Free event draws crowds to museum

Art After 5 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers free music.

Every Friday evening starting at 5 p.m., the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosts Art After 5, an event at which patrons can browse the galleries and listen to live music being performed by an eclectic group of artists. For three Fridays of the month, it is usually local jazz musicians performing, but on the first Friday of every month, the museum showcases an assorted sampling of international music.

During the first Friday in April, it featured what it referred to as the “Orient Express.” The Museum collaborated with the Alliance Française de Philadelphie and the Turkish American Friendship Society to introduce people to traditional French and Turkish music and dance.

The Lower East Side Hot Club, an acoustic quartet based out of New York City, opened the night. It performed songs paying homage to the swing-style “gypsy jazz” French music from the ‘30s and ‘40s, mixing in smooth acoustic guitar solos, a frolicking bass and an elegant lead violin.

Carla and Ronald Bednar of East Falls, who have been members of the museum since the ‘90s, said they go every Friday night because of the enjoyable atmosphere.

[/blockquote who=”Carla Bednar” what=”attendee”] “[We] are able to…come here and enjoy music we wouldn’t normally hear.”[/blockquote]

“It’s just a really relaxing time here,” Carla Bednar said. “My husband Ronald and I are able to get out of our work clothes, come here and enjoy music we wouldn’t normally hear.”

The museum’s Great Stair Hall, located in the center of all of the galleries, was transformed into what it calls a “cabaret-style” atmosphere. Patrons were able to take in exotic, live music and be surrounded by ornate tapestries depicting biblical events and myths from Ancient Rome.

The Bednars remarked on how the French quartet reminded them of the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris.”

Drinks and food were served, including a guacamole sampler with black truffle from El Vez. Many attendees lounged on the stairs savoring glasses of wine, while people gravitated toward a dinner-and-a-show type of evening sat at tables on either side of the performers.

Music isn’t the only feature Art After 5 has to offer. During breaks in LES Hot Club’s performance, burlesque-style dancers came out to entertain the audience. Sporting sensuous smiles on their faces throughout their routines, the dancers performed the traditional French can-can dance, wearing those wide multi-layered skirts and high stockings, lifting up their skirts and twirling their legs in very provocative ways.

After the LES Hot Club finished its last song, the Turkish Raya Brass Band changed things up. Unannounced, the band came strolling down the stairs behind everyone, weaving its way through the crowd. The quintet was led by two booming, rhythmic tuba and percussion players, which sounded like a high school Balkan pep rally.

Rounding out the Raya Brass Band was an accordion, a saxophone and a trumpet player. The saxophone and trumpet player traded energetic, roaring solos in the opening song. And then came perhaps the night’s most engaging entertainment: two voluptuous, seductive women performing a nearly 15-minute authentic belly dance routine, complete with finger symbols – known as zils in Turkey.

The dancers were seamlessly alternating the movement and percussion, which produced a particular effect, making it seem like two people could not be producing this much graceful noise.

When the belly dancers came out, the audience started getting involved, as the dancers placed their veils around the necks of people of all ages, all of whom obliged.

The museum has been featuring extended hours on Friday nights since the early 1990s, and the idea of Art After 5 first came about in 2001.

Sara Moyn, the producer of evening programs at the museum, said the event, which is free with museum admission, aims to draw new attendees.

“We’re trying to reach people on Fridays who might not be familiar with our permanent collections,” Moyn said. “With Art After 5, people can come in and view the performances and get to explore the galleries and feel more comfortable in the museum.”

Moyn said she is especially excited for the musical guest on May 3, Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret.

“It’s a hugely popular Art After 5 event we do once or twice a year,” Moyn said. “Martha Graham Cracker is a drag queen who performs recognizable cover songs.”

David Ziegler can be reached at 

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