When I wanted to get some detail about the songwriting scene in Philly (my sister’s town and now only 1.25 hours from my house!), I turned to someone who I know would be expert in the ins-and-outs: Dena Marchiony, co-founder (with Stu Shaines) of the Philadelphia Songwriters Project, which was created in 2002 to offer showcasing, education and networking opportunities for local and regional songwriters — going forward, look out for new online options as well. Here’s what she had to say about the Philly songwriting scene:
Q: How would you describe the songwriting scene in Philadelphia?
A: I think it has developed into an amazing scene — that was really one of the reason we started the Philadelphia Songwriters Project. When we started, there were basically two places to play, the Tin Angel and The Point. That was it. People were starving for opportunities to places to play that wasn’t a bar. Over the years, lots of places have sprung up, so there are many wonderful venues and opportuniites, great open mics. Somebody could have 2-3 open mics to play at 7 nights a week, they could easily fill their dance card. And there are all different kinds of venues — coffeehouses, mid-size venues, etc.
Q: What are some really songwriter-friendly venues to play at in Philly?
A: Well, there’s Burlap & Bean in Newtown Square; Puck in Doylestown; Milkboy is on the Main Line; Chaplain’s in Spring City; then there’s the Kennett Flash in Kennett Square, an amazing venue, and of course World Cafe Live, Tin Angel, a bunch of places downtown. There is so much, really, there is no paucity here, just riches of opportunity.
Q: What if you are just starting out, are there a couple of open mics I should really get to?
A: I would say World Cafe Lie has a good open mic; Milkboy has an open mic, Steel City Coffeehouse has one…I think Burlap & Bean…
Q: Are there some songwriters that have really seen success coming out of Philly?
A: If we talk about people who have played for the Philadelphia Songwriters Project and ended up doing extremely well, we can start with Amos Lee. Then there’s Birdie Busch, Adrien Reju, Andrew Lipke, and Mutlu. Mutlu was discovered at one of our shows, his career skyrocketed after that appearance.
Q: So a lot of songwriter stuff has come out of Philly.
A: Definitely — that’s just talking about singer-songwriters, not even talking R&B or hip-hop, it’s a crazy amazing scene. Philly had such an inferiority complex, we wanted people to know they didn’t have to go to New York, Philly should just get over it and just be Philly. We saw people would always to to New York because that was the center of the universe. Our intention was to move the center of the universe. Philadelphia Songwriters, interesting enough, is not genre-specific — we do deal with a lot of types of music.