by Matt Kelchner
At the end of this weekend downstairs at World Cafe Live Beyond the Bars, a young and local non profit group, has assembled a benefit show that boasts an eclectic lineup comprised entirely of Philly talent. The organization uses music as a means to give incarcerated youth a new way to convey their thoughts and feelings and a new path to venture on. On Sunday, the Districts, Frances Quinlan (of Hop Along), Ben Arnold and more will take to the stage to help raise awareness for their cause.
Since last year Beyond The Bars has been tapping into Philadelphia’s thriving local music scene to provide lessons to incarcerated youth at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center. “We are giving them the space to exercise these talents and cultivate them,” Brian Thomas, Director of Strategic Planning at Beyond The Bars, explains via email.
“We all have been playing music since we were very young, and we know firsthand how valuable it can be to have that outlet.” Thomas continues on about the effects music can have on a child’s life and development. For some though, a musical outlet can seem distant and even unobtainable. This is where Thomas’ organization steps in.
Through picking up and learning to play instruments, sometimes for the very first time, Beyond The Bars strives to give the kids a different avenue to grow, both musically as well as personally. “In this case, playing music and learning instruments helps them gain a strong sense of identity and healthy way to express themselves.”
The idea to reach out to these kids and teens came about as founder Matt Kerr met former PICC warden Karen Bryant while working in the city as a teacher. “He started an after-school music program for the students at his school, and one of the first participants was Karen’s daughter,” Thomas recalls. “Karen loved the idea and thought that the juveniles in PICC would benefit from a similar program, so she helped Matt navigate the prison system and set him up with the space for the program.”
For some that come in Beyond the Bars, they already have some kind of background in music or performing. For others, the entire experience is a brand new feeling for them. From first walking into a room with guitars, amps, a keyboard and drum kit to finding which instrument feels right to them all the way through learning and eventually mastering full songs, a new sense of knowing who they are comes about in the kids. “As they start to see themselves as musicians, they start to really own that identity and want to learn as much as possible.”
Looking ahead to the future, Kerr, Thomas and the rest of the team behind Beyond the Bars has set lofty goals for themselves. From expanding the lessons to additional facilities and establishing an external, post-prison extension to building after school and summer programs, the proceeds from the benefit show at World Cafe Live will go help the organization take these next steps.
If the Districts, Frances Quinlan and Ben Arnold were not already a stacked billed, then Queen of Jeans, The Bul Bey and Milton should provide for enough. Doors open at 4PM, everything kicks off at 5PM and tickets are still available. Don’t miss out on an great night (and late afternoon) of music for an incredible cause!