There’s a running joke in Philly that, at some point in the 1960s, all of Kensington and Fishtown picked up and headed north, seeking refuge in the bucolic sprawl of the Great Northeast, where those expats have held their noses high ever since.
Whether there’s any truth to that or not, residents of Northeast Philly would do well to take a break from disparaging their Kenzo neighbors to the south and take a trip down Frankford Avenue this weekend.
Yes, if you look past the gore-reel of local evening news, you can see some great things happening in Kensington. Perhaps the best time of the year to soak in that sea change is during the combined Trenton Avenue Arts Fest and Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.
Now in their sixth and fifth year, respectively, the events are vibrant showcases of the quirky, do-it-yourself artistic culture that has taken root in this part of town over the last decade.
For the festival, the broad cobblestone stretch of Trenton Avenue east of Frankford Avenue will play host to nearly 200 vendors. Look for everything from local baked goods and Kensington-made soap and ice cream to fine art from local artisans.
The real spectacle, though, comes with the Kinetic Derby, where a jaw-dropping parade of moving sculptures weaves its way through the streets of Fishtown and Kensington. Seeing this year’s batch of (most often) bike-powered wonders is alone worth making the trip to Trenton Avenue this Saturday, and you also can count on some beers — brewed down the road on Margaret Street — from the Philly Brewing Co.
Of course, the festive environment would not be complete without some music, and there are some choices out there for those looking to see great Philly bands.
Headlining the music stage at the Trenton Avenue fest is Taggart, a Philly four-piece that has been around since the mid-1990s. These guys have brought a gutsy, energetic edge to many a local fest, playing both originals and high-powered covers of bands like The Who.
Other acts include Abe the Rockstar, the naughty Sexoffice, Glitter, Extreme Fishkin, and Conversations With Enimies. The music starts at noon, with Taggart taking the stage at 4:15 and playing a half-hour set.
The more ambitious musical effort, though, seems to be down the street where Fire Museum Records will present the second-ever Highwire Music Festival on behalf of the Highwire Gallery at 2040 Frankford Ave. Located along the Kinetic Sculpture Derby route, the fest is held in the gallery’s spacious side lot.
In all, the Highwire Music Fest — just a short walk from the main Trenton Avenue happening, and also free — features a total of 11 acts and some eight hours of music starting at noon.
True to Fire Museum’s reputation for giving a showcase to music on the fringes, Saturday’s lineup is an eclectic one that leans toward the heavy and the experimental.
Headlining the fest is the Birds of Maya, a band featuring Public Service Announcement’s Michael Polizze. Known for their rough sound and love of heavy blues and garage, these guys can bite into a riff and hang on to it for a solid 20 minutes, creating shows that are part raw energy and part hypnotic.
Also mining that hypnotic vibe is East Kensington’s Chris Forsyth, who has put out a string of great records in the last few years and has impressed crowds both locally and abroad.
On the mellower end of the spectrum, finger-style guitarist Eric Carbonara will team up with harpist Jesse Sparhawk and dazzle the crowd with their otherworldly duets.
A full lineup of the Highwire Fest can be explored at museumfire.com/events.
You could even make a night of it and check out the heavy metal of New York’s Black Anvil at Kung Fu Necktie (1250 N. Front St.) or head to Johnny Brenda’s (Frankford and Girard), where the DJs will be playing the “best bangers” from the year 2002.
Just down the street at the Barbary (950 Frankford Ave.), R5 Productions will be presenting an all-ages show featuring Memphis May Fire, Decoder, 10 After 2 and Sky vs. Sea.
Over at the M Room (15 W. Girard Ave.), Philly’s Song Dogs headline, with performances by Southwark, Winchester Treaty and Khalid Quesada.
But after those heavy jams at the Highwire Fest, you might be in the mood for something a bit more laid back. Say, like the just-opened Stephen Starr beer garden at 1210 Frankford Ave. With a big selection of traditional German and micro brews to go along with the Bavarian pretzels and PingPong table, it’s hard to beat.
My, how things have changed.
Check it out . . .
What: Trenton Avenue Arts Fest and the Highwire Music Fest II
Who: Some of Philly’s, and Kensington’s, more compelling artists playing free outdoor shows
Where: Trenton and Norris; Frankford and Susquehanna
When: Saturday, May 21, noon to 8 p.m. Free.