By Mark Casasanto
Photos by Harry Markel
Much like a good hoagie, there was a little bit of everything thrown into the expanse of land that is sandwiched between Penn’s Landing and the Sugar House Casino on the Delaware River last night. Of course there were hoagies, lots of them. But add some lightning and rain for good seasoning, a tasty line-up of food trucks, timely fireworks, thousands of party goers, and of course, a masterful musical menu to keep with the spirit of the event and now you can picture last night at HoagieNation Festival.
The food, fun and music started around three in the afternoon with the southern most stage at Festival Pier being aptly named the South Philly Stage. This stage did most of the heavy lifting early on featuring a diverse line-up of Down North, Mo Lowda & the Humble and Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers. Closing out the south side of the venue was Fitz and the Tantrums, who by the way, had themselves a killer set featuring such hits “Moneygrabber” and “HandClap” before ending with the very catchy, “The Walker”. Their contagious enthusiasm was evident en masse as the crowd moved as one across the grounds to the North Philly Stage.
Back on the other side of the pier, just before giving way to the San Francisco based rockers, Train, country artist Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives opened the stage with a tight and eclectic set just as twilight softly began its evening creep.
The blast of a locomotive horn appropriately announced Train’s arrival to the stage under what became increasingly interesting skies. The band seemed to feast off the evenings energy however as they delivered their 2012, top twenty hit, “50 Ways To Say Goodbye”. But then, lightning struck, almost literally. After ripping through what turned into a venue wide sing along of “If It’s Love” and “Get To Me”, front man and Pennsylvania native Pat Monahan informed the crowd of the impending weather, told everyone to stay safe and departed with his band mates for an unexpected break.
Funny how people react in those spontaneous moments of “ummm, what do we do now?” If you like to people watch, this is always a good docudrama waiting to happen. As for me I managed to grab myself a hoagie… a Sara Smile to be exact (Santa Fe Turkey) as I watched it all unfold. I figure what in the hell is the sense of being at HoagieNation if you’re not going to play an active part? Listen, that’s my reasoning and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, back to the concert…
After about a fifteen minutes sheltering from the storm, Train returned to the stage. Unfortunately they had to trim their set of some mad decent songs, but still managed to deliver their brand of adult contemporary offerings to an appreciative, albeit, somewhat wet and sweaty crowd. Included in that mix was their newest release as of May 24th, “Call Me Sir“.
With building anticipation for the headliners and the hometown hosts, almost as if on cue, fireworks began to illuminate the now partially clearing sky above the Ben Franklin Bridge that sat off in the not so far distance. This, just as the intro to Hall & Oates hit the side screens. Within seconds, the familiar bass line riff that opens “Maneater” bounced through the stormy night and for the second consecutive year, Hall & Oates launched Philly into summer on the Delaware, Memorial Day Weekend style.
Hit after hit rolled effortlessly off the set list, including the Righteous Brothers cover, “You Lost That Loving Feeling” and what was a relative rarity until recent and latter day performances, “Is It A Star”. The song hails from the 1974, Todd Rundgren produced War Babies album on which Oates masterfully handles the lead vocals.
Midway through the set, Hall, who was in fine voice throughout, called out Pat Monahan of Train as he recalled the relative ease of their working together during a taping of Live From Daryl’s House. Basically said Hall, “it’s why Train is out here on this tour with us.” Knowing they were set to hit the road together this summer, Hall explained that they wanted to write a song especially for “this show”. Sure enough, Hall, Oates and Monahan launched into their new single, “Philly Forget Me Not”, a song with lyrics truly indigenous to Philadelphia, while iconic images of the city supported the music via video screens.
Monahan stayed on to deliver a spot on “Wait For Me” while trading chops with Hall before stepping to the mic to introduce Train’s song, “Calling All Angels”. Poignantly, he said this is a song for all those we should be remembering this weekend.
With the musical camaraderie between Monahan, the Philly duo and their band clearly evident at that point, it gave new meaning to Hall’s thoughts early on in their set.
After the seemingly obligatory “Yo, Philly, what’s up?”, he did offer that the very thought of the festival’s inception was to “create a Philly vibe for all of us to enjoy… it’s our culture” and that the bands chosen to play are groups that “John and I both really like.”
Barreling down the home stretch of the show, “Kiss On My List” and “Private Eyes” turned the festival floor into an ’80s dance party complete with the well timed audience participation hand claps in the closer, “Private Eyes”. In an odd and “you only see this at a music festival type moment”, with the help of security and plenty of flashlights, Monahan’s tour bus needed to carefully navigate its way from the venue’s bone yard to exit the grounds; this while skirting the bulging western most crowd who were obliviously reliving their Dancin’ On Air days.
Returning to the stage for a two-song encore, after band intros, Hall teased the crowd as he tickled the keyboards while ever so slightly drifting into the slow rolling opening of “Rich Girl”. Once the band powered in on the second verse, it was all out karaoke in the crowd, screwed up lyrics and all. While musical purists may not find that amusing, isn’t it what good times, Saturday nights and rock shows should be all about? And Hall gets that, thus the tease and the intended sing along portions built in to the live version of their mega hit.
After an almost two hour set, I guess it’s rather fitting that “You Make My Dreams” sent everyone off into that awesomely good night. I say it often when I review shows. You gotta leave ‘em singing. If it’s a ho hum walk to the car, you didn’t do your job as an entertainer. Because it’s just that…entertainment. People want to have fun free of the daily remainders of ongoing social issues and political nonsense.
So I thank the high stormy heavens of last night, I witnessed first hand the walk from the south stage to the north stage people whistling the hook from Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker“. And then again, it was easy to tell on the walk back to the car in the heavily concentrated corridor of historic Philadelphia, just who had come from seeing Hall & Oates at HoagieNation Festival. They were the people still singing the background “ooh oohs” of “You Make My Dreams“.
As for HoagieNation Festival 2018? Yeah, dare I say it was all that plus a bag of chips?