The Disco Biscuits -- a band formed in 1995 by four Penn undergraduates -- made a triumphant return on Saturday to the city where they first tasted success.
Headlining the 19th annual Jam on the River at Penn's Landing in Old City, the Biscuits --as they are affectionately known by their fans -- performed a nearly three-hour set Saturday night and entertained a throng of fans, music-lovers and other Philadelphians who were out for the long weekend.
The festival, featuring 10 bands over two days, brought in a total of about 25,000 people, according to Laurie Curtin, director of public relations for Penn's Landing.
It was the Disco Biscuits' second consecutive appearance at the Jam, where they played to a crowd of nearly 10,000 this year. WXPN radio personality Keith Brand asked concert-goers to "give a big, hometown welcome to the Disco Biscuits."
Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum sponsored this year's Jam on the River, which broke with its eclectic tradition to focus on jam music -- a style in which bands improvise together and songs can last upwards of 20 minutes.
Still, the change in genre did not drive away the usual crowd of families and revelers. Several parents brought their children in strollers, and there was plenty of entertainment for all ages.
In addition to the face painting, sand art and tye dye shirt stands, the NBA Rhythm n' Rims tour made an appearance -- complete with a 30,000-square-foot amusement complex.
The day, however, was primarily about the music -- and hometown flavor.
As cheesesteak and Dietz & Watson sausage vendors were in the midst of serving lunch, The Brakes, a quintet based in Lower Merion, kicked off the concert by playing their signature brand of rock, soul and funk.
They were followed by fellow Philadelphia act 4 Way Street, and then by Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
But the Disco Biscuits, who played last, seemed to steal the show -- although the crowd may have been slightly partisan. Jam bands are known for their loyal fans, many of whom drive hours to see their favorite groups.
Corey Madin and Kieran Murphy, two college-aged fans, said they drove all the way from Albany, N.Y. to see the Disco Biscuits. "We've seen them a combined 100 times," Madin said. "They're the only band I see."
"We woke up at three today and decided to come down to Philly," Murphy said.
After the show, Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner described a road trip -- this one instrumental to the band's early success.
"We got our start doing fraternity parties" at Penn, he said. "Then we took a step up and took our party to the city of Philadelphia."
"After six months of that, we decided to test the waters and tour .... So we took a busload of Penn kids to New York with us and had a show. At that point, our fans were our friends."
"Everyone at Penn has been a huge help," he added. He then noted that, although the Disco Biscuits "brought [him] out of school," professors allowed the former Music major to continue classes for some time, even as he began touring. "They knew I was a musician, and that's" the modus operandi.
Magner said the dynamic between the band and its fans hasn't really changed much. "Our friends became fans, and now our fans become friends," he said.
"Kids come to multiple shows and you start to recognize faces and that gives a certain closeness," said Magner. "It's a good group of kids."
At one point during the performance, the riverboat Liberty Belle passed directly behind the stage. As the crowd cheered, members of the band looked behind them and nodded their own good-natured greetings without missing a beat.
In between songs, Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein sounded a political -- though non-partisan -- note by encouraging concert-goers to register to vote.
"I don't want to tell you what to do, but I think we can all agree there's a lot at stake in November," Brownstein said from the stage.
HeadCount, the non-partisan voter-registration effort Brownstein co-founded this year, was active at the concert, registering about 200 voters over the course of the weekend, according to Ira Pasternack, the HeadCount team leader for the Philadelphia area.
After the Biscuits' two-hour set -- featuring a crowd-pleasing cover of the 1980's Men Without Hats mega-hit "The Safety Dance" -- people brought out lighters to ask for an encore, which the Biscuits provided for another 30 minutes.
"They're real crowd-pleasers," said 25-year-old Jimmy Magazzu.
Nineteen-year-old Jamie Schell, who hails from Harrisburg, agreed. "You can just rock out to these guys," she said, describing their style as "mellow but funky."
The music continued Sunday, with performances by Philadelphia-based Townhall, in addition to Hank Williams III, Particle, Galactic and the concert's other headlining group, Ween.
Twenty-year-old Matt Kass, the lead guitarist of The Brakes, said he was pleased with the event.
"We gave out a bunch of CDs. It was a great promotional event," he said.
Biscuits guitarist Jon Gutwillig, who graduated from Penn in 1997, ruminated on success after the show.
"Every year it gets a little bit harder to stay in the game, every year there's another hurdle to climb," he said.
"I felt that we were really lucky to be able to be where we are, when we started off just playing fraternity parties."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.