Philadelphia’s music scene has long been overshadowed by New York City to the north but frankly, my dear, they could give a damn. From the monochrome days of classical, jazz, and early pop to the modern spectrum of riffs and loops, the City of Brotherly Love makes smart, legendary contributions to music’s canon—if you know where to look for them.
This is the city’s darling of music retail for the last few years, and with good reason. Their judicious and fortunate collecting of vintage music has led to a constantly expanding brick-and-mortar footprint. They also run boutique record-label imprints for lost artists and catalogs that tie into Philly’s soul and rap legacies.
When your record store has a head shop in the back, you’ll understand if they open up a few minutes late some days. They make up for it by hosting intimate concerts and by offering a well-curated selection of punk, metal, and other hard-music releases including stock from their own labels, Creep and Violated.
Long in the Tooth Records
This grimy bastion of musical knowledge rests a stone’s throw from the high-rent district of Rittenhouse Square. Their racks and walls hold many used CDs and LPs, but you’re equally as likely to find new indie or reissued vinyl as well as reclaimed music books and merch.
Philadelphia Record Exchange
A move from South Street to Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood hasn’t dampened the Exchange’s reputation as a treasure trove of used music. Their long history of buying and collecting has resulted in mad stacks of R&B, jazz, rock, and more, with rarities to be found in every corner.
Immortalized in song by local legends ranging from The Orlons to The Dead Milkmen, Philadelphia’s South Street isn’t nearly as hip and weird as it used to be. Yet Repo Records, overflowing with new vinyl, stands as one of this strip’s last anchors to a quietly vibrant music scene.
Live Music Venues
The 900-pound gorilla of Philly indie venues, UT has siphoned away shows of all genres from more established theaters since 2011. It helps that they have vastly superior sound, multiple large bars, a lot of unobstructed views, and an adjustable stage to accommodate different crowd sizes.
Small enough to handle DJ nights, live podcasting visits, and burlesque shows, this basement venue shines with concerts from new artists on the verge and older artists with cult followings. Their “Black Box” in the back offers another area for drinks, quieter discussions, even afterparties and second stages.
Boot & Saddle
Make your way to the back of this reclaimed South Broad Street dive bar for a no-frills setup for you and 150 of your closest friends. Spare lights and a simple low stage are all that’s needed for rising stars, the surprise veteran, endless singer-songwriters, and local showcases.
“The Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House,” if you’re nasty. Rehabbed and reopened as a Live Nation venue at the end of 2018, it’s become an intimate alternative for stadium acts (Phish, Madonna) and a growth venue for longtime independents (Massive Attack, Jim Gaffigan). Between the theater seating and the wondrous sound, The Met offers a lush experience for concertgoers—even if the concession prices are lush to match.
World Cafe Live
The main upstairs restaurant here has The Lounge for open-mic nights and small concerts, but the real action happens in the downstairs Music Hall. This flexible-seating venue has long been affiliated in both name and location with NPR station WXPN, and the performance record reads like an AAA playlist: world-music favorites, steady and reunited legacy acts, and indie rockers aplenty.
Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.