There have been countless landmark performances in the 37-year history of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in West Philadelphia, from the Bolshoi Ballet to Yo-Yo Ma—even Mikhail Baryshnikov’s been there. But this year, the Mann’s got one of the strongest pools of talent they’ve ever collected into one season’s bookings. In order to fill nearly 14,000 seats, the venue has teamed with AEG Live for the past six years, and it seems like for the next few months, they’re showing and proving that the Mann is really hitting its stride. Not only have they pulled together a staggering lineup of concerts, but there have been significant structural improvements, and they’re debuting a brand new stage that’s sure to provide some of the summer’s best shows.
Earlier this spring, and even back when it was snowing, the Mann Center started announcing their lineup: Belle & Sebastian with Yo La Tengo (Wed., July 10), Postal Service with Ra Ra Riot (Mon., June 17), FUN. with Tegan and Sara (Fri., July 19—this one’s already sold out), New Order (Fri., July 26), Steely Dan (Sat., Sept. 21), and the list keeps going. Wow, we thought. That is some lineup. And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg and just the indie rock stuff. We’ll get to what else is happening in a minute.
Cathy Cahill is the CEO and president of the Mann Center, and she comes to the Philly institution as a former general manager of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the director of Grant Park’s 10-week music fest on Chicago’s waterfront. This week marks her five-year anniversary at the Mann, and she concedes that her job’s not easy. “The history of the Mann and the artistic excellence are a heavy mantle of responsibility for me,” she told PW. “Certainly audience’s tastes are changing—[we have] to keep the Mann vital and competitive.” And that’s what they’re doing, with AEG Live’s Jon Hampton. Cahill joined forces with Hampton, a senior talent buyer with AEG, when she first started, which may have been the best thing she could’ve done for the big shell out in Fairmount Park. That moved helped expand the Mann’s offerings, taking the venue from its older-demo, cultural cliquishness to a more modern mindset.
“Our first season was in 2010; this is our fourth season. We created a partnership with the Mann, and we came in with a conscious move to turn around the perception of the Mann,” Hampton told PW. “The [Philadelphia] Orchestra is a huge part of the Mann, but we also wanted to turn it around and have it appeal to young urbanites. So we consciously went after bands like MGMT, Arcade Fire and Passion Pit.” And it is quite a stark contrast between, say, The National, who open the season this Friday night, and the concluding metal-fest—the Monster Energy Rock Allegiance Tour, which features Volbeat, HIM, All That Remains and Airbourne. Of course, the orchestra’s still there.
The big difference this summer is that they did some revamping. About 5,000 seats lie under the cover of a giant, cedar spaceship-looking roof, then there are nearly 4,500 uncovered, all-weather stadium seats (brand new!) and room for another 4,000 attendees on a lush, thick green lawn. There used to be some ominous chain-linked fencing that ran around the perimeter of the rear lawn area, but since last summer, the Mann has worked with the Parks Commission to remove it, and extend the lawn into a pedestrian-friendly promenade which takes you over to an officially brand new stage, the Skyline Stage. The Skyline Stage will hold 4,000 in a general-admission capacity and boost the Mann’s ability to snag bands that don’t really want to do a 10,000-person seated show on the same stage that the Philadelphia Orchestra performs Disney’s Fantasia (Tuesday, July 23). “It’s giving me and the Mann the opportunity to stretch out our bookings a bit, and there were plenty of acts, like Jimmy Eat World or Dropkick Murphys, who want GA. So, we have that option, and it’s opened up possibilities for bookings,” Hampton beamed.
Dropkick Murphys are a far cry from the Van Cliburn tribute that’ll happen on Aug. 1st, but that’s one of the most beautiful things about this place: Aside from the obvious, awe-inspiring beauty of the setting, nestled in trees and just far enough out of Center City to provide a breathtaking view of the Philly skyline, the Mann Center is bringing a breath of fresh air amid the noise this summer. And they’ve got a jaw-dropping season of entertainment in store.
Party in the Park
Mark your calendars: They’ve got something for everyone this season.
Aside from the indie rock, orchestras and adult entertainment on deck, every year, the Mann Center stages a handful of shows targeting youth, and they’re transformative experiences. Rhoda Blount programs as many as five (this summer, four) Mondays in which she draws in acts from around the world to perform for area children who wouldn’t normally get exposed to certain finer arts. Not only does Blount curate the shows and put them on at the Mann, but she also gets kids bussed in who can’t afford transportation. Cirque Zuma Zuma kicks off the Young People’s Concert Series on July 8.
She may not be an educator, but Blount has a way with words—and kids. The jazz enthusiast and singer tries to get a veritable rainbow of cultures and colors onto that stage, and for this season, dubbed “Capture the Culture: Four Magical Mondays,” she nabbed a get she’s been tracking down for a while: Black Violin.
“I’ve been trying to get this group for about five years now,” said Blount, a Temple grad who’s been with the Mann for 17 years. “These are two young men who were trained classically. They show an appreciation for classical music, but they do everything: Jay-Z; they come in with a DJ and a trap drummer. So I think the kids are gonna get really excited.” The adults are, too. Because Ms. Blount don’t play. “Everyone participates. Put the phone away.” For these shows, the expectation is that everyone is on their best Mann manners. “You’re gonna respect my theater, you’re gonna respect my artist. Most of all you’re gonna respect yourself.” Preach!
The National, with special guest Dirty Projectors. Fri., June 7, 7:30pm
Celtic Woman. Sun., June 16, 8pm
Postal Service, with Ra Ra Riot. Mon., June 17, 7:30pm
Joan Baez + Indigo Girls. Thurs., June 20, 7:30pm
Party in the Park 2013: Mandy Patinkin. Sun., June 23, 6pm
Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, featuring Warren Haynes and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Tues., June 25, 8pm
Pixar in Concert, with fireworks. Thurs., June 27, 8pm
Young People’s Concert Series: Cirque Zuma Zuma. Mon., July 8, 11am
She & Him, with Camera Obscura. Tues., July 9, 7:30pm
Belle & Sebastian, with Yo La Tengo. Wed., July 10, 8pm
An Evening with Furthur: Phil Lesh & Bob Weir, featuring Jeff Chimenti, John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, Sunshine Baker and Jeff Pehrson. Sat., July 13, 7:30pm
Young People’s Concert Series: The Rock School for Dance Education. Mon., July 15, 11am
Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Guster. Thurs., July 18, 7pm
Fun. with Tegan and Sara. Fri., July 19, 8pm
A Midsummer’s Night with the Monkees. Sat., July 20, 8pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra Disney’s Fantasia, live in concert. Tues., July 23, 8pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra: Symphonic Sports-tacular, with fireworks. Wed., July 24, 8pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra: The Legend of Zelda, Symphony of the Goddesses: Second Quest. Thurs., July 25, 8pm
New Order, with special guest Holy Ghost! Fri., July 26, 8pm
Mindless Behavior All Around the World Tour, with OMG Girlz & CoCo Jones. Sun., July 28, 6pm
Young People’s Concert Series: Rising Stars of Tomorrow. Mon., July 29, 11am.
The Philadelphia Orchestra: From Russian Romance to Revolution. Wed., July 31, 8pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra: Van Cliburn Tribute. Thurs., Aug. 1, 8pm
The Philadelphia Orchestra: Michael Feinstein and Friends. Fri., Aug. 2, 8pm
Reggae in the Park: Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley, Yellowman, Shaggy, Maxi Priest and more. Sun., Aug. 4. 1:30pm
Young People’s Concert Series: Black Violin. Mon. Aug. 5, 11am
Jimmy Eat World. Mon., Aug. 9, 7:30pm
The Black Crowes + Tedeschi Trucks Band, with The London Souls. Sun., Aug. 11, 6pm
Dropkick Murphys, with Swingin’ Utters. Wed., Aug. 21, 7:30pm
Umphrey’s McGee & STS9. Fri., Aug. 30, 7:30pm