It’s become Sunday church for some. The brainchild of Dopapod organist Eli Winderman, Funk n’ Bowl is rounding year two and its seventh installment. The shows run every Sunday usually over the course of a month, always hosted at Philadelphia’s North Bowl, and always free. Mixing Philadelphia talent with internationally touring musicians who happen to be passing through, Funk n’ Bowl closes out music-filled weekends in the city with an off-the-cuff showcase and lineup in constant rotation. No two shows will ever be alike, because no mix of musicians will ever be the same.
Johnathan Colman, bassist of Muscle Tough and Philadelphia musician at large, has been committed to the project since liftoff. He and Winderman took the time to talk with NEPAudio about all things funk.
Photos by 215music.
How did Funk n’ Bowl start?
J: I believe Funk n’ Bowl was conceived at a baseball game? Eli [Winderman] will have to verify. I had done a residency of sorts at Ortlieb’s a few years ago—put together a trio to improvise with and had different singer-songwriters open things up. Eli and I were chatting about over lunch and he shared he had a vision for something similar to unite the Philly music community and foster a hang/event somewhere in town.
E: I think the impetus for Funk n’ Bowl was basically that my main band Dopapod took 2018 off from touring and I realized I had a great opportunity to try to foster a community around improvisational funk music in Philly. I had lived in Boston and New York City in the past where there were several communities like this in action, and I felt like Philly was missing something along these lines. I wanted to create a weekly gathering (somewhat similar to church, just minus the religion) where people can spend time together and witness a new collaboration every week.
What number season is about to kick-off? When this started, did you expect to have so many installments?
J: I think the fourth? It’s fun to tie sports and music together. Bowling IS a sport, and we’re all basketball fans. Also, athletes can be a great inspirational source of musicians: the work ethic, discipline, team-building and psychological aspects of performing on a high-focus level. We had a few summer-pop ups. Summer is tough with festivals. There has been enthusiasm from the jump, and the support for Funk n’ Bowl has been amazing. It’s fun for us musicians and for everyone who attends.
E: The first installment was May 2018. I think we’ve basically done Spring 2018, Summer 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Summer 2019, Fall 2019, and now we’re here starting Spring 2020. So.. I think this is the seventh “installment”?
What keeps you coming back with more seasons?
J: Well…everyone loves to be playing! Why take Sunday off? We’ve had so many amazing talents partake in Funk n’ Bowl, and there are plenty of people we’d love to get involved still. Putting different people together and seeing the “chemical reaction” is exciting. We have a working batch of tunes makes a great soil for improvisational fun, and people are always adding fun suggestions.
E: Basically, we’re really enjoying [Funk n’ Bowl] being a part of our lives, and people keep showing up to join in the fun. So, why stop? I hope this continues for a very long time to come. That was my goal/intention from the get-go.
What is the process of choosing your line up? Is it a “whoever is available” type of deal, or is it shaped around an intended vision for that night’s show?
J: It’s not a straight path! It’s a blend of who have we had, who would we like to have, who can do what when, who would be a fun match with so-and-so, and who is in town that weekend. Musician schedules can be wild. It’s a pretty low-pressure scenario and VERY fun. We’ve found that most people are interested in playing!
E: We usually try to see what musicians happen to be touring through the city at a certain time and see who we can get to stick around for some Sunday fun. After that, there’s an amazing plethora of incredible musicians to choose from in and around Philadelphia. We try to keep every week as unique as possible.
How much or how little rehearsal gets put in for FnB? If you had to give an improv-to-practiced ratio, what would it be?
J: Zero percent rehearsal. Maybe for the first one or two, Eli [Winderman], Zach LoPresti, Joe Baldacci, Korey Riker, and I got together and shredded some tunes. Everyone checks the material out beforehand, and we go for blood in the moment.
E: Improv is the name of the game and also choosing songs that are easy enough that it doesn’t take much, if any, rehearsal to pull them off.
Philadelphia has a vibrant and thriving musical community. How do you feel FnB contributes to it?
J: North Bowl is this amazing bowling palace, event space, arcade, bar/restaurant (and now music space) to begin with. Fill that with music fans and musicians alike, and a community is born. It feels diverse in the sense that we’ve got jam scene players, national touring acts, and jazz scene players who do their thing at [Philadelphia venues] TIME, Heritage, and Chris’s Jazz Cafe. We’ve had singers like Taylor Kelly, Nik Greely, and Nicky Egan do guest spots and host their own nights. It’s inclusive and we are about that.
E: One of the important aspects of Funk n’ Bowl that we established from the get-go was to make sure there was never any cover. Where else can you see FREE live funk music on a Sunday in a bowling alley?
You’ve had, at this point, years’ worth of special guests and musical moments. What are some of your highlights from past Bowls?
J: Crap! That’s hard because it can be kind of hard to separate a specific moment of fun. It’s been cool seeing the crowd really start to know funk-soul standards like Jan Jan, Root Down and Ain’t It Funky now—air-drumming along to the hits and stuff. Josh Dion is an incredible musician who plays drums and sings (at the same time) like it’s nobody’s business. He’s done a few and always suggests great tunes I’ve never heard. Check out “Holy Ghost” by the Bar-Kays
E: It’s definitely hard to pin-point the best highlights because there are so many! For me personally, it was a full-circle moment for my band Dopapod to host a night at the end of November after our show at the TLA the night before. Add that this was announced day of Over the last two years, we’ve had members of Lotus, Turkuaz, The New Mastersounds, The Motet, John Legend, Meek Mill, The Roots, Ghost-Note, Octave Cat, Muscle Tough, Out of the Beardspace, Swift Technique.. the list really does go on and on.
What are you looking forward to this season?
J: Another night with Josh [Dion]! The Super Bowl party should be fun and we’ve got a great band for that. Some new guitar players who I’m excited about are joining in this season are Dan Kaplowitz and Justin Mazer. There’s fun groups for each Sunday. I’m looking forward to all the new suggestions people bring in and growing our Rolodex of tunes.
E: I’m looking forward to keeping Funk n’ Bowl alive and thriving! We have so many great line ups in the works!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
J: None of Funk n’ Bowl would be possible without the generosity, enthusiasm, patience & all around radness of Oron Daskal (owner of North Bowl). He has believed in this and thrown his heart into making Funk n’ Bowl a success that continues to grow!
E: I second this, Oron is the one who is making this possible. Also, everyone that comes out week after week. None of this would be possible without you!
Superbowl Sunday isn’t slowing this season kickoff down. Join Winderman, Colman, and friends tonight for some free funky tunes, the big game, drink and food specials, and $2 bowling (did I mention there’s a free tater tot bar? Because that’s kind of important.) Music starts at 9 p.m.!
A big thank you to Eli and Jon for taking the time to share with NEPAudio!