Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Philadelphia Celebrates 25 Years Of Musical Love
Philadelphians are a proud people. New Yorkers like to say it's a little brother complex that makes them squirm when it's called the Sixth Borough. Really, Philadelphians are just fine differentiating themselves from other cities. I mean, the sports teams have been using "No one likes us, we don't care," as a battle cry for a few years now.
But, for as much as the city loves to paint itself as the underdog in so many ways, it's a place that's on level ground with any supposed artistic mecca that costs double for an apartment or a cup of coffee. It's also a city that fiercely looks out for its own. So, that may be why so many artists and musicians have called Philadelphia home over the years, whether they were born and raised here or made it their adopted home to grow as artists and music creators of all types.
For the past 25 years now, the city's music community has had a support system, a place where music people look out for one another. The Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter is celebrating a quarter-century of playing this crucial role, creating a feeling more like a family than anything by providing resources and programming to grow and strengthen the its music community from within. The Philadelphia Chapter has galvanized its members, rallying them behind legislation to support creators and showing up to support one another not just in the crucial times of making music, but also in life. Over the years, this unique, close-knit community built on hard work is what sets the city apart.
"Philly has always been really, really rich in talent and hard-working bands," says Bruce Warren, general manager for programming at WXPN. "All these artists, whether you start in the '60s, '70s, '80s, all these artists worked really hard to get to where they were at. And I think on a certain level it's easy to work hard in Philadelphia. You don't have the same challenges that you have in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. Philly's just a boot-strapping, hard-working city. The ethic is there. And I think a lot of bands really adhere to that ethic."
Warren grew up here, and as a kid fell in love with the Sound of Philadelphia, and soul and R&B acts like the Delfonics, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Over the years, he got into rock bands like Cinderella, Tommy Conwell and the Hooters. The '80s and '90s saw the boom in hip-hop acts like D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Lately he's been into the indie rock acts like Dr. Dog, the War On Drugs and Kurt Vile.
A lot of the lore of Philadelphia is a little exaggerated. You're probably not going to get pelted with batteries at Lincoln Financial Field just for showing up in another team's jersey. But, it's an honest city. The people will tell you what they think, whether it's praise or criticism. But there's no guessing intentions or keeping up appearances. If they show you love and support you, it's genuine.
"Philly is real," said Carol Riddick, a singer/songwriter and former President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Recording Academy. "Everything we say and do comes from a place of love, whether we're in agreement or not."
"People here are honest, and demand honesty in their music-making," says songwriter/producer and Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter Trustee Ivan Barias. "[There is a] "No B.S." factor in our sports, our food or in our music. Realness—you have to come in with that to collaborate here."
Part of that could be that the city really does breed talent on levels beyond what some might expect. There's so much talent across so many genres, the city doesn't need to phone anything in or accept anything less than what it knows it can do. The same way those rowdy fans will boo their beloved sports teams because they know they can and should be winning, Philadelphians know their musical history and the greats that come from every corner of the city, so they expect a certain level of output. For young artists growing up, that's all they know, so they set themselves a higher bar and hold themselves to a higher standard.
It's not a rock city, even though it's indie rock and punk scene has become a destination for bands all across the world, with bands from The Dead Milkmen and Hop Along carrying the Philly banner.
And, despite its history of R&B and soul, it's not just a soul city. It's an everything city.
"It's a very diverse city," Warren says. "Creatively, you could draw from a lot of different colors."
You can find everything you need in Philadelphia – world class recording studios, venues of all sizes, a media that loves to sing the praises of local artists, and, most importantly, fans. There are a million and a half people in the city.
"There's always been a built-in music industry in Philadelphia that takes itself very seriously, but doesn't clap itself on the back as hard as New York or Los Angeles or even Nashville," Warren adds. "There's always been a fair amount of humility in what we do here I think."
Singer/songwriter/producer and Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter Trustee Terry Jones is a bit less humble about things.
"We have the best musical talent," Jones says. "Everyone comes from other towns to our town to take advantage of our musicians, songwriters and producers. Our music creative community [is] serious about honing their craft. Everyone says there is something in the Schuylkill water system—they call it Schuylkill Punch. This could be the secret to our razzmatazz."
It might be something in the water. Or it might be the fact that the city has bred a mentality of hard work, honesty, perseverance, and support for your own that has boosted the careers of bands starting from the Philly streets as children, or people from all across the world looking for a place to play, create, write, make friends and grow.
If you're a part of Philly—and you'll know if you are—it looks out for you. It might tell you some brutal truths in the moment, but if anyone tries to undermine that talent, Philly will fight like hell for you.