10 Places to Get Your Live Music Groove on in PhillyBy Robert DiGiacomo
Since the early days of rock ‘n roll, Philadelphia has made its mark on music history. Starting in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Philly helped launch the careers of Chubby Checker (originator of “The Twist”) and early teen idols like Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell, while also hosting Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” TV show.
Over the next few decades, the city became famous for the R&B-based Sound of Philadelphia and served as the launching pad for the blue-eyed soul of Hall and Oates, homegrown diva Patti LaBelle, the smooth harmonies of Boyz II Men and the neo-soul stylings of Jill Scott.
More recently The Roots (now the house band for NBC’s “The Tonight Show”) have helped put the scene in the national spotlight all over again.
Home to a variety of venues and must-hear events, Philly is always a great place to catch live music. Here’s where to check out everyone from the legends of rock to the next big thing.
Theatre of Living Arts
The century-old TLA started as the Crystal Palace nickelodeon in the early 20th century before evolving into a first-run movie theater. By the ’60s it showed repertory films, later helping launch the career of cult favorite director John Waters and showing weekly midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Since the late ’80s it’s operated as a 1,000-person venue for live music acts, focusing heavily on rock, hip-hop and alternative.
Part of the rebirth of the once gritty enclave of Fishtown, Johnny Brenda’s operates a gastropub with a local-only craft beer list on the first floor and an intimate 250-person concert space on the second floor. Upstairs, you’ll see mostly local and lesser known bands as well as the occasional cabaret set.
World Café Live
Located on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus, World Café Live houses two venues.
Downstairs Live programs national acts that are frequently featured on WXPN, Philly’s adult-alternative station, whose studio is also located in the building. The station, which produces the nationally syndicated “World Café Live” show, also airs its Friday “Free at Noon” concert series from the venue.
Meanwhile, Upstairs Live plays host to local singer-songwriters and other acts.
Although similar in size to the TLA, Union Transfer offers a more industrial vibe, reflecting its location in a 19th-century building that originally housed a farmers market. The venue, which opened in 2011, mostly showcases alternative pop and indie rock.
This former warehouse near the Delaware waterfront now houses three venues: a 2,500-seat main room, the 450-seat Foundry, and a bar and lounge.
The intimate feel and state-of-the-art sound system make for one of the city’s best experiences to see everyone from Hall and Oates (who opened the venue in October 2015) to British alternative-rock singer-songwriter PJ Harvey and pop star Kesha.
Wells Fargo Center
As Philadelphia’s biggest venue, this 21,000-seat arena is the home of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers and plays host to some of the city’s biggest concerts. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar — you name it — have all played here.
The brainchild of hip-hop icon Jay Z, this two-day ticketed event held Labor Day weekend features a range of pop, rock and hip hop acts who perform in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jay Z and his equally famous wife, Beyoncé, have taken the stage at the event, joining line-ups that have included everyone from Coldplay and The Weeknd to Rihanna and Beyoncé’s younger sister, singer-songwriter Solange.
Xponential Music Festival
Held in late July across the Delaware River on the Camden, New Jersey, waterfront, this three-day event is produced by WXPN. Originally a showcase for singer-songwriters, the festival has expanded its reach to include a broader mix of alt-pop, rock and country acts.
The Roots in early June hold their “picnic,” an open-air concert on Festival Pier on the Delaware River, featuring the Philly supergroup as well as a curated mix of their famous friends (Pharrell, Erykah Badu, Usher) alongside up-and-coming acts like Leon Bridges and Esperanza Spalding.
Welcome America Festival
This annual Fourth of July celebration typically features several free outdoor performances, including an appearance by the Philly Pops Orchestra in front of Independence Hall. The event culminates on July 4, with a headliner performance on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — past acts have included Mary J. Blige, Elton John and The Roots — and fireworks.