Manya Scheps can't stand the rain. By 8 p.m. over two inches have drenched the city and begun to leak through the walls of her basement. It's brought traffic to a standstill on the Jersey Turnpike, where tonight's headliner, Josephine Foster, is stalled in her van. And the lighting above the wooden stage won't turn on. "What the fuck is going on with the damn Christmas lights!" Manya cries as she checks extension chords in the dark. "Maybe I'll run to CVS." Manya turns and scurries upstairs but pauses halfway to take a breath. "I've been praying for this show since August."
Manya, a College sophomore, lives at 42nd and Baltimore in the Haunted Cream Egg. It's a rickety three-story Victorian home whose basement has been hodgepodged into a concert venue, complete with painted stone walls, raised stage with curtains and a few pillows wedged into the windows for "acoustics." Since buying the home in July with sophomore Cecilia Corrigan, the duo have opened their doors to bohemian West Philly, inviting local artists to perform two or three times weekly. With major DIY venues shutting down across the city, the Cream Egg is now poised to become one of the top gigs in Philadelphia's bustling house show scene.
"Instead of going out to see shows, why not bring the bands to us?" says Manya in her kitchen over bites of vegan lasagna, a white feather protruding from her frizzy brown hair. The Christmas lights are working now.
It's Wednesday, November 8, and five local acts are on the bill tonight, along with Colorado's Foster, who agreed to add Philadelphia to her tour after Manya emailed her out of the blue. "In terms of celebrity, she's our most important," Manya says, though she doesn't expect the crowd to surpass her September 23 show with Child Abuse and Neptune, which drew over 400 people and was a featured live music pick in Philadelphia Weekly.
As the first band nears, a mix of ironically-mustachioed folk fans meander about the house drinking tea from coffee mugs and sipping 40s, browsing the bookshelves and petting Molly, the house's sleepy German Shepard. Cecilia is grilling eggplant in the kitchen. Manya sits by the door (suggested donation: $5) drawing spirit animals on patron's hands in lieu of a stamp. "Your spirit animal is. a moth," she tells one bewildered-looking guest.
The first few acts perform - including Kikillia & Jim, an acoustic duo with Cecilia on vocals - while Manya dashes between floors with her cell phone pressed to her ear, filing musicians in and negotiating equipment. By midnight, about 100 people have arrived to see the main act when Manya steps out to take a hurried phone-call and returns, exasperated, to the side of her friend Fish. Foster is stuck in a Camden motel; her brakes went out.
Fortunately, Fish's vegetable oil-fueled Jetta is equipped with a German-speaking GPS system ("Karen"), and in a half hour, they arrive at the motel. A flickering neon sign reads "_ _ _ E L Track and Turf." Foster, waiting in the parking lot dressed in red cords and velvet, admits that she was just tired of driving and apologizes, with a smile, "for all of the chaos."
Foster doesn't take the stage until 1:30, after two impromptu performances from guests kept the night going. A faithful group of 30 sit and watch a dazzling half-hour performance in which Foster's ghostly vocals waltz with the harp, harmonica and kazoo. After, Foster retreats upstairs and falls asleep in Manya's bed. (She's been promised pancakes in the morning.) Two local punk bands have shown up in the meantime, and manage to throw up their obnoxiously powerful amps in a matter of minutes. "Oh my God, this is going to be so loud," says Manya nervously. And as if to validate her fears, the drummer of Shark Bite declares: "If I get arrested I'm not gonna have to go to class tomorrow."
It's 13 minutes and 45 seconds before the police arrive. Someone with a stopwatch proudly announces the new Shark Bite house show record. Guitars and guests are slipped out the back door as Manya calmly confronts the officer at 3 a.m. on her porch - it's not the first time this has happened. The cop decides not to file charges, and Manya returns to her living room where Cecilia and a few friends await the verdict.
"The music is officially done," says Manya. "I need a cigarette"