Philly’s World Cafe Live: A Tuned Love Affair

Music venues in Philadelphia are second to none. They come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they even hold two, three, or four different stages within their walls. But no venue in the city of brotherly love is quite as cool as World Cafe Live.

Ranked at number two of fifteen “best music venues”, World Cafe Live is a nuance of a music venue. With two main stages, a wonderful design, and a support for local Philly music as well as international music, this place emanates opportunity. WCL prides itself on its international awareness, and is responsible for holding about 500 shows annually. The place was founded in 2004 after the renovation of an old Art Deco space. The sister venue located in Wilmington, Delaware, World Cafe Live at the Queen, is leaving the World Cafe name and potentially staying open under new operation.

To begin, this venue is divided into two levels.

Upstairs Live: On the Walnut Street level, the smaller venue of the two at World Cafe Live, the upper stage resides. The upper stage is backed up to the venue’s main lobby and has windows to the front of the venue. The upper set up consists of a side bar, an attached kitchen, dozens of tables with seating (contributing to a 220 person capacity), and a merchandise stand in the front.

I have performed shows at World Cafe Upstairs twice- once in 2015 and once in 2016. Both shows I played were with the indie group Rosu Lup, and they were very a good time. A few friends have also performed on the upper stage and can attest to its quality. The room is a medium-sized one, and contains a stage that is only slightly raised, which adds to the overall vibe of the space. Reminiscent of older designs, yet quasi-modern, the upper stage is the perfect amalgamation of a classic look and a new age venue. It’s just a great mood-setting room all around.

Rosu Lup performing at the upstairs stage in 2015; photo by Anna Ladd

But the most interesting thing about World Cafe Live is its relationship with the Philly music radio station, 88.5 WXPN. The venue actually received its name from the nationally renowned “World Cafe” hosted by David Dye on the station. The two entities simply share the building. However, WCL makes possible the events that are organized by WXPN. Many of the approximately 500 shows that take place at WCL are ones that have been arranged and promoted by the station. One of the weekly shows that occurs at WCL is the WXPN arrangement Free At Noon. Every Friday of pretty much every week since 2005, WCL welcomes to the more spacious lower stage an artist to perform for free. This weekly event is really unique in that it offers the chance to attend a free concert (at least 3 or 4 times a month).

Note: It is important to understand that the Free at Noon series is one that is not made possible by sponsors of World Cafe Live, but those of WXPN. Go to the above Free At Noon link to learn more info about registering for the one-of-a-kind event!

Downstairs Live: This past Friday I attended my first Free At Noon, where the artist performing was a Bryan Adams type rocker Dave Hause and his band. I observed a room that was much bigger than the upper stage room, and the stage was raised up a bit more. Attributes of this place would be the wide-open standing room on the main floor, the superb sound quality and mixing capabilities, and the neat feature of the live-streaming for video and audio. During the show that I attended, there was a live broadcast on 88.5 (WXPN) and a video stream going as well.

a wall mural dedicated to all of the Free At Noon performers; photo by Elliott Woolworth

Exposure and Performer History: Located in the very epicenter of such a rich music city and one so expansive for that matter, WCL has been a fond host to bands that find Philly to be their home turf. But it is not limited to the music of Philly. It has welcomed bands from all over the U.S. and over the world. Such names that have performed are: St. Vincent, The Pixies, Ellie Goulding, Strand of Oaks, Brian Wilson, and a host of other big names. Because of its linking with artists, tours, and special events, WCL has achieved a very high level of success while maintaining the reputation of a world-class source of entertainment.

Multi-faceted: Not only does WCL make shows happen every single week, but there also several special and private events that occur there. From weddings to birthdays, and corporate events to fundraisers, both lower and upper levels are busy at work. For those interested in booking a show or inquiring about events at WCL, there is a slew of readily available contact info on their website (see link above).

Check it out:

  • Experience the virtual tour of World Cafe Live Philly right here and the Wilmington location here.
  • Check out their calendar of events.
  • Follow or bookmark the official World Cafe Live blog.
  • Sign up for a Free At Noon for (FREE). They occur almost every Friday!
  • Go visit. See a show!


Main entrance to World Cafe Live; photo by Elliott Woolworth

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