When did Philly really fall in love with David Bowie?
Maybe it was back in ’74, when he came here for a makeover. That summer, the British rocker was putting his spacey, glammy Ziggy Stardust era to bed and looking to inject some good old Philly soul into his sound. So he set up shop off at Sigma Sound Studios on North Twelfth Street, where lots of great Gamble and Huff records were made.
By the time recording wrapped in November, he’d sweated out a bunch of snazzy, horn-filled favorites that would make up the bulk of Young Americans. And he’d befriended a gaggle of young Philadelphians called the Sigma Kids. Those were the underage fans who hung out on the street outside the studio and wormed their way into his heart with their dedication.
Which brings us to Philly Loves Bowie Week, co-founded by some of those same Sigma Kids just after Bowie’s death. Now in its fourth year, the annual celebration of the man and his music includes art, concerts, dance parties, and more. There’s a Bowie-themed beer by Lansdale’s Round Guys Brewing available at several of the events. And, of course, there’s a new sweet round treat from Federal Donuts available only on Monday, Jan. 6.
Most Philly Loves Bowie Week events — there are too many to list here; check phillylovesbowie.wordpress.com for the full rundown — benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, so all that drinking, dancing and doughnut-downing is for a good cause. See, we can be heroes.
Here are our picks for the best ways to celebrate the man in style.
Philly Loves Bowie Week kicks off with a double-shot of Candy Volcano, Kevin Monko’s 25-strong glam army super-group — featuring notable locals like Chris DiPinto, Pete Donnelly, Shannon McGill, and on and on. On Friday they’ll play WXPN’s first Free at Noon show of the new year at World Cafe Live. On Saturday, they’ll do the entirety of David Bowie’s 1974 glittery dystopian record Diamond Dogs at TLA.
The National Liberty Museum in Old City put out an open call for artists making work inspired by Bowie while assembling this eclectic exhibition. We Can Be Heroes features work by painter Emma Baldwin, glass blower James Akers, mixed media artist Natalie Hope McDonald, and many more from Philly and beyond. Friday’s reception also features live music and a poetry reading, a meet and greet with some Sigma Kids, and debut of the “Bowie-themed beer” by Round Guys Brewing.
Opening reception 5-8:30 p.m. Friday, exhibit runs through Feb. 3, National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St., included in museum admission of $12, 215-925-2800, libertymuseum.org
Two well-known Bowie backing musicians take center stage at Ardmore Music Hall on Sunday. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin worked on Bowie’s final record, 2016’s Blackstar, released just two days before he died. Philly-born bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, meanwhile, played with Bowie for 11 years of her illustrious career, which has also included stints and collaborations with Lenny Kravitz, Tears for Fears, Boy George, The National, and more.
6:30 p.m. Sunday, Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., $17-$42, 610-649-8389, ardmoremusic.com
Filmmaker Anthony Crupi’s labor-of-love documentary tells the story of Bowie’s connections to this city, especially those famous days recording Young Americans at Sigma Sound and hanging with the local fans who gathered outside. The Sigma Kids features lots of archival footage and interviews with the Geator, DJ Robert Blake, guitarist Carlos Alomar, several Sigma Kids, and more.
7 p.m. Monday, PFS Roxy, 2023 Sansom St., $9, 267-639-9508, filmadelphia.org
It’s no surprise that Ziggy Stardust would inspire some sassy, flashy burlesque. Baphokiss Productions presents this night of performers with great stage names like MasoKiss, Baron Atomy, and Icon Ebony Fierce.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Ruba Club, 416 Green St., $10-$15, rubaclub.org
New York actor-singer Raquel Cion returns to Philly Loves Bowie Week with two performances of her one-woman show, which weaves personal stories with her love for the man and his music. (As for the title, Bowie was born David Jones and renamed himself after the knife in the mid-’60s.)
7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, and 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, Franky Bradley’s, 1320 Chancellor St., $20, 215-735-0735, eventbrite.com
Philly cabaret queen Martha Graham Cracker (a.k.a. Dito van Reigersberg) and band will perform a set full of Bowie tunes — plus a few favorites Bowie was known to cover, and a couple more besides. Pay an extra $10 and score four Philly Loves Bowie pins. L’Etage is small and Martha’s fan base is wide; this show will sell out.
7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, L’Etage, 624 S. Sixth St., $20-$30, 215-592-0656, facebook.com/MarthaGrahamCracker
For the second year in a row, local party wizards A Black Celebration and Riot Nerd team up to throw a costume party inspired by the 1986 magic-and-Muppets movie Labyrinth. As you may recall, Bowie played Jareth the Goblin King and stole the show thanks to his magnificent wig, eyebrows, and codpiece. Snacks, music, and a glitter bar will be provided. DJs Baby Berlin and EBGIII provide the tunes.
10 p.m. Friday Jan. 10, Ruba Club, 416 Green St., $10, rubaclub.org
If you were going to plan a tour of the city for Bowie fans, you’d swing by the former site of Sigma Sound Studios, Steve “ESPO” Powers’ “Young Americans” mural in Old City, the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, where David Live was recorded in 1974 — and you’d end it all with a cold pint at Doobies. Owned and bartended by grown-up Sigma Kid Patti Brett, the lovely, divey bar at 22nd and Lombard Streets has been a hangout for Bowie fans and other assorted rebel-rebels for years. As is Bowie Week tradition, the sidewalk outside Doobies will be the site of an off-the-cuff temporary art installation. Grab some chalk and add some color, then step inside for a beer and a Bowie video marathon.
4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Jan. 10, Doobies, 2201 Lombard St., free, 215-546-0316, facebook.com/doobiesbar
There are a couple events on Sunday, but this big, live-band dance party at Union Transfer on Saturday is officially the Philly Loves Bowie Week finale. Jeffrey Gaines, Ava Cherry, Ari Rubin, Michael Baker, and more pay tribute to their hero by playing the hits, the deep cuts, and their favorites. Expect a dazzling light show, some stunning vocal performances, and perhaps a sing-along rendition of “Space Oddity” that sends a glittery tear down your cheek.
7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, $25, Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., 215-232-2100, utphilly.com