Setting the stage
By Emily Kovach
At the 2017 Philly Music Fest, indie psych band Ceramic Animal took the stage on Friday night at World Cafe Live. Despite the fact that they were a lesser-known local band, their prime 8:30 p.m. time slot meant they were playing to a packed house. The band blazed through their set, electrifying the room and causing a buzz among showgoers.
“It was a killer show,” admits Warren Regan, Ceramic Animal’s lead singer and guitarist. “That kind of helped us later on … In early 2018, we were offered a spot at South By Southwest with Amplify Philly. We got to represent Philadelphia there, which I think was a pretty direct result of the Philly Music Fest, which was really cool.”
From there, Ceramic Animal have stayed busy with a handful of tours, culminating in the release of their second album, The Horse, in August. They kicked off their current 22-date U.S. tour with a headlining spot at Bethlehem’s popular Musikfest.
This is the exact scenario Philly Music Fest founder and organizer Greg Seltzer hopes for. A lawyer by day and music fanatic by night, Seltzer sees a connection between the work he does for his clients, mainly local startup companies in the tech and life sciences sectors, and the bands at the festival. “I help startups grow into powerhouse businesses, and I see the Music Fest as a similar instrument to help these bands grow,” he says.
The Philly Music Fest, now on the cusp of its second year, is about giving local acts exposure and strengthening the Philadelphia music community, but it’s also about giving back. Last year, the festival raised over $15,000 for music education nonprofits like Rock to the Future, Musicopia and Play On, Philly.
“The very kernel of creating a full music ecosystem in Philadelphia is educating young kids and making sure they understand that music is part of the fabric of the city, and that it can be an avenue for them,” Seltzer says. “What if we could have a heck of a weekend, celebrate the music scene, get bands well paid and then raise money? It seems like a circle that’s being connected.”
This year, the Philly Music Festival will span four days across three venues: Johnny Brenda’s, World Cafe Live and Milkboy on Chestnut. Every single one of the bands on every show is from the Greater Philadelphia area, with no repeats from last year.
“The four nights are meant to be a representation of the music that’s being played and created in Philadelphia,” Seltzer notes. “We have big DIY punk scenes in Kensington and West Philly that will be featured at Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday night. Friday and Saturday are a cross section of genres like hip hop, country and indie rock—showcasing some of the hottest bands right now in Philly. And on Sunday, the jazz show at MilkBoy is a special curation by Derrick Hodge, a young but legendary bassist, featuring Philly jazz musicians ranging from 70-year-olds that played with Sun Ra and Stanley Clarke to up-and-coming players that have collaborated with Meek Mill and Kanye West. We want to reflect the diversity of the Philadelphia music scene.”
Whether or not any of the bands get a big break like Ceramic Animal did last year, one thing is certain: Friendships and community between artists will be forged. Regan says that was his biggest takeaway from the fest last year.
“One of the biggest things [to come out of the Philly Music Fest] was honestly just the relationships … it just feels tighter now,” he says. “It just feels like something Philadelphia really needs.”
Get tickets for Philly Music Fest here.