Philly's trendy music scene
| Thursday, 04.07.2005, 01:41 PM |   (3604 views)

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Visitors to Philadelphia looking for music might think of only two options: the world-class orchestra, or national tours performing in big stadiums.

But it's the smaller clubs in between where they'll find dance parties, open-mic nights, songwriter showcases, even the rare concerts where hip kids don't mind if their parents tag along.

As the city embraces a revitalized, trendier image, the local music scene has earned a reputation for artist-friendly venues that always give listeners a spot close to the stage.

Here's a look at three places to check out Philadelphia's new music scene -- World Cafe Live, Trocadero Theatre and Tastytreats.

World Cafe Live

It's not hard to find musicians at World Cafe Live. Yes, they're playing on stage -- but they're also tuning guitars at the bar, warming up in the hallway, or signing CDs while guests seated at small tables eat dinner.

If people want to call it a nightclub, that's fine, owner Hal Real said. But he likes to think of it as a clubhouse where musicians and music lovers can mingle and listen to local artists perform any night of the week.

Instrumental guitarist Lee Wanicur plays the open mic night every Monday, hoping to connect with a new audience.

"They're playing here the music I play. Here is where I find my market -- other musicians and people who are going to listen to music for music," said Wanicur, 37, of Philadelphia, after a recent performance.

Bonafide stars have been spotted here, too. Buskers singing outside the glass front doors have found themselves inside playing with John Fogerty and Sophie B. Hawkins. Lunch crowds have caught Donovan and Lyle Lovett hanging out after recording at WXPN-FM next door.

Real licenses the name of WXPN's nationally syndicated "World Cafe with David Dye" program for his venue. Though World Cafe Live operates independently of the radio station, the live acts frequently echo the singer/songwriters heard on the program.

World Cafe Live's main stage area, Downstairs Live, holds up to 700 people for more established performers at ticket-only concerts. Upstairs Live, offering dinner and drinks, can handle about 100 people and offers almost daily free performances, from lunchtime shows to a weekly open mic and songwriter showcases. You can get drinks and food in either smoke-free venue.


Patrons dance at Fluid nightclub in Philadelphia during a Tastytreats party.

Here's the recipe for Tastytreats: Add a Grammy-nominated DJ, classic soul, hip-hop and snack cakes to a nightclub. Mix weekly. Serves about 200 partygoers.

Four years after Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer for The Roots, joined with Stacey Wilson and Yameen Allworld to throw a party, Tastytreats continues every Saturday night at Fluid nightclub in Philadelphia.

Thompson DJs when he's not on tour with his hip-hop group; he shares the turntables with Michael "Mike Nyce" Celestin, who spins at Tastytreats every week. Both DJs draw their sets from classic soul and funk, hip-hop, reggae and rock. The mix could include Nirvana, Bob Marley, early rappers The Fat Boys, Latin pop vocalist Jose Feliciano -- anything, they say, as long as it isn't the same 50 Cent song blaring at other clubs.

Guest DJs also drop into the South Street club for a set. Check out Tastytreats' online home,, for updates and other dance nights Wilson, Thompson and Allworld have planned around the city.

The party started in the spring of 2001, when Thompson needed a place to try out new additions to his music collection.

"I just wanted a testing ground to practice," Thompson said.

Early parties featured girls giving out Tastykakes (the locally produced snack that inspired the Tastytreats name), and passing notes between dancers. The girls still promote the party during warmer months outside Fluid's blue alley door, a half-block from the corner of Fourth and South streets.

The mix of music, along with a lack of a dress code, attracts an equally mixed crowd. "From beatniks to beatboys. High-end models. From thugs to the party girls," Allworld, 34, said.

In Fluid's small dance space, the turntables rest atop a blue-tiled ledge, just above the heads of dancers grooving beneath spinning mirror balls.

"I can still kind of look at people and tell if I need to speed the pace up, if I've been playing hip-hop too long," Celestin said. "At a certain time they'll be standing around on the floor, and you have to get them moving."

Trocadero Theatre

Blue light glows above the entrance inside the Trocadero Theatre.

The Trocadero has long been known for hosting up-and-coming punk and ska bands popular with teenagers. But last year, its owner, Joanna Pang, signed a programming deal with the Los Angeles-based House of Blues to bring in more big-name musicians -- acts like the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and rapper Nelly. Now college students mingle with older concertgoers at the Trocadero's shows.

"All the kids that have come here all these years (are) telling us, 'My parents are going to come here and they've never come here before,"' said Pang.

Outwardly, nothing has changed at the Trocadero, once a Victorian theater (it opened in 1870) and burlesque house, now a staple of Philadelphia's concert scene. The line of concertgoers still starts under the red neon sign above its front door, just around the corner from Chinatown's Friendship Gate.

The Troc's intimate space holds 1,200, and there is no barrier between the singers on stage and the dancing crowd on the main floor. Waiting for a George Clinton concert to begin last fall, ticketholder Clint Williams said, "Other places, you can't get close to him. Here, you can shake his hand."

Smaller acts represented by independent promoters -- anything from alternative rock groups and punk bands to hip-hop acts -- can still book space at the Troc, and Pang hosts a weekly movie night as well.

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