Nestled in the rich tapestry of South Philadelphia stands the historic Bok Building, an Art Deco monument to the ambition and dreams of past generations. Last night, on an unseasonably warm autumn evening, the Bok Building’s auditorium, a lavish relic of bygone days, brimmed with eager souls — 600 to be precise — each awaiting the commencement of the inaugural Philly Story Fest.
But you didn’t need to enter the auditorium to gauge the excitement surrounding the event. All you had to do was listen to the attendants prepare the stanchions for managing the crowds. “This thing is sold out tonight! And there is a waiting list of 300 more. Tonight’s going to be crazy!” Outside the hallowed walls of the Bok, the anticipation had been palpable.
Philadelphia, often tagged as America’s underdog, was in the spotlight. As stated on the event poster, this gathering was a “Love Letter to Philly” — sincere and unapologetically bold.
The evening kicked off with Asha Prihar from Billy Penn, taking the audience through her notable report on a quirky Philly event surrounding a rotisserie chicken-eating man.
In an introduction to the evening, McArdle Hankin, the founder of Backpocket Media claimed that the audience will “feel things you maybe didn’t expect to feel coming here tonight.” And It would be hard to imagine anyone in attendance disputing this. The narratives covered arts and culture, sports stories, and stories of racial injustice.
The lineup, including names like Philadelphia Magazine, WURD, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Spotlight PA, The Philadelphia Citizen, Root Quarterly, and Resolve Philly, ensured a diverse array of stories, each offering a unique take on the city’s essence. The audience experienced journalism, music, art, and performances that collectively captured Philly’s vibe.
Concluding the night, after a heartwarming tale from Steve Clark, a Teacher and West Philadelphia resident, about his quest to finish the Philadelphia Marathon, was an unexpected surprise. As audience members gathered their belongings came an unexpected thrill of a drumline — its beats echoing the heartbeats of everyone in attendance. As they traversed the auditorium aisles, the resonant sounds evoked the exuberance and zeal of the city.
The Philly Story Fest wasn’t just an event; it was a testament. A testament to a city that, despite its challenges, stands tall, proud, and ever-defiant. It’s a city of stories, of music, of art, and most importantly, of heart. And on this night, in the heart of the Bok Building, Philadelphia’s essence was celebrated in all its brilliant complexity.
Philly Story Fest is a production of Back Pocket Media and Local Lives, a Magic Grant and Impact Grant of the Brown Institute. The Institute congratulates the Local Lives team for their tireless effort to bring storytelling to life, connecting storytellers to their audiences.