Written by Suzi Metzon Photographs by Jeff Fasano and Vanessa Sundra
The Bacon Brothers have returned back to their home in Philadelphia with a very special new release. Their new song titled “Philly Thing” not only speaks to true Philadelphians by mentioning hometown favorites like TastyKake and scrapple, but they even manage to encompass our tendency to move first and ask questions later. Being a Philly native myself, I can confirm!
What’s so special about this song, though? The Bacon Brothers were inspired to use this opportunity to give back to their hometown. Enter Jessica and Josh Craft, founders of the Philadelphia organization Rock To The Future. A true connection between Kevin’s charity, the aptly named Six Degrees, and this foundation right in the heart of their hometown, was eminently formed.
Proceeds from this release are slated to directly benefit young citizens of the Philadelphia area by providing free music instruction, training in production, and developmental guidance. A handful of Rock to The Future students were invited to participate in this collaborative homage to the 2-1-5 area, adding backup vocals, instrumentals, and even a rap portion contributed by potential future Philadelphia icon, 6th grader Naheim Gaymon-Hill.
I recently had the absolute honor of sitting down with Michael and Kevin Bacon themselves to discuss the origin of “Philly Thing,” the many hands involved in its creation, and to learn a bit more about what Six Degrees and Rock to The Future intend to accomplish together in their newly formed union. It truly is an admirable collaboration of the causes, and if you ask me, they are poised to inspire many and change the lives of countless future Philadelphia musicians and entertainers.
Inspiration can be a funny thing. It can be thematic, sporadic, emotional, or incidental. Lest we forget, it can also be positively accidental. In my exploration for the proverbial “A-ha” moment leading to the creation of their latest track, it seems this time we encounter the latter. Kevin says, “I was trying to describe something to somebody else that was not for Philadelphia. And they said, “Wow, that’s really weird.” I don’t know if it was, I can’t remember what it was. My response was, “well, it’s a Philly thing.” So, it made me think of the idea of trying to write a song that would be chock full of references that if you weren’t from the Delaware Valley that you would be a little confused by what I could be referring to.”
One look at the lyrics of this new track, and you can only imagine the variety of ways one can chalk up no better response than that. Surely if you don’t live under a rock you know artists like Jill Scott and Boyz II Men, but not everyone is familiar with the sweet, sweet taste of water ice. Michael and Kevin were able to illustrate a rich collective of all things Philly, from tip to tail. Are those ingredients to the Quaker state’s creation of scrapple? That’s a conversation for another day.
Beyond mentions of other area greats, such as Teddy Pendergrass and Patty LaBelle, participation in the track recording is also something to behold. The arm’s length list of credits mentions legend Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge, John Oates of Hall & Oates, and David Uosikkinen of The Hooters. It doesn’t stop there, either. The official music video includes cameos of Philadelphia’s most notable newscasters, Jim Gardener and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, and foodie legends Tony Luke, who earns double credit as a backup vocalist on the track. Hit play, sit back, and enjoy a ride with them as they meander through some of Philadelphia’s most notable neighborhoods and marketplaces.
While I realize we’re talking about the very man who is six degrees of, well, everybody, one wonders just how it’s possible for anyone to amass such a litany of legends. Kevin credits longtime friend and Philadelphia-based Producer Joe Nicolo for acquiring celebrity support. He had this to say on the curation of the aforementioned: “He’s a legendary producer and record executive from Philly, and he has a studio, and Joe is one of those guys that you go “hey, do you want to get into all this?” and “okay, can you find some local Philadelphia celebrities to do this video?” and all of a sudden there’s 30 of them in there. So, in addition to that, we produce it. He got a whole horn section- we didn’t even ask him to! And all of a sudden, he’s- he’s just made this amazing production.”
Not to go overlooked are the handful of Rock to The Future students who got to score their first mentions in the music world with these industry veterans. While I cannot say whether or not the children understand the magnitude of the company they shared in that recording studio, you can tell by the look in their eyes that they are making memories that will last a lifetime.
The Bacon Brothers know firsthand, having grown up in the very same public school system as some students of the organization, the importance of a sense of belonging in their community. How lucrative it can be in one’s upbringing to have a place where they can develop new strengths, not just musically but communicatively.
So, what is it that Six Degrees has going on that merged these two roads? According to Kevin, “the Six Degrees organization is about finding not just big, giant charities and tooting the horn for them, but finding more kind of individual grassroots sort of people, and groups across the country across the world that are just rolling up their sleeves and trying to do something positive. As we know, you know, music is a positive thing, so we were thrilled to be supportive of that.”
I asked Kevin their intended goals and reasoning behind this specific foundation and what it is that separated them from the rest of the pack. In his own words, “there are a few organizations in Philadelphia that have to do with more kind of traditional and classical music. You know, violins and cellos and orchestrated kind of stuff, but we wanted to find something that was a little bit more just kind of rock and soul and funk and all that. And it’s really something that is important to us. Because, you know, we grew up in the public school system. We always had access to instruments, and a lot of that has just kind of disappeared. So, what Rock to the Future does is they are able to provide instruments, put real instruments in kids’ hands, music lessons, and opportunities to record. It just seemed like a perfect fit for this song and Philadelphia. And I think our dream besides, you know, bringing some exposure to them and raising some money hopefully for them is that this is the type of program that could expand throughout the country. It’s, they’ve, they’ve had a really big impact and straight through the pandemic. They’ve done great, great work. So, we’re hoping that they keep rockin’ out, so to speak.”
And putting instruments and equipment into their hands is exactly what they did. With their small army of musical royalty, The Bacon Brothers put these kids up to the challenge, and boy, they delivered! Strings, vocals, mixing, every integral part of the musical process involves participating students from start to finish. Come Spring, The Bacon Bros plan to return to the stage at World Café Life to perform at RTTF’S Annual Music for All Ball. And those very same students who got to solidify their first-ever production credits with true sold-out touring artists are expected to perform right by Michael and Kevin’s sides for their first-ever live performance in a professional venue. That is not bad for a handful of teens.
I couldn’t help but ask Michael and Kevin what their personal necessary visit when they come back to their original stomping grounds was, and it turns out they are not the only famous Bacons to have made an indelible mark on The City of Brotherly Love. Michael recounts a story that you can’t find with Google! He shares, “Our dad, this was an amazing story, he was a city planner, and he is a very beloved character in Philadelphia history. When he was 93 after the mayor (at the time) banned all skateboards from LOVE Park, he got on a skateboard with a helmet and was trying to get arrested for skateboarding at LOVE Park! And that’s one of my favorite stories, but near LOVE Park, there’s a plaque, and it acknowledges his contribution to the city of Philadelphia. Whenever I’m in Philly, and I’m driving by or walking by, I always go and give that a tap because I’m really proud of that.”
That right there is the absolute epitome of a “Philly Thing!” What other explanation could there be for that time your 93-year-old Dad outwardly defied the law? And in true Philadelphia fashion, Michael and Kevin responded to the magnetism that brings the Bacons home every time.