Why Philadelphia music venue World Cafe Live is becoming a nonprofit

Dan DeLuca for The Philadelphia Inquirer // February 12, 2020

Changes are afoot at World Cafe Live, the Philadelphia venue that has been bringing bands to University City for 15 years.

The two-tiered music club, founded by Hal Real in 2004, is becoming a nonprofit enterprise. On Wednesday, Real said the venue is now owned by Live Connections, a nonprofit music education organization he cofounded in 2008 when the recession led to budget cuts at Philadelphia public schools.The combined entity will be known as World Cafe Live, according to Real, who said that the Walnut Street club’s busy schedule will be unaffected.

Between its 650-capacity downstairs room, recently redubbed the Music Hall at World Cafe Live, and the more intimate, 250-capacity upstairs space now called the Lounge at World Cafe Live, the venue hosted 400 ticketed shows and 200 free ones in 2019, he said.

The change to nonprofit status is being made, Real said, not only to further the enterprise’s charitable work, but also to help it survive as an independent venue in Philadelphia’s fiercely competitive concert market, where the great majority of spaces are either owned or primarily booked by dominant promoters Live Nation and AEG Live.

WCL’s freebies include open mic nights and the Free at Noon shows presented on Fridays by WXPN-FM (88.5), the University of Pennsylvania adult-alternative station with which the World Cafe Live shares a building. Nathaniel Rateliff plays this Friday. (The building at 3025 Walnut St. is owned by Penn. The WCL leases space from the university, and licenses from XPN the name World Cafe, the station’s signature syndicated radio show.)

Through Live Connections, Real said, 5,000 schoolchildren were brought to WCL in groups of 100 at a time for workshops and programs during 2019.

WCL has been “carrying itself” as a for-profit venture, Real said, but for the Live Connections education programs, “we pay for the bus, we pay the musicians, we pay for the entire experience.”

Going forward, “we’d like to double or triple that,” he said. “And doing that kind of work requires you to be subsidized.” Nonprofit status will allow WCL to do that with funding from foundations and other sources. (Tickets are not tax-deductible, but donations above and beyond the ticket price are.)

Along with venues such as Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown and Ardmore Music Hall, World Cafe Live is a go-it-alone venture in the city’s crowded music-business landscape. Since last fall, it has had yet another competitor in the Fashion District’s City Winery, similarly configured with a larger downstairs room and a more intimate space upstairs.

Real said that City Winery’s entry into the Philadelphia market — the company has venues up and down the East Coast and in Nashville and Chicago — wasn’t a factor in the WCL changes, which have “been in the works for two years.”

WCL hosted country star Tanya Tucker last week, and will promote African singer Angélique Kidjo at the Annenberg Center in West Philly on Feb. 20. It faces competitive challenges going up against companies like AEG Live, which through its partner Bowery Presents books Union Transfer and the Franklin Music Hall, and Live Nation, which books Theatre of Living Arts, Fillmore Philadelphia, Met Philadelphia, and others. “We don’t have the economies of scale that even the City Winery has.”

For the average concertgoer, Real said, WCL’s nonprofit status won’t change “their experience… . We’ll still book those shows, hopefully they’ll still enjoy a good cold beer.

“What will change is that they’ll know that every dollar they’re spending will be reinvested in the programming. Also, it will be going into the facilities, so we can maintain this on a quality level and don’t have to be compromised because we’re trying to compete with a Live Nation or AEG venue when they’ve got such deep pockets.”

Review: Tanya Tucker, making the most of her comeback at Philly’s World Cafe Live

by Dan DeLuca, February 7, 2020

Tanya Tucker took 10 years off before recording While I’m Livin’, her 2019 album that won the veteran country singer two Grammy Awards last month.

And to hear Tucker tell it during her terrifically loose, thoroughly entertaining show at the World Cafe Live on Thursday, she had no plans for a comeback.

Those two songs were at the show’s subdued center, but the rest of the night was raucous. Tucker carried herself with the swagger of a lifelong star who recorded her first Top 10 hit in 1972, when she was 13, and remained a relevant, consistent country hit-maker for two decades.

Read the full story on The Inquirer

After the August death of David Berman, musicians will pay tribute in a Saturday World Cafe Live concert

by Jesse Bernstein, For The Inquirer

David Berman was 52 when he took his own life last August in a Park Slope apartment.

For those who knew the singer-songwriter — less than a week from embarking on only the third tour of his decades-long career — it was a crushing loss. The work of Berman’s longtime band, Silver Jews, was and remains a touchstone for indie rockers across the country, and his newer project, Purple Mountains, had just recently released its first record.

To Jeff Meyers, chief talent buyer at World Café Live, Berman’s death presented something else: a chance to do some good.

“Really bad situations just make me want to figure out what I can do to make it better,” he said.

On Saturday, the band Speedy Ortiz will be joined by a festival’s worth of Philadelphia musicians for “Philly Remembers David Berman,” a World Café Live tribute that will feature covers of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains songs. Additionally, on the recommendation of Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, selections from Berman’s poetry will be recited. All proceeds will go to MusiCares at the request of Berman’s record label, Drag City.

Berman died five days before he was set to play a sold-out concert at World Café Live, just the third time he would have appeared at a Philadelphia venue, and the first since 2008. As the guest services and box office teams scrambled to alert all ticket-buyers that the show had been canceled, Meyers was inundated with requests for the date itself to be kept, if only for fans of Berman to gather and listen to his music, together.

Though the timing was not to Meyers’ liking, the sentiment certainly was. Quickly, he identified an open date that made sense — Jan. 4 is Berman’s birthday — and began reaching out to Philadelphia musicians to gauge their interest.

What he found was a community that was eager to pay its respects to a beloved figure. “I didn’t really have to convince many people very much about this,” Meyers said.

Early on, Meyers and Dupuis agreed that Speedy Ortiz would serve as a core band for the evening. Throughout the night, dozens of local singers and musicians, including Jake Ewald (Slaughter Beach, Dog) and Cynthia Schemmer (Radiator Hospital) will join them. Local poets like Jenn McCreary and Emma Brown Sanders will read from Berman’s poetry collection, Actual Air.

“People picked a selection of songs that I think represent the full emotional spectrum of what David was capable of writing about, often within the same song,” Dupuis said.

Dupuis has long found herself drawn to Berman’s work, both as a musician and a poet. She was once “obsessed” with Actual Air, and even attended the same poetry MFA program, at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“I always felt a kinship to him, even though I didn’t know him personally,” she said.

Silver Jews started as a project of Berman, Stephen Malkmus, and Bob Nastanovich in 1989. Though the latter two would go on to find fame and critical acclaim with their own band, Pavement, Berman remained as the sole consistent member until he ended the band in 2009, releasing albums every few years and developing a small, dedicated fan base.

One of those albums was American Water, released in 1998, and one of those fans was Frances Quinlan, the singer for the band Hop Along, who will be performing a Silver Jews song Saturday night.

Quinlan spent a summer working as a house painter with a friend of hers, and each morning they’d listen to American Water as they made their way to work. At 7 a.m., Quinlan would hear the opening line of “Random Rules” — “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection” — and they remain as striking to her now as they did on those mornings. “They’re just undeniable,” she said, comparing him to celebrated lyricists Joanna Newsom and Leonard Cohen.

Andy Molholt of Speedy Ortiz said that spending so much time with the material — not just listening, but rearranging for the musicians who will be playing it Saturday — has brought him closer to Berman’s observations of humanity in a way he had not been before. Understanding Berman’s humor, he added, is similarly vital to understanding his music. An expletive-laden line from a Purple Mountains song has felt to him especially evocative of Berman — somehow obscene, tender, vulnerable, and funny in the space of just a few words.

Berman’s struggles with his mental health were well-documented, often by him. He survived a suicide attempt in 2003, which his lyrics reflected. “Way deep down at some substratum/Feels like something really wrong has happened/And I confess I’m barely hanging on,” he sang on “All My Happiness Is Gone,” released in 2019.

According to Dominic Angellela, who will join Speedy Ortiz for a rendition of Silver Jews’ “Smith & Jones Forever,” the circumstances of Berman’s death can make it difficult to talk about him. To say what you feel about the death of an artist you never knew can feel trivial, or trivializing, he said. And so, Angellela decided that the best way to express his feelings about Berman was to get on stage, “and play some music I really believe in.”

“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he added.

Angellela and the rest of the musicians won’t be alone in celebrating Berman on Saturday. In Portland and New York City, similar tributes will be taking place. To Dupuis, such celebrations are further reinforcement of what she’s learned since his death: just how many people held Berman’s music and poetry close.

“I think it’s lovely that so many people around the country felt so compelled to share how meaningful he was to them,” said Dupuis, “and how meaningful he will continue to be.”

“Philly Remembers David Berman: A Birthday Tribute”
8 p.m. Jan. 4, $17 in advance, $20 at the door, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, worldcafelive.com

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THROWBACK: BILLIE EILISH IS A STUNNING FORCE AT PHILADELPHIA’S WORLD CAFE LIVE

BY NICOLE ALMEIDA // ATWOOD MAGAZINE // OCTOBER 25, 2017

The tiny stage at the upstairs section of World Café Live in Philadelphia was the setting for a hurricane on October 20th. That hurricane is called Billie Eilish. Supporting her remarkable debut EP dont smile at me, Eilish embarked on her first, and sold out, North American tour at the start of the month. Philadelphia was one of the last stops of the tour before a leg of shows in Europe.

Two hours before Eilish started the show, the crowd was already fill ed with eager fans (and the occasional parent chaperone) who were bunched up as close as possible to the stage, counting down the seconds to see the singer. Their eyes shined in ecstatic anticipation. There was a palpable energy and buzz in the room, a replica of the buzz and excitement Eilish herself is creating in the industry right now – the word prodigy is a staple in conversations about her and her music.

Brooklyn-based and Nigeria-born opener Thutmose infected the crowd with that final bit of energy that was needed. Eilish’s fans seem to have taken the rapper in with open arms, singing along to his words and moving to the beats of his songs very naturally. Thutmose interacted with the crowd beautifully, and the look in his eyes was half disbelief and half gratefulness. Highlights of his set were “Blame” and “Still I Rise”, the latter which is bound to be played at the best parties and clubs for months to come.

Opening the show with the sassy and energetic “COPYCAT”, which also opens the EP, Eilish took the stage with brother Finneas O’Connell and from that moment onwards it was impossible to get your eyes off her. Eilish is a magnet and a force, the artist inside her demands we pay attention to her, and we happily oblige. Every single word that was uttered out of her mouth, repeated by the whole room.

Next, Eilish slowed the pace with “idon’twanttobeyouanymore”, “watch”, and “Six Feet Under”, songs which served to showcase her jaw-dropping vocal abilities and capacity to convey raw emotion through song. With her ukulele, Eilish then covered Drake’s hit single “Hotline Bling” – a homage to the artist who she admires and also a perfect segue into her own ukulele-driven song, “party favor”, which starts with the ring of a phone. Between both songs, Eilish teased, holding her hand like a phone by her ear and smiling – one almost believed the person who she addresses in the song was in that room.

“We have a surprise for you” Eilish said, as brother Finneas stepped out from behind the keyboard and took center stage. “This is my brother Finneas, and he’s going to play a song for you”. O’Connell, Eilish’s main collaborator and co-producer, then had the spotlight shine on him as he played an acoustic rendition of newest single “I’m in Love Without You”. At this moment, Eilish sat onstage, cross-legged, head resting on her hand, as she stared up at her brother. The slight smile on her face and the admiration in her eyes evidence of the special fraternal bond between the two of them and the one time during the set where she looked like a conventional 15-year-old girl.

But Eilish is not conventional, at least not when she’s performing. Eilish is her funny, honest self when she’s singing, dancing, and in between songs when she addresses a screaming and passionate audience. The attitude and certainty in all of her moves and perfectly pitched words aren’t an act, they’re a translation of who she is.

The girl who sings “it’s not you, it’s me and all that other bullshit” in “party favor” also candidly tells her fans that it’s “crazy”, in a good way, how they record everything she puts on social media and how that makes it easy for her to look back at things she didn’t save since all she has to do is look it up on YouTube. This same girl is stunned when the audience asks her to play an unreleased song called “I Wish You Were Gay”, replying “how do you know that?”, and seems unfazed when she sings mere inches from a fan’s face and is met with screams and “I love you so much!!!!”. Billie Eilish the artist and Billie Eilish the girl are inherent to one another.

Eilish treats the crowd to an unreleased song called “Listen” which she plays on the keyboard. Unsurprisingly, the audience already knows every word. “my boy” comes as another musical translation of Eilish’s fierce attitude and incredible dancing skills, while debut single “Ocean Eyes” closes the set with yet another stunning showcase of Eilish’s vocal abilities. Eilish and O’Connell rush off stage, but in mere minutes they return for the encore.

In an unexpected turn of events, Eilish abides to the one fan’s earlier request and, for the first time, her and O’Connell perform “I Wish You Were Gay” to the audience’s delight. A song about heartbreak and unrequited love is not supposed to be this charismatic, but Eilish works wonders with her words and melodies. “Bellyache”, the night’s final song, is both a display of Eilish’s capacities as an artist and performer and a promise that this is only the very beginning of a successful career for this out worldly talented girl. She moves like she owns the stage, brother Finneas joining her momentarily for a coordinated dance, and by this time the whole audience is moving and shaking along with her, ecstatically taking in the whole performance but somewhat nostalgic already with the knowledge that this is her last song. Once the set is done and the stage is bare, the crowd is left momentarily stunned by the show they just witnessed and seem eager and willing to live through the experience all over again.

The stage is Billie Eilish’s natural habitat. There is no other explanation as to why the 15-year-old from Los Angeles performs in front of sold out crowds all around North America with such ease. Every step she takes, every note she hits, and every look she gives displays a conviction which confirms that she is exactly where she needs to be – it would be a crime to deprive Eilish from the stage and the fans from her.

“Teen Learning Community Bryn Mawr: 14 Years of Prototyping Talent-Based Student Philanthropy” via Mainline Suburban Life

“In the winter of 2006, with World Café Live’s Hal Real in full support early on, Lower Merion’s student impresario Dani Ella Yaron was able to stage several revenue-generating concerts highlighting student musicians to start the funding for an innovative teen center.

Real very generously gave Teen Learning Community one hundred percent of gate revenue, based on the realistic expectation that people in the audience would spend a lot of money on food and drinks.

As a result of Hal Real’s business model, through three concerts, we were able to bring in over two thousand dollars to pay for insurance policies to underwrite our events and look into a broader campaign to purchase the up-for-sale Bryn Mawr Hardware Store.”

Meet with students and ask them what they can do – their talents – and what they want to do, set a purpose, and do the work. And, of course, if you can find someone as generous as entrepreneur Hal Real of World Café Live to get you started financially, you will be in good shape.”

READ FULL STORY

The Many Dimensions Of WXPN – New Digs and A New Home For The NONCOMM-vention

“Whereas, in the past, WXPN and World Cafe were forced to operate out of cramped and limited studio space, they now enjoy modern studios with plenty of broadcast and production options. In addition to housing the station, a restaurant and live music venue that is open to the public, called World Cafe Live, is also part of the complex. World Cafe Live presents a variety of live music, much of which resonates with WXPN members and listeners, in two (upstairs and downstairs) spaces.”

Read more on AllAccess.com!

Hal Real wins NCCo Chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award

World Cafe Live founder and president Hal Real was honored with the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s David J. Freschman Entrepreneur of the Year Award in spring 2016.

“Hal took a lot of risks and had a lot of perseverance to develop that property into one of the crown jewels of Market Street,” chamber president Mark Kleinschmidt said. “Given everything that’s happened there, he seemed like an obvious choice for the award.”

 

Read more about it on DelawareOnline.