Philadelphia-area American band Mason Porter has continued to hone its sound – and expand its growing fanbase – in the roughly 10 years since its inception. The latest step forward for the group is “Key To The Skyway,” its fourth full-length album.
The album, released just last month, was celebrated at an album-release show at World Café Live, and the band will host another regional date on July 4 at Steel Stacks in Bethlehem.
Paul Wilkinson, on guitar and vocals, says if you go to a Mason Porter gig these days, you’re seeing and hearing the band at its best.
“What’s exciting about this time period right now, with the record and the shows, is I feel like it’s the best musicianship we’ve ever had. We’re definitely on top of our game compared to any other time in our career. Our shows are smoking now. Me on guitar vs. me on guitar nine years ago, it’s a world of difference.”
The band formed in West Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia, in 2006. Working its way into being a staple in the Philadelphia Americana/roots/folk scene, Mason Porter has earned slots on taste-making public radio station WXPN’s “Free At Noon” concert schedule, as well national airplay, including spins on SiriusXM’s Coffee House channel.
The band’s live show, as Wilkinson alludes to, has been the primary driver of the buzz, with Mason Porter winning over fans not only at its own headlining dates, but also while sharing stages with the likes of Ralph Stanley, Peter Rowan, Greensky Bluegrass, Spirit Family Reunion, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Charlie Daniels.
Wilkinson is joined in the band by Joe D’Amico (mandolin, guitar, vocals) and Tim Celfo (upright bass, vocals), as well as newest additions Kevin Killen (drums) and Sarah Larsen (violin).
Larsen, Wilkinson said, first played with the band when “we bumped into her at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference.” With apologies to Aerosmith, you might call it “Love (At First Sight) In An Elevator,” as the existing Mason Porter guys were jamming in an elevator at the conference site when Larsen entered and joined right in.
Wilkinson says the band has found kindred spirits in the Philadelphia music scene like Chris Kasper, Hezekiah Jones and Tin Bird Choir. In April, Mason Porter and Casper teamed up for a show at Ardmore Music Hall which found Casper covering all of the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty” and Mason Porter performing the Dead’s “Workingman’s Dead” in its entirety.
More recently, the release show at World Café Live, “went really well,” says Wilkinson.
“We played two full sets. We pulled out electric guitars and went electric for the second set,” he explains. “There was a good turnout; new fans who heard the record on the radio and people we hadn’t seen in a while. We’ll be around nine years in the fall, and a lot of people feel like they are seeing this new Mason Porter.”
Wilkinson’s early influences included a healthy dose of folk and blues.
“My dad was a big Dylan fan, so as a kid I already had a big dislike for Bob Dylan because we had to clean the house to Bob Dylan,” he jokes. “And the Grateful Dead, what a conduit they are to all types of music: Merle Haggard, Grisman/Garcia, traditional bluegrass like Bill Monroe.
“Then I found Taj Mahal, and he’s really my favorite person – the perfect mix of performer and musician.”
The loosely defined roots/folk/Americana genre that Mason Porter is a part of seems to ebb and flow in popularity, while never totally disappearing. Currently, it’s on an upswing, with some acts breaking into the mainstream consciousness.
“My theory is this roots music, American folk music, it comes and goes in cycles,” says the guitarist and vocalist. “Something else new will become trendy or hot, but I think folk music will always be around. The idea of playing acoustic instruments sitting around a fire, I can’t imagine it vanishing.”