.
Past performers have included rock trio ill Fated Natives and indie group Vita and the Woolf. The event on Friday, Oct. 5, is set to feature Carmichael's wife, Lauren Hart, whose latest album centers heavily on gun control.
WXPN's Helen Leicht will curate the discussion, and donations will benefit CeaseFirePA, a statewide organization working with mayors, police chiefs, faith leaders, community organizations, and others across the state to take a stand against gun violence.
To attend a Hope & Fury event, RSVP online through lacolombe.com. As with most events where free booze is involved, the series sells out, so signing up in advance is encouraged.
"One of the most effective ways to communicate a message is through art. There's a way into your heart that music can find that's unparalleled," says Carmichael. "These events are more than just a bunch of people listening to live tunes. We're talking about immigration, sexism, mental health, institutionalized racism — things that push the needle and need to be brought out in the open if change is ever going to happen."