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The Bacon Brothers and Robbie Grote @ Union Transfer for the Reading Viaduct Project Fundraiser.

February 8, 2016
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BaconBros_012Text by Tyler Horst. Images by Chris Fascenelli.

Union Transfer saw a much more dressed-up clientele than usual last Thursday night. Many came out in their best suits and dresses to mingle amongst a catered spread, rub shoulders with a few faces from high places and enjoy an evening of music.

Why the high-class atmosphere?

Thursday night wasn’t just a rare opportunity to see the Bacon Brothers live in concert in their hometown of Philadelphia, but also a benefit for the construction of a Rail Park on the Reading Viaduct, the derelict railway hidden just out of sight above sections of Center City, a block away from Union Transfer.

“It’s based on the Highline in New York City but it’s going to be bigger and better and wider,” said emcee Pierre Robert of WMMR about the proposed Rail Park, receiving enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

The benefit was organized by a collaboration of the Center City District Foundation and the Friends of the Rail Park. According to CCDF executive director Nancy Goldenberg, proceeds from the night’s event went to constructing phase one of the project, which includes the first quarter-mile segment from Broad to Callowhill.

The Bacon Brothers were brought into the mix thanks to their sister Hilda Bacon, a supporter of the Friends of the Rail Park. Also, according to Goldenberg, “We knew we needed a well-known Philadelphian.”

Robbie Grote opened the show with a solo set of songs written for his band The Districts, the young rockers who quickly became local darlings after moving to Philadelphia from Lititz two short years ago. As Grote sat and played through his beautifully subdued set, projected on the screen behind him were a collection of photos of the run-down Viaduct combined with conceptual images of the proposed Park.

The images showed manicured walkways, park benches, an amphitheater, and smiling families enjoying all of it. It’s a far-cry from the way the Viaduct looks now.

On the way in to the night’s show, concert-goers likely passed the words “Feel the Bern” yarn-bombed on the Viaduct fence above Spring Garden. The derelict, overgrown railway is already a landmark in its own right to intrepid urban explorers, graffiti artists and those fascinated by the city’s forgotten spaces. Like the Divine Lorraine before it, whispers of a renovation have been circulating for years. But now, a transformation of the decaying space is truly underway.

“I feel a little bit sad that it won’t be a secret spot anymore,” said concertgoer Noam Roth, who lives near one of the hidden entrances. “But it’s cool that the public is going to be able to use it.”

Thanks to the support of artists like the Bacon Brothers, the project continues to pick up momentum. And yes, the band features that Kevin Bacon.

The Bacon Brothers band was an optimal mix of Philly celebrity and lively music. The group played a solid mixture of folk, blues, soul and rock. Often reflecting the blue collar Americana aesthetic that unmistakably marks them as old-school Philly, but sometimes venturing into the avant-garde with pieces like the cello-tinged ode to a giant squid “Archie,” the Bacon Brothers rewarded the night’s donors with a great and far-ranging set.

They didn’t let the crowd forget their roots either. “New Year’s Day,” a song about the Mummers, had the crowd chanting a Mummers fundraising anthem.

Kevin Bacon also took a break between songs to hearken back to his days at the J.R. Masterman school, reflecting that he still remembers the “Masterman Hymn,” though he hated singing it as a junior high school student.

“Then I realized that if you tally up all the people that ever went to that school, more people know that song than any I ever wrote,” Bacon said from the stage. “So, I’m going to step back from my criticism of that song because that’s a hit.”

Thursday night was also a hit for Friends of the Rail Park board member Michael Garden, who helped emcee the event. According to Garden, phase one is expected to break ground in the summer thanks in part to an upcoming grant, but also because of the growing support gathered from events like the benefit concert.

“Tonight was definitely a success,” Garden said. “We brought people from the fringes of this project to the center.”

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