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Celebrate WCL’s 18th Birthday with Jonatha Brooke & Brendan James
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Celebrate WCL’s 18th Birthday with Jonatha Brooke & Brendan James

September 26, 2022

Join us in celebrating our 18th Anniversary this weekend with two special shows! As fate would have it, on Saturday, October 1st, WXPN welcomes folk singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke almost 18 years to the day she helped us open the venue. Also that evening, piano-based singer-songwriter Brendan James returns to The Lounge.

Both Brendan and Jonatha have played our stages numerous times over the years, and their artistry is an important part of World Cafe Live’s growth and legacy. We can’t think of a better way to commemorate our anniversary.

We were fortunate to catch up with both artists ahead of our birthday weekend for a trip down memory lane! WCL President & Founder Hal Real had some questions for Jonatha, while our Promo Coordinator Britt Rizzo chatted with Brendan James.

Snag your tickets to see Jonatha Brooke in the Music Hall or Brendan James in The Lounge here.

H.R.: On October 2nd of 2004, you helped us open World Cafe Live with two sold-out shows in the Music Hall.  What do you remember about that night?

J.B.: I remember feeling absolutely at home. That Philly, even more than my hometown (Boston) has been my most beloved place on the map. It’s been a long, sweet embrace, from the early days of “World Café” with David Dye, WXPN, to YOU, World Cafe Live. You’ve always been open to and supportive of my “next thing” whether it was my Woody Guthrie project, my next new record, a one-woman theater piece … Whether I played solo, or with the band. WCL has championed the whole rainbow of my exploits!

H.R.: This October 1st, we’re excited to welcome you be back to the Music Hall stage as we celebrate our 18th anniversary. It’s your first visit with us since we were all shut down by Covid 19. How did that pandemic-forced break from performing in person impact your writing, your head, and your desire to be in front of a live audience?

J.B.: Covid forced me to explore every avenue to reach fans. I performed over 60 live stream performances…every Monday and then some, from my kitchen. It was a lifeline for me, for my soul, but also it kept me afloat financially. (Thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart!)

I also launched into writing a new musical with a brilliant book writer named Jaclyn Backhaus. We’d only met once in person when we were commissioned to write the show. Strangely it was a great way to stay sane. We wrote almost entirely over Zoom. And came up with a killer show. We’re now moving into the next phase, heading toward production. Silver lining I’d say!

Touring isn’t quite back to where it was pre-pandemic. I wonder if it ever will be. But I will say, those first few shows with REAL people, in REAL venues… hearing the sound soaring over the room. Wow. It was emotional. A powerful reminder of everything we’d missed.

There is still nothing better than the electricity of sharing live music with an audience.

Every show is truly a once-in-all-of-time event!

H.R.: You’ve been back in our “house of music” lots of times in these 18 years. You’re pretty much part of the WCL family as shown here in June 2015 when you met and posed with Jolly, the handsome fox red lab being trained to be a service dog by our WCL founders (Hal Real & Anne Sheppard). Can you share any other special memories from your personal #WCLexperience? (By the way, Jolly graduated shortly after you met him and has been a rock star of a service dog for his recipient!)

J.B. JOLLY!!!!!! Gah, such a beautiful dog.

As far as other special memories… there was a killer New Year’s Eve show where we got to toast to the new year with the whole audience. We had tiaras, champagne, sparkle hats, and noise makers. That’s definitely a top ten night.

H.R.: You have so many loyal WCL (and WXPN) fans, what do you think has made your musical connection so special to Philly music lovers over the years?

J.B.: I think the initial connection began with the Story record “The Angel in the House.” My song “So Much Mine” really resonated here, and because of your support, and WXPN, (Michaela, Helen, David, Dan, Bruce) ….my fans were never in the dark about what I was up to. There has been a continuity that hasn’t existed for me in any other city.

So, it’s been a love affair with Philly and WCL from the beginning. I couldn’t be more grateful for my home away from home.

And I can’t WAIT to play on October 1. It’s been a while since I brought the whole band.

So this is going to be EPIC!

H.R.: You’ve had such a cool career as a songwriter and a performer, but also as the creator of your one-woman musical “My Mother Has 4 Noses.” Can you share some of what you’re working on now and next?

J.B.: Well “Tempus” the musical I mentioned earlier, is in development. Another musical “Switched,” that I’m writing with Geoffrey Nauffts, is in the pipeline too.

And, of course, “My Mother Has 4 Noses” got a big boost at the Philly Fringe Fest, also supported by World Café Live. Our performance here led to a beautiful run of the show at another Philly area landmark, People’s Light. That has led to a lovely ongoing collaboration with the brilliant producing Artistic Director there, Zak Berkman.

I am also working on the songs that Joe Sample and I were writing when he passed. I’m hoping to record those over the winter and revive our musical project “Quadroon.”

Lots of new possibilities.

B.R.: You’ve played WCL a ton over the years! The weekend you return will be our 18th anniversary as a venue! Do you have any memorable stories from your past shows at the venue?   

B.J.: I’ve been rollin into World Cafe Live almost every year for ten years now.. in minivans, Econo vans, and tour buses. And I always get that same excitement walking through the doors. I know the staff is gonna be helpful, the sound is gonna be on point, and the food is gonna be killer.  And there’s always something special about the crowd that WCL attracts- they’re the real respectful and music-loving kind.  I can’t wait to return for years to come.

B.R.: You released your latest record “Leap Taken” in 2019. This will be some of your fans’ first times hearing live performances from the record making your show even more special! How has it been playing new material? What can fans expect from the show?

B.J.: Yes! You’re exactly right..  it’s nice someone noticed that. We released that album at the end of 2019 with high hopes of playing it live in every city in the country, then bam, March 2020 hit. Nooo!! It was so frustrating. There are so many songs and productions I’m proud of on that record!  My only way to get over the frustration has been to write more new songs of course. So at this show, you can expect some old songs, some fun stories, some “new” songs, and some really new songs.

B.R.: You and your family spent time traveling and living around the world for 6 months! Were you able to play or catch shows in the places you visited? What would you say makes a venue special for an artist? Is it the familiarity (you’ve played here often!)

B. J.: You know we didn’t catch many live shows around the world.  With the two little kids, any nightlife was kind of tricky.  But from playing in Europe and the US, I can tell you the number one thing that makes a venue special to me is the staff.  Despite the aura or mystique that bands may seem to have, they’re all just insecure artists, usually tired, usually battling some aspect of the music biz in their heads, and they’re just hoping for a warm welcoming environment to get beyond their own shit and get in touch with the performer they want to be that night. To say nothing of how important staff is when it comes to greeting the crowd with welcoming and friendly vibes. Then the whole darn place is in a good mood and ready to let go of the performance.  So staff is a big deal!  Then comes sound, then comes audience comfort, then I’d say food and drink.  But now I’ve said enough!  Thanks for the questions and see y’all at WCL.