Since the pandemic shut down the live music business, Philadelphia concert bookers have scheduled, unscheduled and postponed shows time and time again, in hopes that one day they might actually happen.
Now they’re about to all happen at the same time.
Wednesday’s news that Made in America will be back on Parkway Labor Day weekend was the latest in an avalanche of announcements as pop music came to life.
“The mad rush of tour and festival announcements has been dizzying,” says Chris Perella, co-owner and talent buyer at Ardmore Music Hall
“Things are completely crazy,” admits Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment, who reserves the locks at Manayunk and other places.
The frenetic pace of bookings has even sparked new concern: will there be enough ticket buyers for everyone?
READ MORE: Made in America returns to Parkway on Labor Day weekend
Auditorium schedules fill up quickly: Dell Music Center kicks off an R&B and jazz series on August 5, and Mann Center serves Hoagie Nation with Hall & Oates and Squeeze on August 7, My Morning Jacket with Brittany Howard on Sept. 8., Struts on September 10 and Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Fest on September 11, to name a few.
The BB&T Pavilion in Camden in Chicago on July 17, Jimmy Buffett on August 12, and the MMR * B * Q with Jane’s Addiction and Cheap Trick on September 25, among others.
And with Philadelphia lifting all COVID-19 limits and allowing full capacity shows starting June 11, the action is moving indoors as well. The first indoor concert on the City Winery calendar is independent group San Fermin on June 12. Ardmore Music Hall, the Sellersville Theater and South Jazz Kitchen have already performed at reduced capacity. Joey DeFrancesco is playing South on July 1-2.
Union Transfer, which should open August 7 with three nights of Japanese breakfast, is solidly booked until May 2022, says Sean Agnew of R5 Productions – longer in advance than ever.
Other independent venues like World Cafe Live and Johnny Brenda’s also have busy schedules for fall and beyond, and opening dates are getting closer. Tobin Sprout opens August 14 from Johnny Brenda.
“Every band that ever existed wants to tour,” says Point Entertainment’s Lundy. “And they start to come back in the summer. “Hey, do you have July 29 available?” “
The Met Philadelphia resumes operations with violinist Lindsey Stirling on August 3 and top performances include John Legend on August 26. Franklin Music Hall welcomes August Burns Red on September 9 and Julien Baker on September 15. And concerts return to Wells Fargo Center with Blake Shelton on September 2.
Outdoor music festivals are also a revival, largely clustered in late summer and fall. Scranton Jam Group Fishing music festival is first on the local roster on the Fourth of July weekend followed by MIA over the Labor Day weekend, the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden from September 17-19 and the Billie Eilish Firefly Festival in the Delaware September 23-26.
The Philadelphia Folk Song Society announced Thursday that it would put on a “pocket-sized” Philadelphia Folk Festival on August 21-22 at a new location, the Spring Mountain Ski Area in Upper Salford Township, Pa., for fans to watch in person or via digital streaming (or both). The other festival that is a staple of the Philly summer season – the Roots Picnic – is still in limbo, with no announcements yet.
Dates are in place for other destination festivals across the country like Lollapalooza (July 29-August 1), Bonnaroo (September 17-19) and the New Orleans Jazz Fest (October 8-17).
Expect more to come. So many shows have been announced with tight deadlines over the past month that “I can’t even handle it,” says Perella of Ardmore. “It’s crazy.”
READ MORE: Will there be music festivals in 2021? Firefly and XPoNential are on schedule to return.
Music bookers say the explosion was the result of a lot of planning – and re-planning – during the shutdown.
World Cafe Live’s Hal Real has said that Pokey LaFarge, which will perform on November 12 in University City, is one of many acts that have had to be postponed three times. At Union Transfer, Agnew says he has canceled 358 shows since March of last year.
Behind the scenes, the action never stopped. “The churn rate has never stopped,” Agnew says. “There has never been a week where we weren’t confirming the shows.” (Agnew was co-owner of the late Boot & Saddle and said he expects R5 to pick up the slack from its closure with 30 shows this fall at venues of all ages, First Unitarian Church and, once it does. will reopen, PhilaMOCA.)
The flurry of announcements is now the result of this “maddening amount of scrambling and shuffling that has taken place,” Perella says.
With all this preparation, the industry was ready as the number of COVID-19 cases dropped and restrictions were lifted, he said. “When the confidence increased, people just wanted to go… like, ‘Alright, let’s do this thing.’ I think that’s the conclusion everyone has come to all of a sudden.
But many promoters are reluctant to rush into shows at full capacity when audiences might still be uncomfortable.
At Ardmore Music Hall, Perella sticks to an initial plan of limiting crowds to 150 (out of 600) capacity in a series that ends with jazz guitarist John Scofield on July 31. “This reduced number is good for everyone,” he says.
Waiting until August “gives us another three months to figure this out,” Agnew says. “What’s going to happen with the masks? What’s it going to be like welcoming people back? The bars and restaurants are going to get ahead of us, and we can learn from that. “
With so much uncertainty, many have prepared for a summer in the great outdoors. This means stadium shows like Green Day (August 20) and Dead & Co. (August 21) at Citizens Bank Park and Phish on Atlantic City Beach (August 13-15), but also intimate gatherings like the Shady Grove shows at Arden Concert Gild in Delaware and the Sunflower Philly series in Kensington Booked by Marley McNamara, talent buyer Johnny Brenda, where Philly rocker Ali Awan performs on June 18.
David Pianka, the Promoter of the Philadelphia Traveling Dance Party Making Time, is hosting a limited-capacity series on the deck of the Moshulu starting June 18, when he and Avalon Emerson are DJing.
He started planning the series – and a Making Time 21st anniversary blowout at Fort Mifflin on September 11 – in January. “I’ve always felt that when summer comes, and it’s safe to do so, we should just have events outside,” he says. “Besides, we don’t have to go inside until we have to.”
At the Dell Music Center, Susan Slawson books one of the most attractive outdoor venues in Philadelphia. Its annual summer R&B and jazz series was on hiatus last year due to the pandemic, and Slawson has suspended show bookings this year until the city, which owns the Dell, announces on June 11. as the reopening date.
But now it’s official: A shortened series from Dell will run for four Thursdays starting August 5. The artists and dates are not yet blocked, but Slawson expects Babyface, Gregory Porter and SWV to be among the artists.
“Until the CDC and the mayor said everything was fine, we weren’t doing anything,” Slawson says. But even at the last minute, the artists and their agents were receptive. “Some are going to stay away, but most are ready to go out.”
As the sites prepare to reopen, there is still cause for concern. Many are still waiting Closed site operators Cash grant it’s part of a $ 16.3 billion program administered at a snail’s pace by the Small Business Administration.
Although the program was created in December, the application process did not begin until the end of April. Real of World Cafe Live, which co-founded the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) last spring, says that “many NIVA members across the country are barely hanging on while waiting for the SVOG money.”
And many fear that with everything reopening simultaneously, fans will be presented with too many options.
“For everyone involved, there is definitely a concern that while there is a ton of pent-up demand, there is only so much time and money that people can spend,” Perella says. “Will it hurt festivals or clubs more?” I do not know.”
“There are only so many dollars out there,” Agnew says. “There is only a limited number of shows that people can go to. Ticket sales have been excellent so far. But it’s constantly on my mind.
But given the critical status of the Philadelphia music scene, there are plenty of reasons to be positive, says Gerald Veasley, head of advocacy group Jazz Philadelphia.
“The biggest hurdle was keeping the venues running,” says the bassist, who delivers the unscripted Jazz series to South. “We lost some, but I don’t think we lost any fans. We had a supply problem, not a demand problem. “
As Philadelphia emerges from the pandemic, live music feels more needed than ever.
“There has been a lot of stress with this COVID,” says Dell’s Slawson. “Last year we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do some of the things that we have done in the past. When we open the doors, we will be able to give you the feeling that everything will be fine. Music takes you elsewhere. Music helps you feel that there is hope. And we need it.