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Main Line native educates with stories about Benjamin Franklin

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STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON 
For 21st Century Media

Once upon a time, a young man spent his summers telling stories about Philadelphia’s most historic figures: Benjamin Franklin. Anyone wandering through Franklin Court can hear all about the icon who lived quite the life, one worthy of being remembered (and memorialized by having a bridge named after him).
That young man is Ed Stroud and he tells stories about Franklin all day long.
Stroud, who grew up on the Main Line, has worked with Historic Philadelphia — an organization that aims to make U.S. history relevant and real through interpretation, interaction and education — for five years. Every day, he sits on a bench at Franklin Court and tells stories to passersby.
“Did you know,” he’ll ask, “that Franklin, who grew up in Boston, wanted to construct a fishing pier as a young man? He stole stones to do so and, through that experience, learned not to be dishonest.”
Other stories tell how Franklin became an abolitionist after owning slaves and about his electricity experiments. The stories — about two to three minutes for kids and up to six minutes for adults — are written by historians who research the subjects thoroughly.

Ed Stroud. Submitted photo

Ed Stroud. Submitted photo

Stroud studied history at Drexel University. He’s a John Adams fan, but enjoys talking about Franklin. He found the fact that Franklin owned slaves surprising.
“I thought he would have been above it,” he said, “That was a huge shock.”
The most interesting thing about Franklin, though, is that he wasn’t formally educated. Stroud, who recently graduated from Drexel and who lives in West Philadelphia, finds that fascinating.
“He didn’t go to college, but he was able to become this learned person by himself,” Stroud said. “I’ve had all this education and I don’t even feel like I compare to his intellect.”
Loving history makes the job interesting; enjoying speaking and acting makes the job fun.
“When I was little, I went to acting camps and thought maybe I want to be an actor, but that went by the wayside,” Stroud said. “I’m outgoing. Once you get me talking, I sort of run with it.”
His first year of storytelling was trying — he wanted to make sure he got everything right. But now he’s comfortable.
Generally, people stroll by him and ask for a story — he wears a uniform indicating who he works for and why he’s there. Other times, he’ll ring a bell to announce that he’s going to tell a story and people gather around.
“I yell, ‘Free story!’ and people come over,” he said.
He determines what to tell based on his audience — younger children might not understand the slavery story as much as adults, for example.
“It’s all based on what I think they might want to hear,” he said.
The weather sometimes puts a damper on his day — rain forces storytellers inside or under some sort of cover. The heat can do so, too.
“Really, that is the only downside of storytelling. You know in mid-July in Philadelphia when it feels like you’re wearing a hot wet blanket all day? That’s a challenge,” he said.
As long as he can do his job, he doesn’t care where he does it.
“I love what I’m doing,” he said.
He hopes that people enjoy listening as much as he enjoys the telling.
“It’s history in a fun way,” he said. “Teaching people and having them have fun with history —there’s nothing better than that.”
Franklin Court is on Market Street between 3rd and 4th streets. Other storytellers perch on benches throughout the historic sections of Philly. Information about Stroud and other storytellers, as well as July 4th activities by Historic Philadelphia, is available at www.historicphiladelphia.org.

 

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REVIEW: Phish’s long awaited return to the Mann doesn’t disappoint

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STORY WRITTEN BY MIKE PRINCE
For 21st Century Media

Despite members of Phish having a number of ties to Philadelphia, the city has been oddly omitted from tour after tour over the last several years by the Vermont-based jam band which recently surpassed its 30-year anniversary.
With not a single show in the city since 2009 — as well as no shows in the general area since a one-night stop at Camden in 2011 — Phish fans in Philadelphia had been starved to see the improvisational group of musicians play in their backyard.
When they finally got that opportunity on Tuesday — the first Phish show in Philadelphia in five years, as well as the band’s first at the Mann Music Center since 1995 — it was fitting that fans had to continue to wait, as the show was delayed more than an hour due to storms passing through the area.
The wait was well worth it, however, as Phish came out for the two-night run and treated the crowd with an array of newer songs, classics, jams, a few covers and the usual visually stunning light show.
Despite Phish’s road crew urging spectators not in the gorgeous wood-shed pavilion to return to their cars during Tuesday night’s thunderstorm, Phish fans, as they so often do, did what they wanted, and ignored the warnings of hail and severe lightning in the area.
And at 9:22 p.m., a little over an hour after the band was expected to take the stage, the raucously energetic crowd, starved for some live music, enjoyed “Axilla,” the fast-paced rock song that turned into a huge release for those who anxiously braved the pre-show storm. A couple fan-favorites followed, as “Gumbo” and “Taste” featured guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell leading the way. After “555,” a new song from Fuego, Phish’s recently released studio album, Phish broke into “Tube,” a funk-filled tune that saw the band let loose a little bit for the first time in the night.
The band played a combination of new and old tunes for the remainder of the set, including the crowd-pleasing “Camel Walk,” as well as “It’s Ice,” one of Phish’s strongest compositional pieces which debuted more than 24 years ago. “Walls of the Cave,” a structurally adventurous and multi-layered rager written to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11, closed what was one of the better first sets Phish have played early in this 25-stop summer tour. Before leaving the stage, however, Anastasio gracefully accepted a Philadelphia Flyers T-shirt from a fan in the front row, much to the crowd’s delight. Anastasio, who grew up in Princeton, N.J., is a well-known Flyers fan who once spoke about sneaking into games at the Spectrum in the 1970s.
After a 30-minute set break, Phish came out with a rocking, albeit short version of “46 Days,” and then followed that with “Fuego,” the title track from the band’s 12th studio album, a song which ended up being the highlight of the night.
“Fuego” featured nearly 26 minutes of improvisational exploration, a trait which most long-time Phish fans go into every show hoping to hear. In what was only the fifth time the song has been played live, Anastasio led the early part of the jam with some impressive pedal work leading to a bliss jam before McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman took over later in the jam, while bassist Mike Gordon laying down the beat until the final notes.
The set ended strong with a string of heavy-hitters, including “Tweezer” and “Ghost,” arguably Phish’s two greatest and most historical jam vehicles. What followed was a surprise to the roughly 14,000 people in attendance, as Phish dropped into “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” Deodato’s arrangement known by most from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Despite Phish being known to cover various songs from night to night, covers (outside of “Auld Lang Syne” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played to honor New Year’s Eve and America’s birthday) had been non-existent for the previous eight shows. The fan-favorite cover, which was actually debuted at the Mann 21 years earlier, sent the crowd into a frenzy, dancing like they hadn’t all night.
After classics “Harry Hood” and “Tweezer Reprise” ended the set, Phish played the not-so-rare “Possum” in the encore spot, ending a show which featured more than three hours of music and went until roughly 12:35 a.m., well past the original midnight curfew.
The back-end of the two-night stop featured an overall similar tone to the previous night, but with a regular start time, much better weather and an overall tighter musical experience.
After opening with “Glide,” a rarer Phish tune which had not opened a show since 1992, faithful Phish fans knew they were in for another treat. The first set continued with a variation of newer songs and classics, including another rare treat in “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters,” which was nailed by the four musicians who have arguably the most loyal and cult-like following of any active band in the world. “Run Like an Antelope,” a song which really needs no explanation if you simply look at the title, closed out the opening set in usual
An exploratory “Chalk Dust Torture” opened the second set, followed by a soaring version of “Wingsuit,” a rock ballad featured on the new album. To everyone’s surprise, cover songs were featured yet again, as the Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” and Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” were played, setting off the grateful crowd a couple more times before the end of the night.
When all was said and finished, Phish had played nearly six hours of music over the course of the two nights, culminating in the funk-rock “Weekapaug Groove” at the end of Wednesday night’s encore, as fans gave one final standing ovation and cheer to the band before heading out to the parking lot to either beat traffic or continue to party by their cars.
Despite a few groans here and there for a few newer and less popular tunes and forced segues, the pair of shows were a success for the long-time band members and their fan base, one which will happily travel around the country to see Phish play a different set every night.
The Phish concert-going experience is more than just about the music, though, offering plenty of exposure for those in attendance. From those who were at their first ever Phish show to those who might have been at their 100th show to a select few who have seen the band several hundred times over the past few decades, the overall experience is different for all fans involved.
Between the free-flowing musical improvisation and the light show led by specialist Chris Kuroda, Phish’s two-night run had a lot to offer to it spectators, whether they were sober or just enjoying a couple beers, or whether they were up front in the pit, in the pavilion or on back on the lawn with plenty of room to let loose and dance for three hours each night.
While seeing Phish at the Mann may have been new to some, it was just another Phish run for many, full with thousands of glow sticks raining down on the crowd, a few long jams, plenty of dancing and enough silly lyrics and complicatedly-composed songs to make a first-timer leave the show with a completely different view of the band and its shows.
And despite the band getting up there in age, they’re still showing signs of dynamic greatness, and having fun whilst doing so. As a whole, Phish is still doing things on stage from night to night that most musicians could only dream of doing. On the other end, devoted fans who were without their favorite band for nearly five years are thankful to still have that experience, whether it means traveling across the country or just taking a quick ride down to Fairmount Park and braving a storm to see a band they’ve already seen many, many times.

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