Philly musician Ryan Tennis’ ‘Graceland’ show to feature ‘all-star’ lineup at Ardmore Music Hall

Ryan Tennis is from Bryn Athyn and lives in West Philly.
Ryan Tennis is from Bryn Athyn and lives in West Philly. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Ryan Tennis performing with The Clubhouse Band.
Ryan Tennis performing with The Clubhouse Band. SUBMITTED PHOTO


What: Ryan Tennis’ “All Star Tribute to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’” show.

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6.

Where: Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.

Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door, $25 for reserved seating.

Info.:, (610) 649-8389.

West Philadelphian Ryan Tennis has been compared to Ben Harper, Bill Withers, and even Paul Simon.

The guitarist and singer/songwriter will warm up for an East Coast tour to support the Jan. 12 release of his sixth recording, the EP “Two Days on the Fence,” by playing a tribute show Jan. 6 at the Ardmore Music Hall saluting Simon’s 1986 magnum opus, “Graceland.”

The local “All-Star Graceland Celebration” concert will showcase a different side of Tennis’ skill set and repertoire. Besides making the set about the Grammy-winning songs “You Can Call Me Al,” “Graceland,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “I Know What I Know,” he’ll lead what he called “a hybrid band” featuring Bakithi Kumalo, the Soweto, South African bassist who played on several of “Graceland”’s tracks (including the memorable fretless slap bass interlude on “You Can Call Me Al”); members of Amos Lee’s band; guitarist Tom Spiker, who co-produced “Two Days on the Fence;” and members of Tennis’ backing group, the Clubhouse Band.

“I’m in my 30s. My generation, and older, everybody knows that music. When you hear a band really doing that music right, there’s no stopping it,” Tennis said in a phone interview, observing that “Graceland”’s joyful rhythms never fail to get crowds dancing.


Also featured that night will be a “Music of Simon and Garfunkel” set with Tennis, Looseleaf, Matt Spitko, Anders Hyatt, Bethlehem and Sad Patrick, and John Francis.

In the world music spirit of “Graceland,” Tennis, who grew up in Bryn Athyn, has toured internationally, thanks to the professional networks of John Francis and Tennis’ musician younger brother, and has found legions of fans in Switzerland, Germany and Colombia. “They really, really value music and the arts,” Tennis said of European audiences. “When you play, people listen and will give you their attention.”

Tennis is especially fond of Colombia, where his brother found success as a member of the Latin fusion band El Caribefunk. “It’s a cool, chill, hospitable place. In Colombia the most important values are togetherness, family and friends. We have a lot to learn about cultural warmth and how to enjoy the moment. There’s a lot Americans have to learn about treating guests and welcoming people,” he said.

Tennis’ chief musical goal is to create a “interpersonal warmth” with folk, Afro-Caribbean and soul sounds to counter today’s information-overloaded society. Philadelphia’s WXPN has noticed and has given his songs airplay. “They’ve been real supportive ever since I came here (College and career took him out of the area, until returning in 2008 to pursue his music). I was a lot more green than I am now,” he said.

When asked about the title track of “Two Days on the Fence,” Tennis shared that it was about a catharsis that came from a long-distance relationship that didn’t work out. “It has to do with embracing uncertainty and feeling OK with it. If you’re gonna be an artist, especially a musician, you can’t control everything. You don’t have any control over what anybody’s gonna do. The only thing I can control is how I react and how I feel,” he said.