From Live Nation-based music venues such as The Met, The Fillmore and Brooklyn Bowl to AEG’s Franklin Music Hall to independents such as World Café Live, Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s, The Dolphin, Ardmore Music Hall, Union Transfer, Underground Arts and more — to say nothing of the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ offerings and a slew of purposefully anonymous West Philly house show spaces – Philadelphia’s live venue scene is thriving.
And we’re not not done yet.
New venues are popping up around the City of Brotherly Love, such as The Velvet Whip — a live music, cabaret and performance art space/speakeasy lounge near 11th and Vine streets, whose address is provided to ticketed patrons only. It has been open for several months serving crowds under 100 attendees.
And Ars Nova Workshop, Philadelphia’s curatorial home to avant-garde jazz, rock, electronica and new music re-christens its take over of South Philly’s Boot & Saddle hot spot as Solar Myth, starting with fresh shows on Oct. 25.
For The Living Room + Cricket Café, opening on Nov. 4, singer/songwriter-turned-venue operator Laura Mann is continuing what she started along Ardmore’s main drag, East Lancaster Avenue, in 2018, only now in a larger space, blocks away on Cricket Avenue.
“I kept The Living Room going in a temp home in the local Masonic Hall during the pandemic while I built out this new space and added a café,” says Mann of re-configuring a new 150-person capacity Living Room at the former home to Stuard’s Funeral Directors.
“I’ve never had a small cafe that’s open all days, so that will be a nice change for us,” adds Mann. “I love all the new venues popping up with so many more opportunities for musicians, artists and comedians to showcase their art after going through all the hardships of the past few years. And this Living Room serves a slightly different purpose and audience due to its location, intimacy, couch seating. Plus, we’re doing more than just live music in this space.”
That means stand-up comics (Kricket Comedy on Nov. 8) and open mic nights hosted by Larry Ahearn (starting Nov. 9), jazz (Chico Huff and Friends, Nov. 10), a solo performance by The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian (Nov. 10) and genre-jumbling rockers NRBQ (Nov. 11 – 12).
Philly entrepreneur Avram Hornik’s new vision of a live music empire—one started when he initially owned Union Transfer and Boot & Saddle, both of which he sold—began earlier in 2022 with the seasonal Liberty Point on Christopher Columbus Blvd. – Philly’s largest outdoor restaurant with a live music stage – and continues with the ever-expanding stage at South Broad’s 200-person-capacity The Dolphin, the 650-capacity Concourse Dance Bar/Concourse Live at 16th and Market streets and a third, unnamed venue on North Delaware Avenue, which is expected to open in 2023. All shows are produced by Philly Independent Productions, the new concert division of FCM Hospitality, spearheaded by one-time Districts manager and a former boss at Johnny Brenda’s, Marley McNamara — FCM’s new Director of Live Programming.
“We opened the Concourse as a dance club – same as The Dolphin – but Avram’s been hungry to get back into the live music thing, and brought me on board to facilitate that,” says McNamara.
“Avram wanted something that would be a stepping stone between Johnny Brenda’s and Union Transfer and wasn’t tied to the majors. There really aren’t independent rooms of those size in this city. Now, we can grow bands, starting at The Dolphin, then into the Concourse, then move them into the next, even bigger space, as well as provide additional spaces for touring bands, nationally and internationally.”
The Concourse, with state-of-the-art sound-system and lighting rigs, is connected to Suburban Station — “you can hop off the regional rail line train, see a show and hop back onto a returning train without leaving the station” — and plays to a wider demographic when it comes to its shows’ schedules.
“There are lot of people, 30-and-over, who want to see shows during a weekday, or even on weekends, and don’t feel like waiting around until 11 p.m. or midnight to see a headliner,” says McNamara.
McNamara knows that Philly does have a handsome wealth of music venues, each with their own vibe, sound and personalities to offer up to artist and audience alike. “We believe that bands like working with underdogs,” she says. “That’s in keeping with the independent venue and indie band spirit.”
Part of growing bands comes from being able to nurture them with every hospitality at hand. To that end, McNamara and Hornik’s Dolphin not only has the old familiar Boot & Saddle sound system, but also a green room upstairs at the Broad Street venue where touring bands can stay overnight and sleep rather than pay for hotel rooms.
“We’re even trying to maybe offer $50 gas gift cards in the future,” says McNamara of The Dolphin. “Saving bands money is crucial at a time when bigger bands such as Santigold are cancelling whole tours because they can’t afford it. If she can’t make it, what about bands who earn almost no money? We come from a history of touring and managing bands, so we know what it means to drive eight hours between shows. Being this level of hospitable is about going the extra mile for bands.”
McNamara adds: “Look, if you told me two years ago that I would be opening several new music venues in 2022, I’d say you were crazy. Few people realize how bad the live music business got hit by Covid. This is a comeback”