Was Daryl Hall & John Oates' inaugural Hoagie Nation at Festival Pier on Penn's Landing "the most Philadelphia day ever"?
Those were the words of Dave Bielanko of the Philly rock-and-roll band Marah, who turned in a fiery set topped off with a Sound of Philly cover in the midst of the nine-hour music fest that drew over 10,000 to an expanded site along the Delaware River.
Other manifestations of Phillyness at the fest, intended to become an annual Memorial Day weekend event: G. Love & Special Sauce's stomp through their hip-hop blues "I-76," with the Philadelphia 76ers theme song inserted. (The band also did an impressive spur-of-the-moment tribute to Gregg Allman, who died Saturday, with a spirited "One Way Out.") A menu of meat and cheese -- and yes, vegetarian -- sandwich options named after Hall & Oates songs. And naturally, the duo of Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt and (an actor dressed as) Ben Franklin, who introduced the headliners.
"I named it," Hall said with satisfaction after taking the stage with his longtime partner, whom he met at Adelphi Ballroom in West Philadelphia in 1967. "Doesn't that unite us all? Love of cold meat and hot peppers on an Amoroso roll? And some good music, too."
The success of the fest was also partly due to the presence of one of the non-locals on the bill: the British pop duo Tears For Fears, who hadn't played in Philadelphia for 21 years. Together with H&O, the "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" tandem of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith created an exponential 1980s nostalgia that fans of a certain age couldn't resist.
The real credit for the fest's success, of course, is the durability of Hall & Oates' songs, steeped in Philly soul tradition and crafted with pop savvy. On Saturday night, they came one after the other, all delivered with a vocal prowess that in Hall's case in particular has held up remarkably well over the years. Along with lesser-known songs such as "One On One," and a representative cover in "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," there was a parade of big hits: "Maneater," "Out Of Touch," "Sara Smile,"and "She's Gone," the 1976 hit of which Hall said: "This is the song that took us out of Philadelphia and into the world."
Before Hall & Oates and co-headliners Tears For Fears made it to the stage, there was plenty of action on the festival's undercard, which began in the midafternoon with West Philly rapper Schoolly D.
The responsibility for bringing unadulterated rock-and-roll to Hoagie Nation fell to Marah, and the band led by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko did not shirk their responsibility.
After a bagpipe intro by Jeff Clarke, the band, accompanied by the four-man Hoppin' John Horns, hurtled into their South Philly travelogue "Christian Street" ("St. Paul's is for soul salvage / 9th street for my fennel and leak"). Their sweaty set included "The Catfisherman" about fishing in the Delaware, and a closing cover of The O'Jays' "Love Train" that put many of the band members' young children to work. Dave Bielanko urged the crowd to "congratulate yourselves for being from here, because America is out there, and it's not Philadelphia."
The midafternoon settled into a pleasantly mellow soul groove. On the South Philly stage by the main entrance on Columbus Boulevard, Nashville pianist Candace Springs -- an alum of Hall's Live at Daryl Hall's House web show -- delivered a lovely take on the Roberta Flack version of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time I Ever Saw You Face."
Meanwhile, on the North Philly stage closer to Spring Garden Street -- normally a secondary space that has been converted to the main stage in this year's Pier configuration -- Seattle singer Allen Stone played solo, accompanied by his agile, elastic voice on guitar and beat-boxed loops. He joked that he was holding off on the hoagie until after his set. "The worst thing happening whilst in the middle of the song," he said, "is cold cuts."
Speaking of cold cuts ...
Early arrivals at the fest -- with an average age probably 20 years older than it will be at next week's Roots Picnic on the same site -- were treated to free samples from 10 different sandwich makers from around the region. Thumbs-up for the three I had from Fishtown Market, Sangillo's Farm Fresh, and Olde City Market.
Those supplies were quickly cleaned out, leaving fest goers with $10 6-inch Dietz & Watson-branded, H&O-themed options, including "I Can Go For That!" rustic Italian and "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid" veggie/cheese option. I went for the roast beef "Maneater," and, boy, I chewed it up.
Stone was followed on the North Philly stage by Son Little, the Philadelphia folk soul troubadour born Aaron Livingston. Another formidable singer in a day full of them. Prior to the fest, Hall said having "a lot of soul" was a job requirement, and Livingston fit the bill on a gorgeous new tune called "Mad About You" as well as searing cuts like "Your Love Will Blow Me Away" from his 2015 self-titled debut. "I always give props to Philadelphia where I go," he said, playing to the crowd in "the most soulful city in the world." "The Dells, the Stylistics, Teddy Pendergrass, The Roots, and those two other guys ... oh yeah, Hall & Oates."
The trio of younger artists kept the soul burner in summer in their sets. It was up to the old heads in In The Pocket, the ad-hoc group of Philly music scene vets led by Hooters drummer David Uosikkinen.
The moving moment came when Charlie Ingui of the Soul Survivors, whose brother Richie died in January, tore through "Expressway To Your Heart." But the entire set was a blast, with Tommy Conwell bashing out "I'm Not Your Man" in a "Lou Reed Was Right" T-shirt and social protest heard in Ben Arnold's take on Pennsbury High School grad Jesse Colin Young's "Get Together." Jeffrey Gaines led the crew through the Nick Lowe-penned Elvis Costello version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."