Living memories, sorrowful joy

Philly Fringe 2021: River von Waldron presents Ghost Town: The Musical

3 minute read
Strokes of black stenciling make waves of vague figures on a white background. Ghost Town is written in the top right corner
‘Ghost Town: The Musical’ is a concept album from interdisciplinary artist River von Waldron debuting in this year’s Fringe Festival. (Image by River von Waldron.)

Like the peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich, grief and joy don’t taste the same, look the same, or feel the same. In the wrong amounts, they can each take over the recipe, but together, they make irresistible comfort food. Ghost Town: The Musical, an audiovisual concept album by River von Waldron streaming in this year’s Fringe, feels like that perfect sandwich—exploring memories slipping away before they’re memories, the death of a parent, and how neurodivergence creates disconnectedness.

Waldron, a genius neurodivergent interdisciplinary artist, shares their Fringe entry not as an experimental narrative explored through music, but as a cohesive curation of hyperspecific memories told by a group of ghosts. These are the only memories the ghosts have left, and they’re sensual and alive. On the album’s website, Waldron explains how, for themselves, they have few core memories because of their neurodivergence. These memories, while vivid and rich, are the only memories Waldron can hold onto. “All my other life experiences tend to pass away,” they said, and that’s what this album feels like: a series of fleeting memories tinged with bright chords in the moment, only to leave sorrow lingering at our taste buds after each song ends.

The album centers its perspective through Olive, who, mourning her mother’s death, discovers ghosts living in her town. While hearing their stories, Olive grows more and more wary of her past and how it’s holding her back. She questions the value of memories—are they worth honoring if you have lost touch with where the memory first happened?

The album is layered with sparse strings, percussions, and breathy, resonant vocals reminiscent of wistful shoegazing and dream pop records. The harmony of the ghosts is chilling and haunting but not because it’s scary—their lyrics are relatable. The clutching of memories slipping away, the mourning of those passed (either living or dead), and the sorrowful joy that eventually follows all converge (and diverge) in each song’s progression.

The first ghost laments feelings they still experience but are gradually fading in touch and in meaning: "My nerves sometimes remember being in love, I don’t remember who. Or why. Perhaps there wasn’t a why, and not a person at all, but sometimes I remember the lemonade stand." The ghost recalls the sweltering heat, beads of sweat, and other minute details of the collage of memories they share in the second track, “Lemonade/In a Still Life.” Later, in “Cloud Watching,” the ghosts and Olive gaze at the sky where they see a life they can’t live anymore, and they find beauty in that. The details aren’t all there, though: the ghosts sometimes yearn for the who, what, where, and perhaps more important, the why, amplifying the disconnectedness that haunts them.

This hourlong journey is a spirited one, and is an example of why I advocate for Halloween all year round. Waldron has woven a precise, enchanting meditation about our past selves, how we remember them, and how sorrow and joy intersect when we are at our most vulnerable.

What, When, Where

Ghost Town: The Musical. By River von Waldron. $10. Through September 23, 2021. Available to stream on-demand at


The stream of Ghost Town: The Musical offers captions.

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