It’s a concert, it’s a comedy show, it’s a branding extravaganza in which the absurdist nighttime block of programming on cable television’s Cartoon Network is celebrating itself with a three-day festival in Philadelphia.
It’s the inaugural Adult Swim Block Party, which kicked off Friday at what’s being called the Fillmore campus of entertainment venues, including the Fillmore Philadelphia, Punchline Philly, Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia, and Other Half Philly brewpub.
What that meant on a sultry Friday in Fishtown was a knockout headlining set at the Fillmore by hard-hitting hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, stand-up comics at Punchline, and branded shenanigans in the beer garden of Other Half, which created a special Adult Swim pale ale for the occasion.
Giant inflatable characters from hit Adult Swim shows like Rick and Morty, which chronicles the interdimensional travels of a mad scientist and his grandson, adorned the grounds. Air dancer tube men — those gumby-like things that shoot into the sky outside used-car dealerships — depicted Adult Swim characters like talk show superhero Space Ghost.
A Wendy’s truck served up a green dessert called a Pickle Rick Frosty, with fried pickles on top. (Strange, but not terrible.) Philly food trucks like Humpty’s Dumplings and Dr. Wutzit’s Wonder Balls were parked behind the Fillmore.
Clips were aired of animated shows like Tuca & Bertieabout two bird women who share an apartment, upstairs at the Foundry, the Fillmore’s smaller, secondary venue, which provided air-conditioned relief from the heat.
On Saturday and Sunday, panels premiering Adult Swim content, including clips from a forthcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, will be staged at Punchline Philly during the day.
There was no music at Brooklyn Bowl on Friday. But the action was scheduled to pick up there, with acts like the former Philadelphia DJ-producer RJD2 set to play a late-night set Saturday, and Philly bands Hop Along and the Spirit of the Beehive on Sunday afternoon.
At the Fillmore, Philly rapper Tierra Whack was slated to headline Saturday, followed on Sunday by Dethklok, the real-life band led by Brendon Small, creator of the animated show Metalocalypse whose limited-edition T-shirts were the most coveted items at the merch stand.
Friday’s comedy was a mixed bag. In late-night sets, Maddy Smith got off a good music joke: “My mom loves the Grateful Dead — you know, that band that sounds like they’re warming up, and then the show’s over.” Shane Torres was mildly engaging.
I didn’t stick around for long, and instead fled persistent reminders from hosts that Punchline Philly has a two-drink minimum. That seemed extra irksome after a margarita at the Fillmore cost… wait for it… $26!
Outside in the brewpub beer garden Delaney McLemore, 32, rode a Wendy’s Dipping Robot attraction that worked as a human claw machine.
McLemore, who lives in Corvallis, Ore., traveled to Philadelphia to see Run the Jewels and reunite with her brothers, who live in different parts of the country.
“I’m super excited to be here,” she said, holding her prize Rick and Morty figurine “This is the ultimate claw machine.”
She said she wasn’t a fan of the show, “but I date Rick and Morty people.” Her program of choice is The Eric Andre Show, “Which is insane and incredible and amazing and he should be the reigning king of late-night television.”
Adult Swim senior vice president of marketing Jill King said on Friday that 70% of attendees were expected to come from the Philadelphia area. Most of the rest would be arriving from up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Seeing the Block Party in action confirmed the company had made “the perfect decision” in choosing the Fillmore campus.
“It’s small, but it gives us enough different types of venues and different ways to bring our brand to life,” she said. “The fest plans on becoming a summer staple exclusive to Philadelphia,” King said, “as long as the people show up this weekend.” To encourage that, a cheap $10 ticket has been added that gains access to the outdoor Block Party attractions only. Tickets for individual events — or all-day passes, which cost $165 — are otherwise needed.
The initial thinking, King said, was for the fest to expand to the Mann Center as soon as next year. But seeing the crowds in Fishtown made King think “it feels natural to do it here. We want to grow, but we can grow slowly. Usually it takes three years for a festival to take off.”
For Run the Jewels, the Fillmore was packed. Backed by Trackstar the DJ, rappers Killer Mike and El-P came out swinging at 9 pm, as the room exploded with energy.
“RT and J, we the new PB and J,” Mike — full name: Michael Render — rapped on the opening “Legend Has it,” boasting that his group had attained classic status.
He listed rap groups that had released as many as four great albums — EPMD, UGK, and The Roots, along with RTJ. On the basis of the taut, rocked-out, 70-minute set that followed, it was hard to argue with his claim to be “in the best rap group in the world.”
The heirs to Public Enemy’s brand of bracing agit-rap addressed racist violence in America on “Walking in the Snow” and let it be known where they stand on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. “Every single woman in this room is worth their beautiful weight in gold,” Mike said. “So let’s respect their rights to rule over them f— selves.”
Mike and El-P — full name: Jaime Meline — have a simpatico style as rappers, and their performances and between-song banter play out like a hip-hop buddy movie. They seemed particularly happy to be headlining a festival that celebrated an aesthetic in tune with their aesthetic. “Adult Swim,” El-P said, “thank you for so many hours of stoned, stupid, staring at the TV all night!”
The Adult Swim Block Party continues until 10:30 pm Saturday and from noon to 10:30 pm Sunday on the Fillmore campus, 29 E. Allen St., Philadelphia. Schedule and ticket info at adultswimfestival.com