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Kurt Vile, The Districts, The Tontons and More @ Union Transfer Friday as part of Connor Barwin’s Make The World Better Fundraiser.

June 16, 2014

ConnorBarwinFirst Unitarian Church moshers beware: a 6-foot-4, 240-pound NFL linebacker rocks amongst you.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Connor Barwin has become a Philly music scene regular since signing with the team in March of 2013 and relocating to the City of Brotherly Love. He affectionately refers to the previously mentioned venue as “the church,” regularly attends live shows all around the city and oh, by the way, has befriended Sean Agnew of R5 Productions.

ConnorBarwin01But Barwin has bigger plans in the works than just attending shows. Recognizing his place at the intersection of Philly’s music and sports worlds, Barwin has set into motion a plan to combine his celebrity and passions in order to give back to his new city.

Enter Friday night’s “Make the World Better” show at Union Transfer, starring the likes of Kurt Vile and the Violators, The Districts and The Tontons. The concert will be the first event of Barwin’s Make the World Better foundation, with 100 percent of proceeds (from tickets to booze) being matched by the organization and going to Point Breeze’s Ralph Brooks Park. See here for tickets.

Named after a 7-year-old who was struck down by gun fire in 1988, the park has fallen into disrepair and is in need of a face lift. Barwin plans to not only restore it but make it better than ever with a new basketball court, community garden, tables, benches, fencing and more.

Our Kyle Bagenstose asked him about the project and his participation in the Philly music scene.

So it seems like this event has kind of come out of a relationship that you and Sean Agnew have developed. How did you guys first meet, and also work together to come up with this event?

Well, I think I met Sean last year at Union Transfer. He had read the article that Grantland did on me, when they kind of followed me one day and I went to an Animal Collective show at Union Transfer. And we met after that.

We kind of stayed in touch because I had been going to some shows and then I reached out to him to ask him for coffee and to ask him what he thought about my vision for hosting this benefit show. And he was right on board from the beginning. People are saying that I’m hosting this benefit but, I mean, it could easily be Sean who’s hosting the show because he’s done so much to make this happen.

This is the first event for your foundation, Make the World Better, right?

Yeah. I started the foundation last year, and this is our first show. The idea is to do more events like this, but this one is the jump-off.

What was your inspiration for the foundation?

Well, my dad was a city manager, so I grew up being involved in our local community where we lived. I grew up learning the importance and power of community. And when I got to Philly, I felt like I was going to be here for a while and I was 27 and felt it was time to do something. I believe you can make a difference in the world and I think doing it with athletics and the arts and doing it local is the way I could make a big difference.

The idea is to live in that kind of triangle for the foundation. That’s the way I thought of it when I first came up with the idea and it’s where I want to stay now.

A lot of athletes start charities and foundations. I’m sure that it’s often genuine but sometimes it can feel like it’s just meant to bolster their public image. This seems more like something near and dear to you?

I think that’s fair to say. I think the only reason that Sean was down to do what he’s done for me in helping to pull this whole thing off – and the only reason Kurt Vile agreed to do the show – was not because I’m an Eagles player but because there’s a tangible thing this is all going to. I think that makes the difference and I think it’s what makes it special. It’s not just raising money for my foundation. My foundation is actually going to match the funding and it’s all going to something right here in Philadelphia.

The idea was to connect the show with a tangible project. And as always, I met the people who have done great work organizing the project down in South Philadelphia and allowed my foundation to come in and really add some help to it.

Let’s talk about the project. I understand you looked at a few different potential places before picking this one out. What stuck out to you about this park?

Well there are two things. One, it was the first park that I saw, which actually happened just riding my bike. And then redoing a park is a lot of work, so when I found this park, I started doing some research and made some phone calls and pulled together a mini meeting and found out that this park is in really bad shape and that people had been trying to fix it for a couple years. There’s been plans in the works but the project’s been kind of stalled and so I realized that by doing the show to give a little push, we could move this thing forward and make it happen.

So there’s been a community organization working on this? Did they hit a funding wall?

Yeah, exactly. Urban Roots had been organizing it. I started doing some research on it, and there was one news article that said like, D Wade, Cole Hamels, and a bunch of athletes were helping. And I thought there was no way they shouldn’t have this thing completely funded. But I found out that was just something where they had donated items for a silent auction to try and raise funds.

But Jeff Tubbs of Urban Roots had done all this planning and councilman Kenyatta Johnson had offered a large amount of money to go to the project. So it was in the works, but there wasn’t enough money and enough push in the system. So with this show, we’ll have the amount of money needed to push the park forward.

So this one event will make this happen?

Yeah, it’s going to happen with funding from the concert. We’ve had meetings with the city, the head of Parks and Recreation, with Kenyatta, Urban Roots and we’re hoping to break ground this fall.

You grew up near Detroit, a city with plenty of challenges. And you grew up interacting with youth from all different neighborhoods. Do you see any parallels between Detroit and Philly?

Yeah, I’d say they’re closer than the place where I played last, in Houston (laughing). People ask me where my civic pride comes from or whatever and I don’t really know where it comes from. It has a lot to do with my dad but I think when you give to where you live, you actually get more in return.

And I believe that people are people. I interacted with a lot of different kinds of people where I grew up and I was lucky to have that diversity in my life at a young age and appreciate it. And so I try and do that wherever I live. I decided that when I first got into the NFL, that wherever I live I would be there year round. And that’s what I’ve done in Philadelphia. I’m at the age where it’s time to take the leadership role and make a difference.

082813kurtvile03This is a pretty awesome lineup. Were you fans of these bands before you put this together, and what were their reactions when asked?

As soon as I got to Philly one of my good buddies put me on to Kurt Vile, so I had been listening to them. And then thanks to Sean I was able to get a hold of him and have a meeting with his manager, and they were right on board right from the beginning.

Kurt’s a pretty big artist now so we had to work through some things to get him to play because he had contracts and all that kind of stuff. But Sean was great, his team was great, and we were able to make it happen.

I hadn’t started listening to The Districts until we were trying to fill up the lineup. We were thinking we should try and get, ideally, a really big local headliner, and then a young, up-and-coming local band. And The Districts couldn’t fit that any better. Sean told me about them and ironically I went and saw them like a week later down at the Church. They were awesome, I took a whole bunch of my teammates – Riley (Cooper), (Jason) Kelce, Brandon (Graham), (Will) Murphy and everyone was kind of blown away how good they are live. And I’ve been listening to them a ton ever since and can’t wait to see them again.

The Tontons I knew from when I was in Houston. I was kind of like a groupie going to all their live shows (laughs). They’re doing a lot of shows and are playing at Firefly anyway, so I got in touch with them and they were totally down with this.

Not that Philly music fans really need an excuse to go see Kurt Vile and The Districts (below) but inspire us anyway.

We’re trying to sell this thing out. It’s going to be a lot of money that goes right to the park and it’s going to be a really dynamic park once it’s done next spring.

Also, people are writing about me. But Urban Roots did all of the planning for the park and Sean and the musicians are the ones who really deserve the credit.


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