There’s shoes not
fit for their princes
But fit for we
Kings and queens
Oh, if you could taste our dreams
Those were some of the first words I ever heard from Erik Petersen. It was 16 years ago and I found a box of tapes with a small note that read “FREE! TAKE!” on a porch on Buckingham Place, a magical alleyway of a street in West Philly. The first basement show I ever went to — Myles of Destruction, Captain Crash, Eulogy and Sputnik — was on that block in July of 2000, at The Catbox. The first squat I ever hung at, the appropriately named Buckingham Palace, was also on that block. These were formidable experiences for a 20-year-old budding punk with aspirations of mohawks and revolutions. So was hearing the music of Erik Petersen, though I didn’t know it at the time.
This was before Mischief Brew was headlining shows across the world to hundreds of ecstatic fans all screaming along. Hell, this was before Mischief Brew. The tape I found in the free box, a collection of demos called “Mirth,” wasn’t even attributed to Petersen. There were woodcuts and illustrations of jesters and goblins and a couple circled A’s and that was basically it. The music was a weird mashup of old-timey folk and traditional songs with the energy and unflinching sneer of punk rock. I was hooked but in those pre-MySpace days had no way of finding out more.
The tape came with a patch that read “FOLK THE SYSTEM” that helped me connect the dots when, a few months later, I saw a flier with those same words advertising a show at the bar around the corner from my house. That bar, a legit hole-in-the-wall called Fiume that can hold 25 max and only if they’re good friends or are too drunk to care, soon became Petersen’s second home.
Fiume manager, bartender and former Mischief Brew bandmate Kevin Holland explained the connection.
“As far as I remember, the first time Erik played Fiume was a Kettle Rebellion show. Both bar and band were in their infancy. I was in my infancy too — as a bartender. That was the night I trained to be a bartender at Fiume. Since that December 2001 show, both Erik’s music and Fiume have changed a lot and not at all.”
Which is to say that it didn’t matter where or when you saw Petersen, he’d always play with so much energy and an impish, infectious smile on his face. And he’d play so much. In those days it was at Fiume or in the basement of Dahlak — really, they had shows there back then — or playing in various West Philly houses. Pretty soon after that, those same solo songs that Petersen had been working out for a couple years turned into a full band endeavor with Kettle Rebellion, which eventually turned into Mischief Brew.