One could argue that catching Mayor Kenney dining mask-less in Maryland while telling Philly’s minions to stay distanced while staying away from local restaurants was the most entertaining moment in 2020. But. that would just be catty. No. Let’s be adults about this thing. Despite having to stay away from audiences in a physical sense, Philadelphia’s artists and entertainers were able to engage local audiences, magically, from farther away than usual. Be it online and virtual or in live settings, but, from a yelling distance. With that, here are the 12 best Philly entertainment positive moments from 2020. Philadelphia’s coolest A&E moments with a positive twist.
Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner finds an audience online
Already one to make his audiences feel alive in a secularly holy rolling manner during his sweat-filled live shows, semi-pompadour wearing singer and pianist Adam Weiner had to go within during COVID quarantine like everyone else. That did not, however, mean that he couldn’t blast off and espouse his usual gospel of rock, roll and soul. Weiner did that , and is doing that, on his twice-weekly interactive live stream, “Tough Cookies.” Broadcast from the guest room of his row house, in South Philly. Like his hero, Jerry Blavat, Weiner is apt, at the end of his hour, to be stripped down to his underwear, singing and dancing. Before that, he’ll sing his own songs. As well as rich, spare covers of the greats accompanied by guitarist Will Donnelly. Also crafting an interview segment where he’s interviewed fellow rockers such as Dion and Darlene Love.
The Verzuz episode featuring Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight live from The Fillmore Philadelphia
Created by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, the pandemic’s Instagram Live Verzuz battles have become an online phenomenon, with millions of viewers, watching, cheering and commenting in real-time. Verzuz is the real-time, virtual DJ matches pitting icons of R&B and hip-hop against each other in a usually friendly musical competition. And though there have been dynamic battles throughout its two seasons, none more was more sympathetic, empathetic, simpatico and soulful than the Sunday night social with Philly’s Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight. And a surprise, last minute appearance from Dionne Warwick. And Patti’s shoe collection, all of which she brought with her. Hmm.
The Wilma Theater’s online programming
Every theater in town made the most of C-19’s need for virtual programming (see below). The always-experimental Wilma, however, just happened to get online first, and in ways most reactionary to current events such as its archival recording of 2018’s production of James Ijames‘ “Kill Move Paradise” as a fundraiser to support Black Lives Matter Philly. An audio take on its unstaged production of “Is God Is.” An iPhone-filmed “Code Blue” using Trump-ian rhetoric and pandemic fear as dramatic tools. And the masked, outdoor, and distanced “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” gets 4 more seasons
God love Philly’s Rob McElhenney. Even though he’s strayed to do the OK, kinda-sorta Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, his black comic heart will still be stuck at Paddy’s Pub for at least four more seasons. Therefore breaking the record for television’s longest-running comedy.
The Fringe Festival 2020’s bookends
While Nick Stuccio filled his Fringe with as much online avant-garde theater and performance art as he could muster, and it was a lot, it was Thom Weaver and Breanna Geffer’s Die-Cast Theatre Company’s “Temporary Occupancy” single hotel room story and John Jarboe’s Bearded Ladies Cabaret internationalist Late Night Snacks 2020: FEAST that truly pushed the boundaries of the virtual form.
Opera Philadelphia gets a YouTube channel
Taking its annual “O” Festival of Netflix-like programming to the nnnth degree, OP boss David B. Devan and company, music director Corrado Rovaris and new artistic adviser/vocalist Lawrence Brownlee have created a filmed, streamed and live channel filled with classical song, new and traditional.
Lil Uzi Vert ends the endless waiting
Three years after his debut album, “Luv Is Rage 2,” two years after he retired from rap, and around the same time I started seeing him driving through my neighborhood on his souped-up motor-whatever, Lil Uzi Vert dropped the long-awaited Eternal Atake, and it’s deluxe edition, “Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2.”
Theatre Exile’s D-Pad
Newly local playwright Jeremy Gable and director Brey Ann Barrett produced a bracing online world premiere focused on the independent gaming universe shot through with electric elements of lonely isolation and a weird mix of real and virtual characters.
Philly’s Maori Karmael Holmes creates a POC film magazine, Seen
The doyenne of the BlackStar Festival, Maori Karmael Holmes, forged forward with her passion project, Seen. A magazine about filmmaking and visual culture focused on Black, Brown, and Indigenous filmmakers and cineastes, past, present and future.
The War on Drugs live album
“LIVE DRUGS” released on Adam Granduciel’s label Super High Quality Records is a set of ultra-curated gigs, recorded and stuck into the guitarist’s hard drives. From there, he plucked a handful of narcotic favorites and one previously unreleased track to amaze, wow and flutter.
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s weekly weird fireside chat
Like conversing with the eldest, oddest black sheep of the family, Philly’s most cheerfully bizarre theater company, IRC hosted “Into the Absurd: A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation” each Saturday at 5 pm for 50-minutes on Zoom and Facebook Live. Always with the most fascinating, worldly array of abstractionist, like-minded guests.
Pax Ressler’s ch-ch-changes
Whether as a composer-performer for 1812 Productions’ “This is the Week That Is” or as Director of Music at Tabernacle United Church, a progressive Christian community at 37th and Chestnut in West Philadelphia, music and theater artist, Pax Ressler is a model of shifting modes of thinking and being. Their new recording “Change,” an album of queer and trans love songs, only moves the needles further into the red regarding that emotional aesthetic.
There you have it. The 12 best Philly entertainment moments for 2020. Here’s to hoping that we’ll see more than 12 best Philly entertainment moments in 2021. Happy New Year!