Tours of Philadelphia usually are about distant history more than cutting-edge music. But the Double Decker Music Series puts the two together on summertime Sunday nights; it made The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns experience familiar sights anew.
David Patrick Stearns: This is the way to see Philadelphia. On top of a double-decker bus, you're safe from phone-absorbed pedestrians while catching rare glimpses of second-story architecture that's not normally visible. It's a concert on wheels—begun in 2013 by tour guide Sebastian Petsu, and now continued in collaboration with experimental music presenter Bowerbird.
Sebastian Petsu: I thought it was a ridiculous idea, but then a couple years later I realized, hey, it actually could be done.
DPS: It's not quite a midsummer night's dream. Petsu's tour commentary reminds you, among other things, the Betsy Ross legend is built on hearsay from her grandchildren.
SP: So far, we haven't dug up much new information on Betsy, though we have dug up Betsy herself on two occasions. That's her third resting place—on your right side, next to the hot dog tent.
DPS: The format is two music groups on the bus, one for each hour of the tour. Trumpeter Koofreh Umoren adjusted to the constant mobility.
Koofreh Umoren: The top of a double-decker bus kind of sways a little more than you're ready for...and us facing the back, we don't really see all the potholes that we're going to hit before we hit them.
DPS: Bumps in the road also made musical decisions for the improvisational electronic-music duo named JNPR—that's Juniper without the vowels—which particularly enjoyed the acoustical enhancement that came with driving through underpasses.
The effect on the listener is that you're still home in Philadelphia, but somehow on new ground.
SP: Music like Juniper, (there's) just a lot of spaces in it, and I feel like the spaces allow for the city to interact more- kinda gave it a continuity.
DPS: Most unexpected was the soul the music brought to the bricks and mortar, thanks to the captivating understatement of singer Vessna Scheff and trumpeter Umoren. Gradually, the city ceased to be about buildings but about the real people in them.