The History of Philadelphia’s Music, Musicians and Music Scenes

Philadelphia Skyline (photo from

The best way to exemplify “the beat people” in real life, real time, is to first start from the beginning. It all started with the birth of a city called Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Why is Philadelphia, a city so close to our area of South Jersey, and sometimes so taken for granted, one of the most famous and well-known cities in the world? It is a city that most likely people from cities in other countries we have never even heard of are familiar with.

Philadelphia is known for many past achievements and events…the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross house, Independence Hall, etc. but every source never fails to list “music” as one of the top distinctive qualities of Philadelphia. But to understand the musicians that have grown in the Philadelphia music scene, we must first understand the music scene itself. When did it begin? Who were some of the first musicians to gain success there? How has the simplicity of music become more complex over all these years to make the status of being a successful artist change over time? Who can the world-wide, platinum artists who started performing in Philadelphia thank for it all?

In this timeline of Philadelphia’s musical history, musicians and music venues, hopefully, you will have a better understanding….

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First of all, you can thank William Penn, the man who founded Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1682. As big as the city is now, according to the historical information on Philadelphia sited on the US History webpage, back when it was founded it only encompassed of what we know today as being between South and Vine Streets, the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River.  Immediately though, it grew physically and prestigiously. It was the largest U.S. city for almost 200 years until 1830 when New York City and Los Angeles started to be discovered, and it gained status as a colonial city that was even the capital of the United States for a temporary period of time that followed the American Revolution.

First, let’s give credit to some of the first music venues and institutions that ever opened up in the city of Philadelphia. One of the first and most famous musical institutions to gain status in Philadelphia is The Academy of Music, which still stands strong today as one of the most prominent musical institutions in the world. It is the one opera house in the United States that has lasted the longest in continuing what it did back when it was originally created .It dates back to 1854, when two architects named Napoleon Le Brun and Gustavus Runge won the approval to be the ones to design the academy. It officially opened on January 26, 1857 and has since been the host of some of the world’s most famous opera premieres, such as Verdi’s opera II trovatore, Gounod’s Faust, Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Likewise, the internationally known “Philadelphia Orchestra” has gained fame from The Academy of Music.

The Curtis Institute of Music is another musical institution that received a lot of appreciation for the Philadelphia music. It was created in 1924 by a woman named Mary Louise Curtis Bok. Still standing strong as a conservatory of music that is located on Locust Street, it is famous for being an institution that focuses on Opera music and orchestration.

But it is 2011, not 1800 anymore. What venues matter now? There are numerous musical venues in Philadelphia that have hosted the stage for artists who have grown to be known worldwide. They are so special to us though because they are venues that give all musicians to be heard from the moment they start out their musical career. Without these venues, hundreds of our favorite artists may not have received the opportunity to be heard.

In the timeline of chronological Philadelphia music and musicians, the first “current” musical venue in Philadelphia to be created was The Manhattan Room, also known as The M-Room. It was created in 1971 as a diner in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. Still in the same location with same original owners, the diner was transformed in 2004 into a bar, restaurant and most importantly, a venue to stage live music and live DJ’s. It was the first musical site to be created in the Fishtown section.

As a musician, I personally have performed at The Manhattan Room, and I am always surprised to find that others who perform along with me are artists of all musical genres who travel from all over the country just for the purpose of performing in a Philadelphia venue.

Jesse Riddle, a musician who performs around Philadelphia, says the Manhattan Room is one of his favorite places to play a show at.

“The M-Room is a little bit rough around the edges, in a good way,” Riddle said. “It’s got a stage that fits perfectly into the place. It’s in a neighborhood with a bad reputation, that obviously makes it the more fun. It should have changed from a diner to a music venue a long time ago.”

(Below is a video of me performing Lady Gaga’s “You and I” at The Manhattan Room in September) This video shows how much of a change this venue must have gone through to go from just a diner to a music venue with such a large stage and large standing room.

Next came one of Philadelphia’s most famous music scenes, North Star Bar. Established in 1982, it is one of the most favored to watch live shows and likewise perform live shows. Originally created about 30 years ago to host the stage for mostly folk musicians, it has been involuntarily innovated to host the stage for mostly rock scenes.
This bar is a great music scene for both new musicians and nationally known musicians. I personally have a great respect for North Star Bar because although it has had huge artists perform there such as Fallout Boy, Say Anything, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and many others, it just as equally welcomes performers who are just starting out in the music business.

(For example and again to prove my point of personal experience, below is a video of little old me and just my acoustic guitar and cowgirl boots performing an original song “Blind Side” on the same stage as some much bigger musicians…)

In 1988, The Grape Street was a music pub on 4100 Main Street and it was popular for its intimate stage performances ever done in the past 20  years in Philadelphia. However, it was reintroduced to the world in 2010 as The Grape Room, for the purpose of making it up to date with the modern day of contemporary music that keeps changing and changing. Located in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia’s, it hosts the stage for local and national musicians  six to seven nights a week. And like the others, it is still one of the most popular bars that is nationally known for being a Philadelphia music venue. Jason Caucci, 26, a prominent guitar-player in the Philadelphia area, has performed at the formerly know Grape Street on various occasions over the past seven years. He says that even though it has been renovated into what is now The Grape Room, it still has the same intimate feel it did as it did before.

“There’s nothing wrong with some modernization,” Caucci said. “A stage is a stage. If the stage is modernized, then hey, maybe the person on it can be without even trying.”

In a review done on, The Grape Room was referred to as “THE rock/music club in the heart of Manayunk…that provides a place for musicians and their fans to come together and have an evening of excellent music, great beer, stage diving and moshing….well maybe not the later two items but who knows!?”

In 1994, six years after The Grape Street Pub came MilkBoy. First located in Northern Philadelphia as a music studio and store, it moved in 2005 to Ardmore, Pennsylvania where it became “MilkBoy Coffee,” but still a popular music venue. In 2010, the owners of MilkBoy Coffee took the offer to move to the corner of 11th and Chestnut “bring some life to that part of Philly.” And they did by opening MilkBoy Philly, the current music venue that exists today.
The Fire, located on West Girard Avenue in Philadelphia was created in 2001 and is referred to as an “independent music venue.”  The Fire has received a lot of respect and a good reputation in the decade it has been around because not only does it host the stage for professional musicians, but it likewise hosts open mic nights for those artists just starting out. It is known for treating all musicians as professionals, regardless of their status.
According to the bar and grille’s myspace page, dozens of impressive artists and bands have performed at The Fire such as Damien Rice, Jason Mraz, Maroon 5 and many more.


Likewise in the chronological timeline of Philadelphia music history, many musicians are listed who started in Philadelphia and grew to be international musical icons. For example, Chubby Checker, who is famous for “The Twist” that was created in 1959.<br /><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Chubby Checker The Twist</a> <i>by <a href=”; target=”_blank”>beatnickbandit</a></i>

Likewise, the Grammy winning Chestnut Brass Company who began in 1977 playing as a Philadelphia street band of brass instruments, have earned international recognition for their music.

Sun Ra who is famous for being a jazz innovator of the Arkestra likewise began in the streets of Philadelphia.

Take note also in my chronological timeline of Philadelphia music of the currently growing Philadelphia musicians who have just begun their musical journey in this area, such as Outside the Box, Zilla Rocca, The Parlor Mob and the many others. They continue to surprise music-lovers everywhere with their original styles, unique genres and out-of-the-ordinary performances…what “the beat people” is all about.


Rivers Monroe Releases a Christmas Song!

Rivers Monroe released a Christmas song today…and it was a good choice considering it is one of everyone’s favorites…Last Christmas! The pop/rock band from Philadelphia that continues to win the hearts of new followers every week, may have gotten even more loyal fans just for releasing this song! Let’s listen to it…

Some of my favorite covers of the song “Last Christmas” have been done by Taylor Swift, Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Lea Michele of the Glee cast, and my personal favorites, Florence & the Machine and Coldplay

So the trend seems to be that mostly female artists cover this song. And as a huge fan of the all male-membered band Coldplay, their version of the song…is…well, it’s typically Coldplay. So finally, another group of guys do this song! And in a style that is more upbeat and unique! (Because, as we all know, although a very dance-able song, “Last Christmas” isn’t the happiest song.  So, and I say this in the nicest way possible, it feels good to finally hear a man sing about a broken heart!)

“I made sure to take time and check all the different versions of it out there already,” said Kirby Chin, the bassist of Rivers Monroe. “We initially recorded the first draft of this song at about 2/3 of the speed. It sounded really slow, and really didn’t capture the holiday spirit we were looking for. So we all took another approach to play it faster and put a more contemporary spin to it. That’s when the track really developed itself as we kept recording in studio.”

The vocals of Rivers Monroe’s “Last Christmas” are sung by lead vocalist Mike Monroe and with parts sung by Mat Rivers (the band’s keyboardist/vocalist). Singing with such deep and intimate vocals, their cover becomes almost like a sexually ventured original.

Another reason their cover of “Last Christmas” sounds very original is because the lead singer didn’t know much of the song before going in to the recording of it.

“We chose this song, because Rivers and I knew the song pretty well. Mike didn’t,” Chin said. “His phrasing of the lyrics were very different and he brought a very different perspective to the song.”

A blog post done on calls the five-members of Rivers Monroe a band “that’s leaning in the opposite direction.” In other words, they aren’t your typical “everyday, same old” kind of music you hear everywhere you go. They are energetic and the energy definitely comes out in their songs, especially their “Last Christmas” cover. Keep your eyes out for more free released songs from Rivers Monroe by “liking” their Facebook page called Rivers Monroe. They are also regular performers at some of the popular music venues around Philadelphia like North Star Bar and World Cafe Live.

Who/What/Where/When—A Map of Some New Philadelphia Performances in the Next 10 Days

This map aims to show you three of my favorite music venues in Philadelphia (North Star Bar, Milkboy and The Grape Room) that are known to stage some of the new and talented artists from the South Jersey/Philadelphia area that have added their own unique twists to music and have succeeded on the way…
Let’s see what fresh and new artists from the South Jersey and Philadelphia area will be performing within the next 10 days…

An Underground World of Music Producing

Chris Medlar, 26 has performed music not just around Philadelphia and South Jersey, but around the entire Tri-state area and beyond. He is a musician of many kinds—a drummer, singer, song-writer, guitarist and bass-guitarist. One of his most valuable musical skills though, is one that often goes overlooked. It is being a music producer.

Originally from Runnemede, New Jersey, Medlar writes, records, edits, produces and masters songs of all kinds in a studio based in his Philadelphia apartment. Here is a video of Medlar (with Jason Caucci) teaching some of the tactics for producing and mastering a song.

Meet the Philadelphia-based band Rivers Monroe

Rivers Monroe (photo from SRrocks)

About a week ago on November 6th, while playing a live show at North Star Bar in Philadelphia, I was approached after my performance by a cute, young blonde woman who handed me a glow-in-the-dark guitar pick.

“This is from the bass player of the band playing next,” she said. “He wanted me to give this to you.”

Initially, I was flattered. Studying the pick, it was a glowing green yet white color, just as glow-in-the-dark items often appear as. At the top of it were the words “Rivers Monroe” written in bold black font and at the bottom was the name “Kirby.”

Caught off guard, I wasn’t sure if this “gift” was a form of advertisement for them, a compliment to me or a gift for my female friend, ironically enough, named Kirby who was there with me…the only other Kirby I have ever known.

But naturally, since my performance was over, I I engaged in some drinking with my friends at the bar, which is separated from the stage room by one entranceway and a huge wall that unfortunately disables the sound of any live music being played on stage. It didn’t hit me that “Rivers Monroe” must be the band “playing next,” as the cute, young woman told me, so as I was drinking in the other room, I quickly sprinted towards the stage room.

I was only able to hear the end of their last song, which by the way, I greatly enjoyed. The mixture of drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals is something that you don’t get to hear as often as you like at live shows. One or the other is usually missing. Rivers Monroe had all of them and the synchronization they displayed of both music and energy made me automatically answer my own original question…The guitar pick gift was, to me, definitely a compliment.

The glow-in-the-dark guitar pick given to me from bassist Kirby of Rivers Monroe


From the few minutes that I heard of their music, I was impressed, so I took the guitar pick home and looked Rivers Monroe up on the Internet. Rivers Monroe was born from two band members, Mat Rivers (keyboards/vocalist) and lead singer, Mike Monroe. Their music is a mixture of pop, punk and rock. Their website, opens up with a cute, funny picture of the five band members all posing in a purposely silly way each wearing a different brightly colored pair of sunglasses…Then individual and more seriously taken pictures…of Mike Monroe on lead vocals, Mat Rivers on vocals and keyboard, Matt “Doc” Varga on lead guitar, Dan Fedele on drums and (of course!) Kirby San on bass.

Their music was something different, a mixture between pop, rock and punk. Best Music on Campus, an organization the promotes musicians in college who want to be heard with the help of mtvU, called Rivers Monroe a “high energy, pop-rock quintet.” Their song “Meteors” is my favorite. It starts with a sweet yet upbeat acoustic guitar playing and then when the vocals starts, it really made me want to dance. The chorus is really catchy with the lines “Showers of meteors/are falling down on us/Do we keep holding on?” The vocalist has a sexy, raspy voice that reminds me a lot of Brandon Flowers who is the lead singer of the American rock band The Killers.

Their first album “Electric Life” was released in 2009. And ironically enough, Meteors is the name of their next album that is soon to release nationwide. Even more impressive, from what I read on their website,   Glenn Barratt, a six-time Grammy winning music producer who owns Morning Star Studios is the one who completed the final mix down of that album.

All five members originally from Philadelphia, their fan base is nationwide. It seems that they have everything any musician would want in a fan base- an incredible amount of loyalty. According the the band’s website, they have become so beloved in Philadelphia and successful elsewhere in the country because they are “beloved by an increasingly fervent local and national fan following for their extremely energetic, driving and mainstream brand of music, flavored with a fresh, new, pop/rock and pop/punk mixture.”

A great example of the energy in them that their fans love is in this video of them playing live at The Lighthouse in March 2011 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

Starting with just two boys writing some songs together, or as Best Music on Campus wrote on their website, “settling in Philadelphia, the duo decided that rock music was their destiny and were joined by three up-and-coming musicians,” Rivers Monroe have come in just a few years to be able to say that they have shared the stage with platinum selling artists like Jennifer Paige, Akon, Snoop Dogg, Ben Folds, Guster and Allstar Weekend. Their hit song “Meteors” will be featured in the 2011 NASCAR video game by Activision. Along with that, they’ve had many other TV and film placements on Versus Network, NASCAR Network, Fox Sports TV and Speed TV.

Two members of the band, Mike Monroe and Kirby San co-host “Sound Stage” with the lovely blonde, Brynn McKenry, every Thursday live on the radio in West Chester, Pennsylvania on 1520 AM WCHE Radio.

Rivers Monroe

Rivers Monroe (photo from band's Facebook page)

Rivers Monroe is currently continuing its national tour on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Youtube and their music can be downloaded on iTunes and Amazon.

Rivers Monroe on Twitter

Rivers Monroe video for “Fight For Me” on Youtube

Rivers Monroe on Reverb Nation

Rivers Monroe Facebook

Rivers Monroe Myspace

Lead singer, Mike Monroe and bassist, Kirby Chin of Rivers Monroe

Lead singer, Mike Monroe and bassist, Kirby San of Rivers Monroe

Mike Monroe, lead singer of Rivers Monroe

Mike Monroe, lead singer of Rivers Monroe

Getting to Capture The String Theory’s Performance at The Bus Stop Music Cafe in Pitman—

The Bus Stop Music Cafe in Pitman (right across the street from the bus stop in South Broadway)

The Bus Stop Music Cafe is located on 148 South Broadway in Pitman, NJ, 08071 ((856) 582-0009).

Not only does this musically themed cafe host live shows of local bands and artists, but it also hosts an open mic night every Tuesday night for anyone wanting to entertain.

The Bus Stop Music Cafe in Pitman, NJ located on 148 South Broadway

Last Thursday afternoon, a band called “String Theory” performed a live show at The Bus Stop Music Cafe. They were two (very kind) and older men named Bob (on guitar) and Allan (on keyboard). I captured photos of them throughout to try and tell a story.

String Theory (Bob on guitar, Allan on keyboards) performing at The Bus Stop Music Cafe

They played originals and covers (such as Steely Dan covers). Their music reflected a lot of the music that Steely Dan plays, such as an upbeat and folksy rhythm with the best kind of rock band you can make with just two instrumentalists.

Meet Bob

Bob telling me about his musical experiences before his performance at The Bus Stop Music Cafe on Thursday

Bob tuning his guitar before performing

Meet Allan

Allan plays keyboards for String Theory; at The Bus Stop Music Cafe

Allan setting up his keyboard before the performance

Setting Up

Bob and Allan setting up the microphone systems and speakers before performing

Okay, go!

Bob and Allan do a cover of Eric Clapton's "Layla"

The two do a cover of the song “Layla” by Eric Clapton.

Allan on keyboards

Bob on guitar

Bob and Allan Performing a Steely Dan cover

Bob and Allan performing a Steely Dan cover

Their Favorite Audience Member

And…until next time…

Some Innovated Stringed Instruments I Have Yet to See Played in the Philadelphia Music Area

A fellow musician of mine who plays all types of stringed instruments introduced me last week to a world of innovated stringed instruments that I had NO idea existed. And he has actually played some of them live. If more local musicians started playing these live, I think it would definitely step up the competition…



Andy Warhol Soup-A-Lele (photo from

Lunchbox-A-Lele (photo from

In the “all-ukelele” blog called UkePunk, these “Ukelele Ray’s Andy Warhol Soup-A-Lele’s” were explained in a post.

The international musician Ukelele Ray from San Francisco is known for his innovations of ukeleles. He received most of his fame when he created ukeleles out of Campbell’s Soup cans and lunch boxes, called “Lunchbox-A-Leles” (which by the way could carry your food as well as play music). He uses these unordinary ukeleles to record his music, which is on Amazon and iTunes. did a review on the “Lunchbox-A-Lele” and wrote “The strings and stuff are attached to the back of the lunchbox, keeping the actual lid free for all your tuna sandwiches.”

Another review done by Maureen Bogues for the San Francisco Chronicle called “One-Man Band: Eat Your Lunch and Strum it Too with Box-A-Lele” credits Ukelele ray with “turning the lowly lunch box into ‘playable art.’ ”


A modern Chapman Stick (photo from

A Chapman Stick is a stringed instrument that was originally created for the “two-handed tapping method of parallel hands” in the 1970’s by a guitarist named Emmett Chapman but has been modernized incredibly to be taught to musicians around the world. The “tapping method” means that it is played with both of your hands being equal playing partners, with your fingers lined up parallel to the frets. With up to 10 strings, Stick Enterprises, Inc. says this can create a musical language like never heard before on an ordinary guitar such as “bass lines, lead melodies, chords, and rhythm, simultaneously, and in any combination you desire.”

If you are as confused as I was upon seeing one of these, check out this video of someone playing a Chapman Stick.


42-stringed Pikasso Guitar (photo from

The luthier (someone who makes original string instruments) named Linda Manzer really took the guitar a step further with this one. The one that really blew me away was the Pikasso guitar, listed as number six in the “Top 20 strangest musical instruments” and which was named after its similarities with the cubic appearance of Pablo Picasso‘s work.

I was shocked when I was told that Pat Metheny uses this guitar in his songs “Are You Going With Me” and “Into the Dream.” Manzer actually spent two years building this 14 pound guitar specifically for the American jazz musician Pat Metheny. The Pikasso guitar has 42 strings, four necks and two sound holes, and is usually sold from $25,000 to $35,000. According to, this guitar is under 1,000 pounds of pressure when strung up to high tension.

Here is a video of Pat Metheny playing the guitar in “Into the Dream”