Crossroads Music, Bringing Traditional Music from Around the World to Philadelphia

Where in Philadelphia can you see South African jazz, folk music from Ireland, Indian classical players, and an intimate performance by Woody Guthrie protege Ramblin’ Jack Elliot? What about Malian griot or Balkan folk or local klezmer-inspired brass band the West Philly Orchestra?


At Crossroads Music of course! The organization has been hosting bands from around the world, and around the city, since 2002. According to their mission statement, “Crossroads Music organizes public performances by accomplished musicians with roots in cultures from around the world. Our concerts, workshops, master classes, lectures, and other activities educate the public by providing a welcoming and affordable environment for music-lovers of all ages and backgrounds to explore seldom-heard sounds and engage in intercultural dialogue.”


We discussed the history of the organization and their 2018 programming with Director, Daniel Flaumenhaft. Most, though not all, of Crossroads concerts are held in the main hall at Calvary Center for Community and Culture at 48th and Baltimore. That’s been the home of the series since its inception as part of the Cherry Tree Music Coop, a West Philadelphia folk music mainstay that operated out of St. Mary’s Church on Locust Walk from 1975 to 2002. At Calvary, Crossroads shares the space with numerous churches, a synagogue, and a slew of non-profits, a fitting place for such a musically ecumenical organization.

Even though we have the ability to listen to music from around the world whenever and wherever we are, something that was not the case when Crossroads started 16 years ago, that is very much not the same as seeing it played in front of you. Flaumenhaft explained, it’s really easy to just project your own ideas onto something that you’re not experiencing as a live event, especially when it’s from a culture or tradition you might not be familiar with. Which is to say: context and environment matter a lot and that’s not something you’re going to get just watching a YouTube video.

To that end, a Crossroads concert is not just the experience of watching a band play, though obviously that’s a lot of it. What the performers, along with Flaumenhaft and the rest of the people who help run the series try to impart is the history and culture behind the music. While the lineups and overall scope of Crossroads is purposely very diverse, they do get many repeat patrons, even if one date is for Indian jazz fusion and the next Appalachian folk music. He explained that ideally, “…you get a mixed audience and people’s tastes branch out once they see a couple of shows that are really good.”

But what is the connection between the seemingly disparate bands on the calendar? According to Flaumenhaft it’s that, “The idea of folk or the idea of traditional [music] turns out to be something that’s a lot more complicated and so I started talking more about music of communities and of groups of people and how they define themselves. Whether that invokes a shared sense of history – and it doesn’t matter that much whether it’s history that’s accurate and in a sort of objective, academic sense – it’s what ties people together in a kind of a face-to-face way.”

The first concert of this year’s season featured Malian blues guitarist Sidi Toure, who has performed at Crossroads before. Compared to countrymen Tinariwen and Ali Farke Touré, his most recent album, Toubalbero, was released on Thrill Jockey records. The music is a melange of the modern and traditional and the Crossroads website says it, “both captures and challenges his roots.”

On Saturday, May 19, at the International House, catch Indian guitar player R. Prasanna, a master of the South Indian Carnatic music style. The concert is co-sponsored by Sruti, the India Music and Dance Society of Philadelphia. Flaumenhaft explained that Crossroads works with a number of cultural organizations around the city and brought up a 2013 partnership with the Sangeet Society and the UPenn South Asia Center to put together the Raga Samay Festival, a 24 hour long Indian classical concert.


All Crossroads events are run on a sliding-scale admission, something that goes part and parcel with the final line of the group’s mission statement: “We are inspired by and seek to maintain West Philadelphia’s historic role as a diverse and inclusive meeting place for different cultures, social and economic classes, and progressive social movements.”


Making the shows as accessible as possible to as many people as possible is just as important for the organization as presenting a musically interesting and diverse lineup. Because when it comes down to it, you can’t have folk music – no matter the tradition or the country of origin, without a community of people there to share in it.