The 215 Festival, part urban rave, part pub crawl, part literary fest, part movable dance party, is back this weekend. Except for a 2010-12 hiatus, the quirky gathering has been going since its 2001 founding by writer Neal Pollack.
Opening night is on Thursday at Ortlieb's, and it keeps rocking and reading and dancing from there.
City librarians can take to the dance floor at Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties - or at the Bibliodiscotheque Dance Party ("dance party freakout, 11 p.m."!), this year at Underground Arts on Saturday night - try their hand at spinning records, or stay out late with Philly's finest poets.
"Librarians have sick record collections and a deep knowledge of music," Philadelphia poet Elizabeth Scanlon said. "It's a fun, wild get-together."
Organizers like Scanlon aim to pluck writers from academic settings and place them in more lively venues, such as bars, bike shops, clubs, and coffeehouses.
"The original mission of the 215 Festival was to make events that were going to be fun and raucous and welcoming to a diverse environment," Scanlon said. "We want people to feel at ease - we don't want them to feel like they have to whisper in the library. It's a bar - have a beer or something."
Since its inception, the 215 Festival has hosted such celebrated contemporary writers as Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Harvey Pekar, Patti Smith, and Pollack.
Pollack, who lived in Fairmount, founded the event as the McSweeney's Festival (he was writing for McSweeney's at the time). He contacted famed writers like McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers, and prompted them to read at the festival, then held at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The 215 Festival has switched leadership several times, drawn relatively less attention, and had that two-year hiatus, until Philly writer Joey Sweeney, 42, brought it back to life in 2012.
"Unlike most literary festivals, it wasn't anchored to an academic institution or otherwise large public institution," Sweeney said. "The festival has a lot of freedom of movement, and that allows for such a low barrier of entry. We get people who are in the habit of going to author readings and book talks and people who don't ordinarily do that, and it helps create an appetite."
Philadelphia literature lovers can kick back at the festival's nightly celebrations, which highlight key players in the city's literary publication scene, including Apiary, the Painted Bride Quarterly, Bedfellows, and the American Poetry Review, which Scanlon edits. Venues are mainly in Northern Liberties and include such locations as Ortlieb's, Trophy Bikes, 700 Club, One Shot Cafe, and Bardot.
This year's readers include Annie Liontas, Ken Kalfus, Asali Solomon, Thomas Devaney, and Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock.
Sweeney said that although the festival has pulled people from all over in the past, this year they're keeping it more Philly-based.
"This year, we've spent the least on Amtrak tickets from New York," Sweeney said, laughing. "I feel like this year has been a breakout year for Philly authors. That doesn't mean we're going to stop pulling in authors from other places, but there's a scene here now. It feels like there's a real supportive community, a real ecosystem that's evolving."
Philly writer Devaney, who was involved in the planning of the first 215, has been a strong presence at the fest over the years. He said its events carry "the Philly energy."
"I remember one year taking shots at Bob & Barbara's with John Hodgeman," Devaney said. "What's surprising is how much that original energy is still cooking around. It's a sign of life - it's not being afraid of wanting to have a party and get excited and let people rip."
Sweeney said he was confident the 215 Festival would continue to grow.
"Pollack's initial impetus to do this, I feel, has proved very prescient," Sweeney said. "There are more things popping up that are like the 215 Festival, across the country and even overseas. What we do is now done in other cities across the world."
215 Festival. Nov. 5-8. Multiple venues. Information: www.215festival.org