Hey Connor Barwin, how much does it burn that you’re going to miss the War on Drugs playing your fourth annual Make the World Better Foundation benefit at the Dell Music Center on Thursday?
“It’s tough, man,” says the former Eagle and indie rock fan whose annual benefit shows have raised money to rebuild city parks and recreation centers since 2014, when Kurt Vile headlined the first one at Union Transfer.
When Adam Granduciel’s the War on Drugs comes to the Dell on Thursday for their first hometown show since the release of their majestic, wholly impressive new album A Deeper Understanding, Barwin will be otherwise occupied, 3,000-plus miles away.
Barwin was cut by the Eagles in March in a money-saving move and signed to the Los Angeles Rams. And as the event he spent more than a year planning occurs, the Rams will be facing off against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football.
“Thankfully, I have a game,” Barwin says. “That’ll keep me distracted. Because obviously I want to be there. It’s going to be an incredible show. Not only to hear them play that album, but also to see them play at the Dell. It’s just going to be a special night.”
Barwin won’t be a live witness to A Deeper Understanding’s Philly debut, but he will deliver an introductory video message.
And many of his former Eagles teammates are slated to be at the 6,000-capacity amphitheater, including Fletcher Cox, Vince Curry, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, and Nelson Agholor, as well as Philadelphia Union futbol players Raymond Gaddis, Richie Marquez, and Fafa Picault.
The show, which Barwin estimates will raise $250,000 including both ticket sales and matching funds out of his own pocket, is close to sold out. Some $35-$40 tickets remain, plus $200 Eagles meet-and-greet ducats, with preshow mingling privileges, an open bar, and BBQ by hotshot chef Marc Vetri.
But don’t feel too bad for Barwin. When he called to chat the morning after the rebuilding Rams failed to defeat Eagles rivals the Washington Redskins, he was on the patio of his rented Malibu house, where he can listen to War on Drugs songs like “An Ocean in Between the Waves” while also hearing waves crashing on the beach.
Barwin’s relocation to Southern California is a pretty sweet situation for the Detroit-area native. A new team means a reunion with Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, with whom he began his pro career for the Houston Texans. “It’s fun to be one of the older guys on a young team,” says the pass-rushing linebacker, who turns 31 next month.
He’s on a one-year deal in L.A. and plans to play at least one more year. But his absence during football season hasn’t diminished his commitment to Philadelphia. He and his wife, Laura, bought a house in Fishtown after marrying this year, and she still works as a physician’s assistant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“This is just like a little vacation,” he says. “There are a lot of things, trust me, that Philly has that L.A. doesn’t.” Such as? “L.A. has all these little bubbles and they’re great for what they are, but you really have to put a lot of work into it to go from one to the other. Everywhere is 45 minutes away. But in Philly, man, the neighborhoods and the community is all right there, which is really special to me. I can’t ride my bike around in California.”
Right now, Barwin is “really focused on football.” But MTWB, which has three full-time employees in addition to himself, has ambitions “to take what we’re doing in Philly and replicate it around the country. And L.A. would be a perfect place to do it.
“We’ve learned a lot in Philly, and we want to do more in Philly,” he says. So far, MTWB has completed work at Ralph Brooks Park in Point Breeze, with Smith Playground in South Philadelphia set to reopen this year, and the Waterloo Playground in Norris Square in a planning stage. Its next project will be in conjunction with Mayor Kenney’s Rebuild Philadelphia initiative.
“Instead of one park a year, we want to maybe get to be doing two or three a year. We’d like to be able to take what we learn in Philly and apply it to other cities, other neighborhoods.”
So there will definitely be another MTWB benefit in Philadelphia, sometime in 2018? “Yes. As soon as this show’s over on Thursday, that’s something we’re going to start working on.”
That show will likely happen next spring or summer, during the offseason. (Thursday’s show had to fit the War on Drugs’ tour itinerary.)
It’s unclear whether next year’s date will again be at the Dell, but promotion of the city-owned venue that recently underwent a $7 million rehab is another Barwin passion project.
“You talk about a place that is having fun. At the Dell on Thursday nights, they are having fun,” Barwin says, referring to the Fairmount Park venue’s old-school R&B concert series. In July, he caught Keke Wyatt, Kem, and Lalah Hathaway at the Strawberry Mansion showplace. “It’s really incredible what they’re doing there now. But there’s also a lot of people who don’t know about it who should. There are more shows that should be played there, and I think this is really going to open up the door for that.”
Along with the Thursday show he’s going to miss — “I wish I could be there!” he reiterates — Barwin has another big-deal Philly date looming.
On Dec. 10, the Eagles play the Rams in Southern California. “It’ll be a big game,” he says. “Hopefully, it’ll have playoff implications. It’s going to be fun playing against all my buddies. I root for the Eagles, but not when we’re playing them.”
Make the World Better Foundation benefit
- With the War on Drugs and Land of Talk, 8 p.m. Thursday, 2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive.
- Tickets: $35-$40
- Information: 215-685-9560, mtwb.org