Arts & Culture

HAMMERS OF THE GODDESSES: Lez Zeppelin, the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, returns to the area for what is sure to be a thundering performance, 8 p.m. Nov. 30 at The Queen, 500 N. Market St., Wilmington, Del. For more information or tickets, call 202-730-3331. 

 

Karine Jean-Pierre is a unique voice in the world of political analysis and activism — an openly gay woman of color and Haitian immigrant who started from humble beginnings and went on to serve as the deputy campaign manager for both Barack Obama’s and Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaigns.

Several years ago, a friend of mine contacted me on Christmas Eve and asked me if there was any way I could pick up some toys before the stores closed. He was working with an organization that was helping a number of kids experiencing hardships — many in situations preventing them from receiving presents for Christmas that year.

 

The Borgata has been Atlantic City’s premier destination for LGBTQ customers since its doors opened in 2003. The venue strengthened its connection to the community when it launched OUT at Borgata, a program that curates events and travel packages designed specifically for queer patrons.

SIBLING REVELRY: Famous and stylish emo/hip-hop/R&B brother/sister duo, Jaden and Willow Smith, have teamed up for a tour that brings their star power to Philly, 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at The Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St. For more information or tickets call 215-309-0150.

Definition of feminism

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

 

Last year, I saw a flyer for something called the "Feminist Flea Market." As a self-proclaimed feminist and a part-time packrat, I decided to venture over and see what goodies I might find. When I arrived, I saw a line reaching around the block to enter the building where the market was being held. Apparently, the idea of a progressive flea market is one with a broad appeal. The event was being coordinated and produced by Rebecca Aronow, who is the founder of House Cat, a company specializing in promotion, production and artist management. Aronow was on the road with one of the bands that she manages and was kind enough to talk to me from the tour bus.

 

You travel all over the country with bands, but where are you from? I'm from Ambler, outside of Philly.

 

What's Ambler like? It was fine, but a very homogeneous area — not a lot of diversity. It was just me, my sister and my parents. My sister and I are very close, and in our teens, we spent a lot of time traveling to Philadelphia to see shows, so I have more memories associated with that then I do of life in Ambler.

 

When did you first get into music? My dad started taking us to concerts when we were really young, so I've loved live music since I was very young. I spent a lot of time in high school, sitting in my room listening to music, being depressed and wanting to get away. Once I realized that I could actually work in the music industry, it broadened my view of what I might pursue in life. I'm not a musician, but I'm involved on the business side of things.

 

Do you remember what your first concert was?  It was Jimmy Buffett.

 

So was your dad a Parrothead? My whole family was. We would all dress up and go to the concerts. It was so nerdy!

 

When you were going through your angsty phase, what artist got you through? I listened to a lot of Mitski at the time. Her whole album "Bury Me at Makeout Creek" spoke to loneliness and hurt, which felt like the classic high school experience of feeling isolated and confused. It helped me through for a lot of reasons.

 

What was one of your favorite shows growing up? I watched a lot of TV. It feels like I spent a lot of my younger days in front of the set. I really loved "Breaking Bad," but who didn't? I watched a lot of crappy TV that I don't want anyone to know that I watched! I went through a reality show phase; I watched a lot of cooking shows. I really liked "Six Feet Under," that was on in my senior year of high school, and it was one of my favorites. It's hard to remember, I really, truly just watched endless amounts of TV.

 

After you got your early education from the school of CBS, NBC and ABC, did you go on to higher education? I did, I went to Penn State, but I left after two-and-a-half years. I eventually finished my degree online after I moved to Philly.

 

What did you study? Integrative arts. It's a student-designed multi-degree program. I created it combining women's studies and photography and arts entrepreneurship and called it "activism in the arts." I spent a lot of time booking shows and trying to weave that into my degree.

 

It must be satisfying, helping bands get noticed. What would you call what you do? I'm a concert/event promoter and producer, and I manage a couple of artists. To me, the most satisfying thing and why I do it is that I like creating a place to bring communities together. I love when the space we create has this tangible energy and warmth you can feel in the air — when people have a chance to interact and meet new people. I don't love booking gigs when it's just another show where people see the band and then leave. I try to add more elements to make it feel more community-oriented.

 

Such as? I like to bring in interesting vendors and/or organizations. So between sets, we might have a vintage vendor with cool items that people can check out instead of just standing around the bar. I'm someone who gets a little anxious trying to start a conversation with a stranger, but if you're looking at a cute article of clothing or some art piece, it's easier to comment on something to get the ball rolling. I also just like the idea of having different mediums together in one space.

 

Where does your activism come from? A lot of places. But I think it started from my sister Haley, who is younger than me but from a young age was very vocal about social issues. I think she was in third grade when she declared herself a feminist. I remember her asking me if I was a feminist, too, and I said no because I didn't want to be associated with what I thought it meant, all the negative associations with it. She started crying and said, "I can't believe someone I love so much would think or say that!" I thought she was overreacting and didn't understand the importance to her, but her reaction stuck with me, and about a year later, I went back and apologized. I told her that having done my own research, I did identify as a feminist. We grew up in a pretty conservative bubble, so it took a lot to bring me around, but I learned a lot from her.

 

When did you start to venture into the city on your own? I used to do a lot of film photography. I'd take the train into the city and just walk around taking pictures. I was fascinated by South Street at the time. So I spent a lot of time walking up and down, taking pictures of people and things.

 

 

Tell me about your company House Cat. I started it when I moved to Philly. I'd been booking shows under my name, and when I moved here, I thought it made more sense to have an entity for doing business. It felt weird to claim a mission statement on the internet under my own name. I feel more comfortable being behind the scenes. The focus was to put on events but to be intentional about the events I do. If I'm doing a music show, it's because I truly love the music and the artists. I want to work on things that are diverse and representative — things I would want to go see. Obviously, every show can't be representative of everyone, but I try really hard to keep a balance.

 

Yes, I saw the mission statement, which states that House Cat strives to create, "Inclusive, accessible, safer space events in an effort to combat the lack of representation and exclusivity in many music and art spaces." And that you also strive to support social justice causes through frequent charitable and community events. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

 

So as a promoter and manager, what's something crazy you've seen? Um, there's always something. I used to get really flustered when I first started booking events. I expected everything to go off without a hitch, and anytime anything went wrong, I would freak out. I was constantly stressed out. But I don't think there's ever been a show where something didn't go wrong. I guess the most recent was a Halloween show. Two hours before the show, the opening act texted me and said that they couldn't make it. So we had an hour to fill that slot. We filled it with two artists who were amazing, so it ended up working out just fine, but that was definitely a situation where the younger me would have totally had a breakdown, and me now was like, OK, you just have to deal with it. It's easier to fix problems when you're keeping your cool. [Laughing] The people around you certainly have a better time when you're calm.

 

 

How do you identify on the LGBTQ spectrum? I … that's still such an ongoing process for me. In high school, I'd made a new best friend my senior year. She was outed as a lesbian, which she didn't identify as. But just because of the rumor about her, when we started hanging out, I got labeled as a lesbian as well. It made us both really uncomfortable and sad. Because of that, because it wasn't how I identified at the time, I felt I had to lean really hard in the other direction. Not that I thought there was anything wrong with it, but I didn't want to co-opt an identity that wasn't mine. So for a long time, I identified as straight, even though I felt myself being attracted to people who didn't identify as cis men. It's been a pretty hard unlearning of that. I think it's taken been being around a community that's more accepting to find my place. I still have a fear of taking up space that wasn't mine, of claiming an identity that I wasn't sure of. It took being around other queer people who told me that it was OK to start feeling OK with it myself. Add to that, I'd always had questions around my gender, which was always expressed fairly fluidly, and in terms of sexual attraction, I feel attracted to people based on getting to know them and their gender and sexual identity doesn't play into it much for me. I know this isn't a super concrete answer, but in the end, I guess I identify as queer and as someone constantly trying to figure it out.

 

Cool, let's talk about the Feminist Flea Market. Were you ready for the response that it drew? That was actually our second flea market. At the first one, we drew about 700 people, which was amazing. When I first pitched the event to my boss at the time, he said, "You're going to hate doing a flea market, there will be too many people to coordinate, and you're only going to get a few people to come." But I insisted that I thought it was a good idea, and I knew that I could execute it, so he finally said, "Fine, but you're only going to get a small crowd, so you might as well donate the money from the door." I was like, "Great, I'd love nothing more." So when 700 people showed up, it felt good to go back the next day and show him I was right and give money to a good cause, Women Against Abuse.

 

The beneficiary this year is Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR). What made you choose them? I've been volunteering for their hotline, and I've been able to see what they do firsthand, so I feel really passionate about donating to them.

 

I think people sometimes forget that the hotline still exists.  Very true, I was surprised that for an organization so big, they're really hurting for volunteers to help with things like the phone bank. It's emotional work, talking about things that are really hard, but it's still something that's so needed.

 

OK. Random questions. What is the most interesting conversation piece in your house? I have a rat's tail cactus that my mom purchased from a great plant store next to my apartment — Flora and Fauna — the day I moved in. The cactus was, I believe, 20 years old when I got him, and the owner of the store told me that the grower of the cactus's name is Cactus Dan, and he is 90 years old. I decided that I had to name the cactus Dan in honor of Cactus Dan, and one of my good friends from college. He looks like an octopus plant and is always the first thing people comment on when they come into my apartment (besides my two cats).

Dan was in my living room for a while, and was growing so quickly, but my cat Harold kept playing with him and cutting off the new growth with his paws, so I had to move him to my bedroom. I now get to look at Dan every night before I go to sleep.

 

Favorite movie line? It's hard for me to pick a "favorite" anything, but Harold and Maude is one of my favorite movies and what my cats are named after. I first saw the movie with my mom when I was around 10 years old, but most of it went over my head. It stuck with me enough though that when I turned 16, I asked to watch it with her again, and it instantly became my favorite. [Spoiler alert!] There's a scene in the movie when Maude is dying after taking a bunch of pills, and Harold, crying, says, "I love you!" and Maude responds with, "That's wonderful! Go love some more." As someone who is afraid of change and death and the loss of different loves, this has always been equally devastating to me as it is comforting. It's a reminder to me that love is boundless and ever-changing, and that itself is beautiful.

 

What's your favorite tradition or holiday? I'm Jewish, and although I've never been particularly religious, I've always loved the tradition of getting together for big family dinners on the Jewish holidays. My mom's side is so loud and full of amazing, inspiring women who constantly make me laugh, and my dad's side is so inquisitive and sarcastic. I always leave feeling so grateful to be related to people that I relate to beyond them just being my family. I'm a vegetarian and have been since late high school, but my mom makes the best matzo ball soup, so my personal tradition has become allowing myself to eat her matzo ball soup on the holidays.

 

Any tattoos? Tell the story behind some of them. I got my newest tattoo during a trip to Montreal with one of my dearest friends who was visiting from Saudi Arabia. I was using Tinder, which was pretty out-of-character for me, and matched with someone who was a tattoo artist. I loved his work and impulsively decided to get a tattoo from him while I was there. I came to him with four doodles from my sister's sketchbook, and he helped me arrange them into a cohesive piece. It's a grid of four little characters, and many people have said that it looks like a party on my leg, which makes me smile every time. My sister is not only the most important, influential, grounding person in my life but makes my favorite art, so there is no one else's work that I'd rather have permanently on my body than hers. And getting a tattoo from a stranger that I met from a dating app renewed my desire to try to connect with strangers more, in whatever way feels right in the moment. 

 

Photo by Taypac Photography

Classic Italian restaurant, Branzino, 261 S. 17th St., is back in action this year after a fire forced it to close for two years. But judging from the menu and services, that long dormancy didn't cause the restaurant to miss a step.

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