‘Ashes to Ashes’: DJ Robert Drake on keeping the spirit of the Starman alive with annual Philly Loves Bowie Week

The world was stunned when legendary singer and glam rock god David Bowie passed away on Jan. 10, 2016 after an 18-month battle with liver cancer. It seems Philadelphia took the death particularly hard, even creating an annual, in-memoriam Philly Loves Bowie Week.

And it makes sense why a city with an officially designated Gayborhood would have such a profound love for a man as both share an individualistic and unabashed mentality in a world afraid to express their true selves. Famously, in a 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie said: “It’s true—I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Now in its third year, Philly Loves Bowie Week has continued to shine a bright and glittery light on the Starman. Since Jan. 4, the lineup of commemorative events and Bowie-themed activities have take place all across the city, culminating in what’s being called A Snowy Bowie Skate at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest on Jan. 13.

Philadelphia Weekly connected with Philly Loves Bowie Week’s co-organizer, WXPN (88.5-FM) radio host and producer DJ Robert Drake to ask about the late artist’s lasting significance, the rest of the week’s happenings and more.

What is the continuing impact of Bowie in Philly?

The impact of David Bowie on Philadelphia – as in the world – is so hard to measure, as he touched so many people with his music, art and creativity. He always considered Philly a magical place and selected Philly to record his concert album DAVID LIVE. Then, he wanted to capture that magic once again and embrace the Philly soul as he ventured into that genre with Young Americans, which he recorded in Philly at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios. From that point forward, he always felt that Philly was a home away from home.

How did you come up with this idea?

Sadly the idea for Philly Loves Bowie week came out of his untimely death. Once that first wave of shock and sadness began to fade (slightly), I joined with Patti Brett – Philly’s No. 1 Bowie Fan and owner of Doobies Bar at 22nd and Lombard Streets. We pulled together a few like-minded friends and organized a series of events where Bowie fans could gather, share their love and loss and celebrate the man and his music. We wanted from the start to make the event a fundraiser for cancer research – and decided to embrace the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as the home of the Bowie Fund and since our first year, we’ve raised over $23,000 and hope to increase that to $30,000 after this year’s event is over.

What has the reception been like this year?

The reception to Philly Loves Bowie week is energizing! Folks start to talk about it in early fall – many making pilgrimages to Philly from around the country and around the world so they can be part of this unique event, the only one of its kind in the world. So far every event has been at capacity and overflowing with unbridled joy.

This is Philly Loves Bowie’s third year. How many more years do you think you’ll keep this going? Do you plan on this becoming a Philly tradition?

At this point, there’s no end for Philly Loves Bowie … we take it one year at a time, but judging from the love we’ve received this year, we eagerly look forward to Philly Loves Bowie Week 2020!

Of the remaining events, what do people have to check out?

For now, along with all the remaining events this week, all eyes are on the pinnacle event in Philly Loves Bowie week – A Night of Stardust – [Friday, Jan. 10] at Union Transfer! A benefit concert with both regional and national musicians, performing Bowie in front of a thousand plus Bowie fans! We also do a Bowie Silent Auction in the lobby – with a lot of Bowie inspired items – and all the monies raised benefit the Bowie Fund.



There’s no shortage of Bowie-centric events going down heading into the weekend. Here’s four upcoming jawns to consider in this glorious week of the Starman.

Third Annual Philly Loves Bowie Memorial

What do colored chalk and David Bowie have in common? They’re both washed away by the tides of time (which, again, Bowie himself does not believe in because, as we’ve already said on numerous occasions, his species had transcended such constructs, though his human form obviously had not). Which is our way of saying that it’s important to pay tribute however you can, even if it’s in the form of a drawing that will disappear the first time it rains. | Thursday, Jan. 10. 3pm. Free. Doobies Bar, 2201 Lombard St. phillylovesbowie.com

A Night of Stardust

Philly Loves Bowie Week continues! And this time, there’s no going back. Mostly because time – for us mortals, at least – runs in only a single direction, whereas for beings from Bowie’s dimension, time is more like a series of sheets or membranes, rippling in the cosmic winds, allowing him to move between worlds, timelines, showering his aural magic on all who he comes into contact with. | Friday, Jan. 11. 7pm. $20. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. etix.com

Donny McCaslin and His Band

You might not know it from the title or the picture or because you just don’t know any better (just kidding again … mostly), but Mr. Donny McCaslin’s show is yet another entry in the Philly Loves Bowie Week extravaganza. McCaslin was the band leader on Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar”, and now he’s trading on that for his own studio offering. If it was good enough for the Starman, it’s good enough for us. | Saturday, Jan. 12. 8pm. $20. The Fillmore, 29 E. Allen St. concerts1.livenation.com

A Snowy Bowie Skate

You’ll have to pay if you want to skate, but otherwise this final entry in the Philly Loves Bowie Week spectacular is free, free, free. Pay homage to the Starman one last time with face-painting, Bowie-themed cocktails and terrifying images of the horror movie “Labyrinth” on the big screens. Huh? What do you mean “Labyrinth” wasn’t a horror movie? Have you seen Bowie’s hair in that movie? | Sunday, Jan. 13. 12pm. Free. Blue Cross RiverRink, 101 S. Columbus Blvd. phillylovesbowie.com

  • A writer, educator, and sports nut, Aaron Kahle was born in Philadelphia where his fondest memories are drives around the different parts of the city with his aunt as a […]

More Popular Articles

Upcoming Philly Events