A party in a parish gym might not sound like the most thrilling thing in the world. I thought the same thing until early March when I went to a charity concert for the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Mary Magdalene school gym in Media. Sister Veronica Susan, the chief beggar for the local branch of the order, which runs the Holy Family Home for the elderly on Chester Avenue, had enlisted nationally touring band Scythian for their annual fundraiser.
With their rousing brand of Celtic-Gypsy-folk, Scythian made the event a sell-out. The gym was transformed, as young people and old nuns alike, danced, sang, and clapped while the beer flowed generously. My friends and I agreed that it was one of the best times we ever had — perhaps because it was so unexpected.
In subsequent days, a group of us in Philadelphia, including Alexander and Daniel Fedoryka of Scythian — Catholics who live in Overbrook– discussed the great time we all had that night. But why wait until next year? We wanted as many people as possible, especially those in their 20s and 30s, to experience the wholesome good time we had that night. We wanted to recreate the village squares of old Europe right here in the City of Brotherly Love.
Thus was born the idea for the Village Square — a quarterly series of concerts bringing top-quality bands who produce generally mainstream music but who take their faith seriously to audiences that want to have a great time without sacrificing their values.
Good musicians who don’t want to sell out need to be connected to good audiences who otherwise are forced to listen to stuff that’s less than wholesome. And the Village Square will make that connection, mutually benefiting audiences and musicians, while raising money for Catholic causes.
The village square wasn’t just a place to hang out. In its ideal form, it was the center of an “economy of generosity,” or what Pope Benedict called in ‘Caritas in Veritate,” the “principle of gratuitousness,” a place where everyone gives fully of himself for his friends and neighbors, without calculating the immediate personal gain.
That’s what we saw at the Little Sisters concert, which raised significant funds for them, and that’s what we all hope the Village Square will produce, with everyone coming together in community.
Abbot Vonier, a Benedictine monk writing in the early 1900s, observed, “Now into this heavy atmosphere of oppressive paganism the Christian … steps like a being from another world in the strength of the Eucharistic mystery.”
We all hope the Village Square will, in the context of great music and secular conviviality, help fortify our fellow Christians to live their faith in all aspects of their lives, not just at Mass or at the soup kitchen. To take our faith seriously, we can’t just go along with the culture around us, including the music it offers us. Just as God told Francis to rebuild his church, maybe we can start rebuilding our culture.
Scythian will headline the first Village Square show at St. Francis Xavier School Auditorium, 641 North 24th Street, in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section. Proceeds will support the new school roof, and the show will be opened by Kevin Heider, a folk rocker out of Steubenville, Ohio. He’ll be debuting his new album at the event. His intriguing music, with elements of classical, should get the crowd pumped up and singing along.
Scythian was a fan favorite at the prestigious North Carolina bluegrass festival called Merlefest last month (another reason to catch them in Fairmount May 17). That festival closed with the Avett Brothers singing the “Salvation Song”:
“We came for salvation, we came for family, we came for all that’s good, that’s how we’ll walk away … we came to cheer the sad, we came to leave the behind the world in a better way … and they may pay us off with fame but that is not why we came and if it compromises truth then we will go.”
That’s the idea of the Village Square — having a good time without compromising truth and bringing together folks seeking the right path. If you want to be a part of this, you can buy tickets at the Village Square’s website (or at an alternate site here) and you can also see some clips of Scythian and Kevin Heider.
Tickets will be $20 each, plus $3 for each beer. Other concessions, including pizza, will be available for sale. Ten percent of all band merchandise sales will go to benefit the St. Francis School new roof fund.
As the Fedorykas said in their radio ad for the event, “Let’s Roof This Thing!”