On Stage: Willie Nile thankful to be playing lives shows again

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Willie Nile

Six months ago, Willie Nile — much to his delight — started playing live shows for live audiences again after a year-and-a-half of pandemic restrictions.

Back in May, he visited the Main Line for a show at the Ardmore Music Hall.

This weekend, he’s coming back to Main Line. This time, it’s to perform in concert at 118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com).

“I’ve been playing a lot since March,” said Nile, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in New York City.

“We started playing in April in New York. We just did a Midwest tour in the middle of October.

“People are coming out. Not as much as normal but we’re still playing to good audiences.

“I have two shows in Buffalo next month. The next night, I’m doing a show with Steve Earle – a benefit for his autistic son.”

Steve Earle’s seventh annual John Henry’s Friends Benefit Concert will be staged at New York City’s Town Hall on December 13. Presented in partnership with City Winery, the event features a lineup with Steve Earle & the Dukes along with special friends.

“There are three singers featured at this concert – Bruce Springsteen, Roseanne Cash and me,” said Nile. “It’s going to be a great concert.”

Nile, who is 73, is an internationally acclaimed rocker whose career spans 50-plus years.

Back in the spring, Nile was champing at the bit to shake off the effects of the pandemic shutdown of live music. Clubs were re-opening and Nile was ready to rock.

Nile has tapped into his own lockdown experience as a source of inspiration for the set of haunting new songs that comprise his emotion-charged new release, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The album was inspired by the sight of Nile’s beloved hometown temporarily turned into a desolate ghost town, thanks to COVID-19 safety precautions.

“For more than a year, New York was like a ghost town,” said Nile, “I have a storage space near the Holland Tunnel, and normally on a Friday night at rush hour, it can take an hour to move five blocks. One night at 6 p.m., I was on Varick Street. I looked in both directions and there wasn’t a car in sight. I could have laid down in the middle of the street without anyone noticing. It was like a science fiction movie.”

Nile’s debut album, “Willie Nile,” was released by Arista Records in early 1980 to critical praise. The album immediately created a buzz among critics and quickly drew the attention of other rock stars such as Pete Townshend and The Who, who invited Nile to join them on their 1980 stateside tour.

Now, more than 40 years later, Nile is still going strong – and still rocking hard.

“I just did an album within the CDC guidelines,” said Nile. “

“We recorded this album in January 2021. We all wore masks the whole time and did our best to keep things safe.

In the studio, if someone was singing in a room, we couldn’t go in until an hour after they finished singing.

“The whole band, except me, had actually caught COVID on our last gig before the pandemic hit — February 29, 2020 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. Everyone recovered and, for some reason, I never got it.”

Co-produced by Nile and Grammy-winner and longtime collaborator Stewart Lerman (Elvis Costello/Patti Smith/Norah Jones), the album features such timely compositions as “Sanctuary,” “Expect Change” “Way of the Heart,” “Off My Medication” and “Where There’s a Willie There’s a Way,” “Blood on Your Hands,” and “The Justice Bell” (which was inspired by Nile’s encounter with civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis).

“We recorded the album in New Jersey at the same studio we’ve used several times in the past — Hobo Sound in Weehawken,” said Nile, who plays acoustic and electric guitars and piano.

“We cut it in January. We spent three days doing the basic tracks and a few days doing overdubbing. We’re hoping for an August release date.

“The band is getting really good. We’ve got Joe Webber on drums and Johnny Pisano playing bass. Andy Burton does some keyboards and Jimi K. Bones on guitar. Anything they play is pretty much torched. It’s nice to be able to go onstage with players you know and love.”

“‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is not a concept album,” said Nile. “But it is clearly inspired by New York in the pandemic shutdown.”

According to Nile, “I’m so proud of this album. It was born of a pandemic nightmare, but I think that it offers hope, and passion, for better days to come. That’s what I need, as a person and an artist.”

Nile is elated to be performing live again. He is also elated at being able to be a fan of live music again.

“I just saw Dylan in town last night at the Beacon Theater,” said Nile. “On Saturday, I opened for the Immediate Family. They called me up on the last encore to sing my version of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’

“The night before that, I played a show in Holyoke, Mssachusetts. I also just saw a show the was a Charlie Watts tribute with five different drummers. They were all playing Stones songs and I got to sing ‘The Last Time’ and ‘It’s All Over Now.’”

Somehow, it’s fitting that Nile sang songs that were Rolling Stones hits in June 1964 and February 1965. He was rocking hard as a teenage fan back then and he’s still rocking hard now — 56 years later.

Video link for Willie Nile – https://youtu.be/C6JaDpyl1Bo.

The show on November 28, which has Meghan Farrell as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming acts at 118 North are Melt with You on November 26, Found Wandering on November 27, and Toubab Krewe on December 1.

Avi Wisnia

When Avi Wisnia performs at City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com/philadelphia) November 28, it will be a celebration of something he has looked forward to for a long time.

The show Sunday night at City Winery is officially billed as “Avi Wisnia Album Release Show.”

“It’s been more than 10 years since I released my last album,” said Wisnia, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Philadelphia.

“My last album was ‘Something New’ in 2010. I also released a single – ‘Sky Blue Sky’ – in 2015.”

“Something New,” which was Wisnia’s debut full-length studio album, was recorded with Grammy-winning producer Glenn Barratt (Melody Gardot, Amos Lee) and a roster of world-renowned Philadelphia musicians.

The album showcased the piano-based singer/songwriter’s signature sophisticated style supported by lush arrangements inspired 1950’s west-coast jazz, acoustic American folk, Brazilian bossa nova, and contemporary piano-pop.

“Catching Leaves” has a lot of similarities to its predecessor.

“I recorded it at Morningstar Studios in East Norriton,” said Wisnia. “It was engineered by Glenn Barratt and produced by Ken Pendergast.

“The album was recorded over the period of a few years. I started in 2018 and just finished a little while ago. When the pandemic hit, it allowed me to focus on mixing.”

Wisnia has lived in the Philly for most of his life – dating back to his childhood days in Lower Bucks County.

“I grew up in Yardley and graduated from Pennsbury High,” said Wisnia. “I loved the music courses at Pennsbury. I took AP music courses and was active in choirs, band, and theater at school. That gave me incentive for music.”

Actually, music was a part of his life long before that.

“I had always been making music since I was really young – since I was tall enough to reach the piano keys,” said Wisnia.

“I started piano lessons when I was five. I always knew that music would be a big part of my life. I started with piano and then studied clarinet …and then sax…and then bassoon…and then guitar.

“I was also always interested in performing and singing. I was always at ease singing in front of people. My father was a rabbi, and my grandfather was a cantor. They could stand in front of a big crowd and be comfortable.”

Not surprisingly, Wisnia pursued a curriculum of music in college.

“I went to NYU (New York University) and studied music,” said Wisnia. “I got my degree in music performance and composition. That’s when I started making my own music.”

If you listen to Wisnia’s music, you can hear the influences of his Philly roots…you can hear influences of his Hebrew ancestry…and you can hear the influence of bossa nova.

You won’t find bossa nova in Philly and you won’t hear it in synagogues. You will find it in Brazil.

Bossa nova is a style of samba developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is mainly characterized by a “different beat” that altered the harmonies with the introduction of unconventional chords and an innovative syncopation of traditional samba from a single rhythmic division.

Even if you’ve never heard of bossa nova, you’ve heard bossa nova – songs such as “The Girl from Ipanema” by Astrud Gilberto as well as radio standards by Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto and Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66.

“I got really into bossa nova and then studied the Portuguese language,” said Wisnia. “I knew I wanted to sing that classical music. I did a tour in Brazil a few years later.

“A song on my latest album – ‘Sky Blue Sky’ – is a collaboration, recorded via satellite between Philadelphia and Rio de Janeiro.”

On “Sky Blue Sky,” Wisnia teamed up with acclaimed Brazilian producer Bruno Migliari to create a sophisticated blend of jazz, pop, and Brazilian rhythms — where instruments like the pandeiro, cavaquinho, and Avi’s trademark melodica playfully intertwine. Reminiscent of music by Bebel Gilberto, Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the breezy bossa nova of “Sky Blue Sky” transcends geographical borders and captures the romantic possibility as endless as a blue summer sky.

“After college, I spent time in Brazil – mostly Rio and Sao Paulo,” said Wisnia. “The musicality of the culture there is really entrancing. It informs the kind of music I make.

“I also got into a lot of the American Songbook, West Coast jazz and folk music. I released my first EP – ‘Avi Wisnia Presents’ – in 2007. My first show after graduation was at Café Vivaldi in New York. They offered me a second show and that started me on my path to performing.

“I lived in New York for 10 years. Then in 2012, I moved back to Philly. It felt like coming home.

“Now, I’m doing this show on Sunday in Philly. I’d like to invite people to come celebrate the album release – and to celebrate and light a candle for the first night of Hanukkah.”

Video link for Avi Wisnia – https://youtu.be/sV2YmKDnOQ0.

The show on November 28 will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at City Winery are Peace Creeps and Betterducks on November 26, Joe Kenney Band on November 27, Morgan James on November 27, Miki Howard on November 28, Ben Ottewell and Ian Gomez on November 29 and A Peter White Christmas with Mindi Abair and Vincent Ingala on December 1.


Fuel, a band with a three-decade history and six albums to its credit, has gone through a lot since its inception in 1989.

Initially formed in Tennessee, Fuel gelled as a recording act and touring band during its time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Now, Fuel is coming back to the Keystone State for a pair of concerts – November 26 at Musikfest Café (101 Founders Way, Bethlehem, www.musikfest.org) and November 27 at Mickey’s Black Box (101 Rock Lititz Boulevard, Lititz, http://mickeysblackbox.eventbrite.com/).

“It’s great to be coming back to Pennsylvania,” said founding member Carl Bell, during a recent phone interview for his home in Las Vegas.

“Pennsylvania is where it all started for us. Pennsylvania is close to our heart.”

For many Fuel fans, it’s surprising that the band is coming back to life – let alone coming out on tour.

According to the band’s website, “Destiny unfolds unexpectedly. However, it pushes us exactly where we’re supposed to be at just the right time. In this respect, you could say the 2021 rebirth of GRAMMY® Award-nominated multi-platinum rock band Fuel was simply meant to be. After rebuilding their brotherhood, founder, guitarist, and songwriter Carl Bell and longtime drummer Kevin Miller didn’t just celebrate their history together. They rushed into the future joined by new blood — John Corsale [lead vocals, guitar], Mark Klotz [guitar, vocals], and Tommy Nat [bass, vocals]—and armed with their first album together in 18 years, “Ånomåly.”

Bell, lead guitarist/principal songwriter and founder of the band in 1989, had been absent from the group since 2010. The new album features 11 original tracks that were written by Bell.

“As soon as I started writing again, the songs started coming,” said Bell. “It was like ‘back in the saddle.’ It was interesting to start fresh. I hadn’t written a rock song in a while.

“I met with the new guys in the band in 2020 and brought two new songs – ‘Landslide’ and ‘Keep It Away.’ They liked them.

“We cut the album here at my place in Las Vegas with vocals recorded at Soundmine Recording Studio. We did a lot online because with COVID, we couldn’t get together. John did his vocals at King Studio in Pennsylvania. Then, I produced it and mixed it here.”

Fuel has had 15 band members since its formation. The list of former members includes Brett Scallions – lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1993-2006, 2010–2020), Jeff Abercrombie – bass (1989–2010), Jody Abbott – drums (1989–1998), Erik Avakian – keyboards (1993–1996), Toryn Green – lead vocals (2006–2010), Tommy Stewart – drums (2004–2010), Ken Schalk – drums (2010–2013), Brad Stewart – bass (2010–2015), Andy Andersson – lead guitar, backing vocals (2011–2015), and Shannon Boone – drums (2013–2020).

Bell left the band in 2010 and returned a decade later.

“From 2010-2020, Brett Scallions had the band,” said Bell. “He’s been touring and doing other stuff. He got tired of Fuel and gave it back. Now with the new lineup, Fuel has come back to me.

“When Brett left the band for the first time in 2006, he didn’t want anything to do with Fuel. In 2010, he decided he wanted to come back to Fuel without me. So, I left and gave him the band.

“Last summer, it all fell apart. I called Kevin, who had been gone since 2004, to see if he was interested in getting the band back together and he said – you wrote all those songs…let’s go and play those songs again.”

Fuel was reincarnated – again.

“Kevin lives in Pennsylvania, and he had a band,” said Bell. “Kevin said – I think I know the guys who would be perfect for this project.

“John and Mark were from Pennsylvania and Tommy was from New Jersey. They bring a whole new level of musicianship. This is the best musical lineup we’ve had.

“On this tour, we want to honor the past and bring in new material. We have about three new songs that we’re now playing live – and we play at least one song from every album. Fans are going to hear all the big songs.”

And they’re going to hear them in Pennsylvania – twice in two nights.

Video link for Fuel — https://youtu.be/VafGhOEXJEA.

The show on November 26 in Bethlehem will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $32.

The show on November 27 in Lititz will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $30.

In about a month, Santa Claus will be departing from the North Pole for his annual Christmas tour.

Maddie Poppe

Next week, Maddie Poppe is departing from Iowa for her Christmas tour.

Unlike the tour for Santa, which last just one night, Poppe’s tour will run for three weeks and include 17 shows. One of those shows will be on November 30 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

“I take off next Monday,” said Poppe, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from her home in Clarksville, Iowa. “I’ll be out until December 21.”

Poppe is a singer and musician (guitar, piano and ukulele) who was the winner of “American Idol Season 16” in 2018.

She released an independent album, “Songs from the Basement,” in 2016 and followed with her first studio album, “Whirlwind,” which came out on Hollywood Records in 2019.

On November 20, 2020, Poppe independently released her holiday EP, “Christmas From Home,” and then went on the “Maddie Poppe’s Acoustic Christmas Tour” in December 2020.

“The current tour focuses on Christmas songs,” said Poppe. “Last year, I did songs from the EP. This year, I’m doing a lot more Christmas stuff.

“The tour in 2020 was solo. This year, I do have a keyboard player with me – keyboard plus me on guitar and vocals — and that allows me to be able to do more songs.

“The Christmas songs I play now are all my own. I’ll probably do about six songs from ‘Whirlwind.’ I think I’m going to intersperse them throughout.”

For Poppe, music is in her DNA.

“When I was growing up, my dad (Trent Poppe) was always involved in music,” said Poppe. “He was in bands and had a studio in the basement of our house. There was always music around the house. He was hoping one of his kids would go into music. My siblings didn’t but I did. I recorded ‘Songs from the Basement’ at his studio here in our house.”

Poppe’s first TV music show was an appearance on “The Voice,” which didn’t materialize into anything.

Then came her successful stint on “American Idol.”

“I always thought that these shows were what you did as a singer,” said Poppe. “Not getting anything from ‘The Voice’ bummed me out for a while. Then, I realized I needed some motivation.

“I was nervous for “American Idol” auditions. I had no expectations because I didn’t want to get let down. That’s what helped me relax and have fun.

“Every step of the way, I was expecting to get cut. But I just kept going. I did not expect to win. I never really thought it was possible. I was really shocked when it happened.

“It definitely gave me such a helpful boost. I got to skip so many levels. Right after the show, I got a record label and was thrown in a room for writing sessions with other writers. It was hard to get used to because I always just wrote by myself.

“Then, I had 42 days to make the album. It was all made in L.A. with so many different producers and recorded all over at different studios. I just tried to focus on getting it finished.

“It was different making the Christmas record. It was in the middle of the pandemic, so I didn’t have the opportunity to record with other people. I wanted to release something, so I decided to do the record solo.”

The first post-release tour in 2020 was solo. This year, Poppe is joined by a keyboard player – double the players, double the fun.

Video link for Maddie Poppe – https://youtu.be/x0YeiwU9YvI?list=RDx0YeiwU9YvI.

The show on November 30 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25 and $32.

Other upcoming acts at the World Café Live are The Amish Outlaws on November 26, Ben Vaughn Quintet on November 27, and Over The Rhine Christmas Show on December 1.

If you want to see the national tour of the hit musical “Anastasia” in Philadelphia, you still have time. The show concludes its six-day run at the Merriam Theater on November 28.

The show, which is presented by the Kimmel Cultural Campus in partnership with The Shubert Organization, will feature West Chester’s Madeline Raube in the role of Countess Lily.

“Anastasia” is a musical that adapts the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who could have escaped the execution of her family.

“The auditions for the tour took place pre-pandemic in early 2020,” said Raube, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Then the pandemic stopped everything. There were more video auditions from January-March 2021. The final callback was in person in July in New York City.

“The role that I have is the one I was auditioning for right from the start. Years ago, when I was watching the movie, she was the role I liked. Her name in the movie was Sophie and in the play it’s Lily. Getting it was a dream come true.

“What I love about Lily is that she is a mix of everything. She’s funny. She’s really confident onstage and she provides comic relief.

“She had big back-to-back numbers. It’s also an important role. She is the Dowager-in-Waiting.”

Raube, who got an undergraduate degree in classical voice and opera at Oberlin College in Ohio, gets to show off her vocal chops in several numbers.

“I have three big numbers,” said Raube, who also got a master’s degree in musical theater at New York University.

“The first is ‘Land of Yesterday’, which is a solo number. It’s followed by ‘The Countess and The Common Man,’ which is a duet with Vlad. That number brings down the house.

“My final number is ‘Press Conference.’ That’s where they realize Anya is real. I also do four different ensemble roles in Act One.”

Video link for “Anastasia” – Anastasia21_Montage_HD.mov (dropbox.com).

The show at the Merriam Theater will run from November 23-28.

Ticket prices start at $39.

Now through January 2, People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is presenting the world premiere of “A Christmas Carol.”

This version of “A Christmas Carol” is adapted from Charles Dickens by Zak Berkman and features original music by Zak Berkman.

Callous Scrooge, shackled Marley, and the haunting spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future spring vividly to life in this fresh adaptation of a favorite yuletide ghost story.

Featuring a lively mix of original songs and newly arranged 19th-century English carols, this music-infused retelling captures the magic, joy, and generosity of Dickens’ beloved classic.

Each year, the People’s Light holiday show is a panto that transforms a beloved children’s story into a musical extravaganza filled with outrageous characters, toe-tapping original music, slapstick comedy, and topical humor for both kids and adults.

“A Christmas Carol” is not a panto. But it is music-filled, interactive fun for every age — whether you believe in spirits or not.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, uptownwestchester.org) will present Better Than Bacon on November 27.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Tarkus on November 27.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will have the Meghan Cary Trio on November 26 and the Tas Cru Acoustic Duo with Mary Ann Casale on November 27.

The Living Room (35 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) will present Ray Adkins and One Man Dog (James Taylor Tribute Band) on November 26.

On November 21, the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Cabinet on November 26, A Grateful Gathering with Steve Kimock & Friends on November 27, and Darlingside on December 2.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will host George Thorogood and the Destroyers on December 1.

Keswick Theatre (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will have The Machine on November 26 and Musical Box on November 27,

Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Gary Ho Ho Hoey on November 26, Beatlemania on November 27, The Airplane Family on November 30 and Nefesh Family on December 1.

The Met (858 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://themetphilly.com) will have Bob Dylan on November 29 and 30.

Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) will host Max on November 26, Pink Sweat$ on November 27, The Juliana Theory on November 28,

Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684,

www.johnnybrendas.com) will have Kensington Clearwater Revival on November 26 and Honey on November 27.

Punch Line Philly (33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia, 215-606-6555, http://www.punchlinephilly.com) will have Annie Lederman on November 26 and 27.

Rrazz Room (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, 888-596-1027, www.TheRrazzRoom.com) will present Suzanne Westenhoefer on November 27.

Scottish Rite Auditorium (315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood, New Jersey, scottishriteauditorium.com) will host The Weight Band on December 3.

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