Every first Thursday at Underground Arts, the West Philadelphia Orchestra throws their signature event—The Balkan Dance Party. If you’re in the mood to cut loose and lose yourself in the hip-moving rhythms of Romani meets Jazz, this is the place for you. The crowd is diverse, open, and energetic, and the musicianship is on point.
The 21-piece band features a range of instruments, from sax to trumpet to viola and even the tapan, a traditional drum used in Balkan music. Petia Zamfirova takes the lead on vocals for the night and captivates the audience with her skills and effervescent charisma.
Gregg Mervine, who plays the drums and founded the band in 2006, said it all started as a result of potluck dinners, complete with beer and instruments. “We’d eat and jam in my West Philly backyard,” he says. “We only had one trumpet player back then, the great Kimball Brown who now lives in Tokyo.”
The monthly Balkan Dance Party has been going strong since 2008, first at Tritone, which has since closed, and now at Underground Arts.
On the band’s early days, Greg reminisces:
“At Tritone, you knew it was a good night if the crowd’s B.O. overpowered the stale beer smell of the carpet. Maybe that doesn’t sound erotic, but it totally was. When the crowd dances frenetically to a certain rhythm, we know that we need more of that rhythm. That feedback is essential, and why every WPO show should be, if we’re attuned to our crowd, better than the show before.”
The band is currently in the studio working on a new record and that will feature mostly original tunes. Their next show will be on Friday, August 14th opening for Rebirth Brass Band at Ardmore Music Hall. The next Balkan Dance Party will be on Thursday, September 3rd at Underground Arts.
For more info on the West Philadelphia Orchestra, visit their official website here.