The Ardmore Music Hall, a 600 capacity intimate music venue & bar in Ardmore, PA, just 2 miles outside Philadelphia proper, was founded in 2013 but holds a rich history. The room was home to the legendary 23 East Cabaret from 1980-1994 and had a 17 year run as Brownies 23 East, before being renovated and re-branded as a full time concert hall again. The Cabaret played host to national tours that included Phish, The Ramones, The Hooters, Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless others. AMH has a low, personal-feeling stage, an open dance floor, a seated platform, and a balcony that looks down on the room. Since reopening, the room has seen George Clinton & P-Funk, The Hooters, The Everyone Orchestra, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, The Felice Brothers, and many more renowned acts come through the door.
Some other features include a state-of-the-art sound system, 12 craft beers on draft, and flat screen TVs for show projections. Parking is always free, with a parking lot at the back door, across the street, and adjacent to the venue. The club offers a tasty menu that includes sandwiches, wraps, salads, Flatbread’s and other yummy edibles. In addition to meat items, our menu is also vegetarian and vegan friendly. They have 2 full bars located within the club offering a terrific selection of both draft and bottled beers, along with spirits and non-alcoholic beverages.
The current owner, Chris Perella, is both venue owner and talent buyer, based in Philadelphia, PA. A Delaware native, Perella graduated from St. Joe’s University in Philly and remained in the city, managing local bands and working at several bars and restaurants before inheriting autonomy at The Blockley, a 700 capacity club in University City. Beginning in 2010, Perella transformed the space from a high volume bar with an identity crisis, into a jam haven that became a home away from home for thousands of music fans in Philadelphia, and hosted the likes of Lettuce, Big Gigantic, Toots & the Maytals, Stephen Marley, Karl Denson, John Scofield, Papadosio and Tim Reynolds. The club closed at the end of 2013 due to landlord issues, and Perella quickly jumped on an opportunity to take over creative control at The Ardmore Music Hall along with longtime friend and co-worker, Tom Linquist.
We recently had a chance to catch up with co-owner Chris Perella who was kind enough to talk to us about .
LMNR: So tell us how things have been going up at the Ardmore Music Hall, lately.
Chris: Well, lately means about 4 weeks at this point! My partner, Tom Linquist, and I, just took over full operation of the club in late October. We had the great fortune of getting our feet in the door a couple of months prior – once we had cut a deal to take over the room- which allowed us to inherit a scenario with strong shows booked, promotions rolling, and a very clear understanding of the areas that we would want to improve. We’ve hit the ground running and I’m thrilled with how everything is developing already; it feels like home to a lot of people, and we are excited to kick things up a notch and improve the overall programming until Ardmore Music Hall is on EVERYBODY’S radar in the Northeast.
LMNR: Tell us about the new room ownership scenario; how is that coming along
Chris: It’s wonderful and insane- those are probably the most accurate of descriptions. I’m a first time business owner, but it does not feel that way. For all intents and purposes, it felt like I owned The Blockley, and I got a real crash course in how to run a business there. I also got a terrifying look into what can go wrong. I have the incredible fortune of a great relationship with Ned and Nick, two of the owners from Blockley who have become good and trusted friends, and have helped advise on some of the intro and transitional items in Ardmore. I think the level of preparation that I brought into day one was, if I may say, exceptional; there have been a ton of challenges, but no real surprises. There is an enormous difference between independently booking and promoting shows, and running a club, and I know quite a few folks in the talent buying world who think I’m insane for wanting to own a place. I think it’s hard to imagine a better feeling than creating a space that feels like home for countless music fans, and seeing the joy that the shows bring to them. Being in the trenches with the staff and working really hard to make every small component of the room as great as it can be, is extremely gratifying.
LMNR: What are some of the challenges that you’ve experienced booking the room?
Chris: The biggest, by far, is not being a part of any sort of good ol’ boys network. I am a self-made, self-taught talent buyer, and I cut my teeth simply throwing things at the wall at The Blockley to see what would stick. There are a whole lot of advantages that bigger companies- like Live Nation and AEG, to name two- have, not only in their bank accounts but in their ability to strong arm artists into playing their venues. There’s promise of larger venues and bigger paydays down the road, spots on major festivals that their companies are a part of, and a whole lot of politics. Here I am as a 28 year old dude, trying to compete with those guys plus Electric Factory, and Bowery Presents, with a single 600-cap venue. What I deliver better than anybody else in Philly though, I believe, is a genuine and positive experience for everybody that walks through the door. We are a for-the-people, by-the-people venue, and it’s a total thrill to get to meet and talk with the artists coming through. We work extremely hard to market our shows, we pay a lot of attention to detail, and we try to make this feel like the neighborhood bar for fans coming through even when there’s a national act on stage- and I think everybody feels those things. I have a real and sincere interest in helping bands grow and develop, and I have no end game other than producing a great night for us as a bar, for the artists, and for the fans. So, I manage to win some pretty damn good shows…but the challenges are immense.
LMNR: You guys seem to have a different model than many venues in the US, what is it based on? How is it different in your eyes?
Chris: Interestingly, whatever model myself and my friends who work with me have managed to create, is based on nothing whatsoever aside from our personal experiences. I have never received any formal training or instruction from folks in the industry; when things relating to “industry standard” get thrown around, I roll my eyes, hard. My model is somewhere in between the Golden Rule, and the fun loving music fan. Professionalism and attention to detail are really important to me, but at the end of the day, I pour all of my energy and passion into making this as fantastic an experience as possible for everybody involved. If there’s an inspiration floating around, it’s probably Peter Shapiro; I’ve not met Pete, but I suspect we’d be good drinking buddies. He has developed a great and trusting relationship with many artists, but particularly those in the festival circuit (jam, funk, electronic, New Orleans, Grateful Dead heritage, etc.) and over time, they have empowered him to book them in rooms that should be unheard of, given the capacity. The Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theater are both tremendous examples of what venues can be- but still, there is this huge machine behind all of it, and it grows by the day. We are a humble group whose aspirations will be bigger than Ardmore Music Hall ONLY when I believe we’ve done everything we can do with Ardmore Music Hall. We want to throw a hell of a party for people every night; the staff members, the lighting, the house music and the post-show music, the beer selection…none of it is an afterthought. We are more than one-off concerts; it’s a community we’re trying to develop. The concept of “regulars” doesn’t exist with any other comparably sized venue in Philadelphia, but we have all sorts of regulars. I take immense pride in that.
LMNR: What caused you to get into this business- a bout of temporary insanity?
Chris: Sheer luck and some sort of major internal drive that I didn’t know that I had before. I started at The Blockley booking weekday shows with local bands, but I saw pretty quickly that the guys managing the place had no real direction and no clue about live music, and I decided to grab the whole situation by the balls. I couldn’t have possibly fucked things up worse, so I decided to just go for it and do what I could to turn it into a music juggernaut; I had nothing to lose, which was an incredible opportunity. The rush of producing shows, and the extreme highs that come with successful shows that allow me to combine my personal interests with my career, was absolutely addicting.
LMNR: What about your background do you think helped you develop the skills to go about this?
Chris: I really don’t know. I was an English major and never took a class in business, or economics, or marketing, or music industry, or really anything pertaining to what I do. I got involved with a couple of bands that I grew up with as friends, and helped book and manage them for a while; it was very local and limited, but it was a nice little introduction to the music world. The English degree helped on the communication level, of course- and it helped me critically think on my feet and learn really quickly in a world with which I was completely unfamiliar. My parents were helpful too, I’d say; they are extraordinarily kind, social, open minded, welcoming people and they certainly injected a whole lot of extrovert into myself and my siblings. I thrive on personal interaction- and you’d better if you want to survive in the music club zoo from day to day.
LMNR: What is your musical vision when it comes to programming?
Chris: I’d like to think I’m a visionary, but the reality is that I think I just have really good taste in music, and I manage to translate it into a business- which is pretty awesome. I think well rounded shows are absolutely essential; no thanks on paying $30 for a 75 minute show with a headliner, I’d like a 4 hour raging party with 2 fantastic opening bands, please. I like to push the limits on what bands and their reps are willing to consider, as far as pairing with other artists, tweaking their usual music concept a little bit, starting a little bit later, sharing a small stage with other large lineups… but I think this makes everything I do an event, rather than just a show with 1 act, and I certainly prefer it that way. I also subscribe to the school of thought that intimate shows with bands agreeing to an “underplay”- or a performance in a room that you’d think would be too small- is the present and future of the music industry. I’ve heard plenty of people talk with fear about the upcoming generation of kids being interested only in DJs and crappy music, but I refuse to believe it- I think live music is thriving right now, but only in the places that give it a chance to. The intimacy of a club like AMH is far more interesting to me than the huge warehouses and massive theaters with stages 10 feet high and barricades and security that kicks me out 3 minutes after a show ends, and I’m not the only one. I’ve worked with CID Entertainment since the Blockley closed, and their platform is based almost entirely on intimate and unprecedented fan experiences- and there’s a lot of synergy there with my personal values regarding what live music should be.
LMNR: What can musicians expect from their performance experience?
Chris: A staff that really wants them to be happy. From Jesse and Julian, my production guys, to Tom and I, and our marketing and bar staff- we are all music lovers who are genuinely excited to have these bands at our venue. We like to run a fairly tight ship, but never at the expense of being flexible enough to make sure it’s a really good and positive vibe for the artists. As for the venue- the sound kicks ass, and the energy is fantastic in part because the stage is so in your face. There’s no disconnect at all between the musicians and their fans, and that is looked at as a major positive by 99% of the people that come through.
LMNR: What can an audience member expect?
Chris: They can expect a pretty warm environment. We take a lot of pride in the way our security & door staff greet people, in the caliber of bartenders that take care of people throughout the night, and in the quality and thoughtfulness of the music that plays before, between, and after the talent for the night. Radio silence might be my biggest pet peeve; we’re not looking for people to lose interest in between sets, we want them to keep the party alive.
LMNR: What are some of your favorite musical memories that have happened at the Hall?
Chris: Well, I’m in the process of making them, so they are limited so far! I saw Splintered Sunlight (Grateful Dead tribute) when the room was Brownies, and I wasn’t 21 yet- that’s pretty telling, eh? George Clinton & P-Funk played the room in August, right after we cut our deal to get involved with the venue- it was a ridiculous 2.5 hour show, and sold out, and really got my juices flowing as far as what the room can be. Melvin Seals was here the very first night that Tom and I took over, and I love JGB and the overall Dead family; we had Melvin 5 or 6 times at The Blockley. There were a TON of familiar faces and it took us about 2 hours to feel right at home, which was an amazing way to feel. And our 2nd show was with In The Pocket- a collection of longtime Philly musicians including members of The Hooters, The A’s and Ween, Tommy Conwell, and lots of other favorites from the area; ALL of these guys grew up playing the 23 East Cabaret and were just so thrilled to be back in the room in this new incarnation. Overall, it was a spectacular way to start our new venture.
LMNR: How is the modern world of social networking and technology being brought in to your marketing efforts for shows?
Chris: I’m a tough person to ask because I’m somewhat old school; I use Facebook, probably just because it’s the easiest place for me to blather about my opinions, but I don’t really touch Twitter and Instagram. That said, our marketing definitely ties in a ton on the Facebook end of things, from posts to paid ads to event invites, and (unfortunately) we’ve seen pretty great results from it. I try to surround myself with people who are more tech savvy than I, because I don’t have any desire to improve in that area; right now we’ve got a killer new marketing team that’s putting a lot of amazing ideas and concepts together to really transform AMH into a hotbed for technology-based interaction with guests and fans. We want to put a focus on multimedia, both prior to and following a show; the experience shouldn’t end when you go home. We want fans to have audio, video and photo of the show they came to so that it lives on for them.
LMNR: What are some of the upcoming shows you are particularly excited for?
Chris: I am a sucker for New Orleans- I go to Jazz Fest yearly, and couldn’t possibly love a city more (well, maybe Madrid). So the fact that I’ve been able to turn both The Blockley, and now Ardmore Music Hall, into THE destination for NOLA musicians is a huge win for me. Kermit Ruffins, The Soul Rebels, Anders Osborne, Bonerama, and a few other great New Orleans acts are coming soon. I’m also super pumped for a New Year’s Eve with Start Making Sense- I’m a huge Talking Heads fan and these guys do it right…and since I can’t go to Miami for Phish, I think I’ve got a pretty damn good backup plan.
LMNR: If you had the ability to book anyone ever into the room, what would your dream show be?
Chris: This is so tough. I’ll answer with some twinkle of reality, rather than telling you I want to see Led Zeppelin here (which, I do). I think the ultimate accomplishment would be either Phil Lesh, or Trey Anastasio- because both are at the absolute top of the jam world, both are part of my favorite bands of all time, and both COULD theoretically be booked in a room this small if the circumstances broke right. And as far as bands that I could absolutely book but would need to overcome some bigger venues and deeper pockets- Dr. John, Galactic, Medeski Martin & Wood, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and Antibalas all come to mind.
LMNR: In your opinion, what are some of the things that you have seen bands do that really made their shows succeed?
Chris: For starters, they’re not afraid to tell their fans about it. There’s an inherent laziness in a lot of bands who think their art should speak for itself, but that’s bullshit- there’s some phenomenal bands out there who bring 6 people out to a show, and like it or not, this is a business. I can’t sustain it, when you bring me 6 people. Besides laziness though, there’s almost a hesitation for many musicians to self-promote. The reality is, there’s a LOT going on to grab people’s attention; the bands, at least locally, who invite their friends to a Facebook event, send out group texts, send out emails…those guys are a step ahead, because they’re not bugging their friends/fans- they’re just helping inform them. Another big thing, I think, is taking a long view approach to the shows that they agree to. I have seen first hand how difficult it is being a 10-person band that gets $200 to play a gig- but, depending on the gig, it’s worth it. If you have the chance to open up for a major artist, for pennies- take it! THAT is how you gain fans. I’ve seen a shocking amount of local bands who, when I ask them about a potential gig, say “yes!” but then balk at their pay, or their set time, or their set length, or the way they’re advertised on the show…ya kidding me? Somebody needs to shake those bands a little bit and remind them that, while they may be extremely talented, nobody knows who they are yet; there’s not that many promoters and talent buyers who will give the unknown bands ANY kind of opportunity, so when it comes up- don’t be a fucking dope and complain that you only get 40 minutes.
LMNR: What are some of the things that bands should definitely avoid doing to make their shows more successful?
Chris: Well, I just touched on a few. If you’re local, and you’re an opener- you automatically don’t matter very much, in the context of that show. The headliner calls the shots, to a degree- and second in command is the club. You are there to get your time pushed back or cut short; take it in stride and thank the headliner, and the club, for having you. Also, as a touring act OR a local- PLEASE avoid talking about how empty the room is, when a show is slow. Whoever is there knows it’s empty; it is painful for everyone involved to sit and listen to you talk about it. I can’t think of anything that makes me cringe more. As far as promoting- avoid the urge to book as many shows as possible. By the time they’re touring, most bands have reps who steer them away from this- but not always. And for bands trying to make it on the local level- believe me, most of us on the other side of the coin understand what a challenge you face. I can speak for myself when I say that I am truly here to help; I think I give more opportunities to locals than anybody else in the Philly market. But, don’t make me regret booking you for an amazing show AND giving you a few hundred $ on top of it, only to find that you have another show 11 days before. I know you need to make money by gigging, but don’t be so short sighted; whether you like it or not, you’re never getting anywhere unless you bring a substantial crowd, and you’ll never bring a substantial crowd when you’re spreading yourself too thin from day 1 of your band. Leave people wanting, promote really hard, and don’t take every single thing that comes your way.
Upcoming Shows at the Ardmore Music Hall
NOV 26 The Heavy Pets + Pigeons Playing Ping Pong w/ Montoj on Thanksgiving Eve
NOV 28 Stephen Kellogg: Every Night’s A Little Different Tour
NOV 29 US Rails feat. Ben Arnold & Scott Bricklin w/ John Byrne Band, Brian LaPann Trio
DEC 03 The Nth Power (members of Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, John Brown’s Body, Toubab Krewe) w/ Freekbass
DEC 04 Kermit Ruffins & the BBQ Swingers w/ Cory Henry Group (of Snarky Puppy)
DEC 05 J2B2 feat. John Jorgenson, Herb Pedersen, Jon Randall & Mark Fain
DEC 05 Jimkata & The Indobox
DEC 06 Roy Ayers: Godfather of Neo Soul
DEC 11 Splintered Sunlight (Grateful Dead Tribute)
DEC 12 Café Olé- Annual Reunion Concert
DEC 12 Control for Smilers (Phish tribute)
DEC 13 Jeffrey Gaines
DEC 14 Zach Deputy: Soul & Waffles Sunday
DEC 18 Splintered Sunlight (Grateful Dead Tribute)
DEC 20 Consider the Source & Moon Hooch- interlocking sets w/ opening acoustic CTS set
DEC 21 Liz Longley- Home for the Holidays w/ Brian Dunne
DEC 31 NYE Bash! Start Making Sense (Talking Heads tribute) w/ HmfO (Hall & Oates tribute)
JAN 09 WXPN Welcomes: The Psychedelic Furs
JAN 11 Doug Seegers
JAN 31 Donna The Buffalo
FEB 15 George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic- Next Day’s a Holiday!
FEB 20 The Soul Rebels
FEB 25 Gaelic Storm
MAR 14 Melvin Seals & JGB