Crossing the Delaware: 10 Philly Stages I Have Experienced as a Musician

Since I was 17 years-old, I have been performing in the local music scene. I’ve seen all types of stages from VFW’s to professionally designed performance venues. Six years and several bands later, I am sharing a brief list of select venues I have experienced along the way. So here’s to local venues.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

1. Boot and Saddle in Center City – This hallmark venue is the host to some of the most hip and relevant bands in the Greater Philly Region. With a front door that leads straight to the bar and eating area, this place emanates that classic Philly bar-turned-venue style. I played here in 2016 and it was a blast. It has overall cool aesthetic, and since that is such a big part for people in Philly, the old refurbished Boot and Saddle is not something that should go unnoticed. They have a very informative site. This venue is a solid A.

boot and saddle
Photo – Boot and Saddle

2. Bourbon and Branch in Old City/Poplar – The B and B is a pretty sweet spot. It’s got this wide open street that really lends itself to the vibe and atmosphere of late Summer nights. There are two levels, a thin, winding staircase accompanied by art, and a really old green room that feels like there should be more than just one taxidermy moose deer head on the wall. The venue isn’t too large, but it hosts all kinds of upcoming talent in addition to well known bands. Again, this is an old school bar-type venue that has certainly fulfilled its purpose throughout the years.

FUN FACT: I played a show there in the summer of 2015 and a touring band, friends of ours, were in the middle of their set when the power grid gave out and all power was lost. The show was cancelled and we rescheduled another gig there the next month. 

3. Johnny Brenda’s in North Philly – This is another A list venue no doubt. I had the pleasure of performing here at least two times. The venue is located on top of  a lower level restaurant and bar. There is also a bar in the venue (which is one the second level). The third level leads to an overlooking and semi-surrounding balcony. Let me tell you, this is a sweet spot. It’s one of few venues in the area that include this feature: a from above perspective of the stage. The stage dons a glittery tassel-like background that kind of puts the theme of the place in question- and that’s just okay. About a year ago, I performed here for Rosu Lup‘s debut LP release show. I highly recommend a visit.

view of the stage at Johnny Brenda’s/image via Wikipedia Commons


4. Kungfu Necktie – KFN is a pretty odd little spot, but like so many little tucked away, small room venues, it welcomes well known acts as well as upcoming bands are nobodys (I’m joking). But really, the place is very strange. The entrance is sort of cramped but once you get in there it comes to life. This venue had to be an apartment of some sort in its previous life. There is bar that is adjoined to the upstairs stage where I performed once last year. On this night there was no sound man so the bands had to make do with the cables and mics that were in the CLOSET right next to the stage (no, I am not joking). There is also a downstairs which holds a larger stage and a more spacious audience area. Give the place a shot- it is so Philly.

5. The Legendary Dobbs on South St. (closed) – This place has been truly legendary. It was a very hot spot for bands back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It recently had a revival in the new decade, but unfortunately could not keep its doors open and closed in 2015. I played here twice with rock group Heroes In Error.

6. Milkboy – This boy, newer to the scene, was a venue inspired by the Milkboy Recording Studio. It found its way into the music venue scene in August 2011. This is an upper class kind of place, yet it resembles that of the classic bar-types. It is more polished and very spacious, yet the look and feel are somewhat reminiscent of the older boys.

Milkboy Philadelphia / Photo: Rhys Asplundh

7. The M Room – Unfortunately this venue closed down a bit ago, but it was a great place for all kinds of bands to just come and jam. The room was very oddly shaped, almost like a long triangle. Another room was alongside the main room with up and down, flap-like window shutters that allowed guests to see the band from pretty much every perspective. I only played thre once but I remember the stage being very tight, especially for an 8-10 piece funk band.

8. Underground Arts on Callowhill St. – Yes, this place is underground; and it sounds great. Without too much padding or sound-proofing, the venue has a natural spot in the Philly venue catalog. This underground guy is similar to a lot of Philly spaces, though. It has two stages that are adjacent to each other. Both upcoming bands and national acts have been playing there for quite some time. They are very busy with shows all of the time. Get to it.

9. Voltage Lounge – The Voltage Lounge in Center-North Philly is a tight spot for rockers and meatheads, but welcomes all kinds of groups. It is similar to Johnny Brenda’s in that it has a balcony. This place has a very fortified structure and a very fine stage. It is located just next to The Electric Factory, a much larger concert venue. I played there once in 2013 with a funk band that is no longer together, Matt Caringi and the Noise. We are pictured below outside the venue.

Matt Caringi and the Noise at Voltage Lounge

10.    World Cafe Live on Walnut St. – The venue with the most nuances in Philly, World Cafe Live is a space for performing artists to come and celebrate all genres. Not just that, but the venue is the home of the world-renowned radio station 88.5 WXPN. The experience at World Cafe Live is one that only gets better and there is never a dull night at this eclectic joint. To read more about this out unique spot, read my previous feature article. You don’t wanna miss out on Philly’s most inclusive venue.

World Cafe Live / photo: Elliott Woolworth

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