Best Venues to Watch Local Bands in Philadelphia


Philadelphia is a musical mecca, having birthed some of the world's top talent, such as Taylor Swift, Will Smith, Hall and Oates, and Joan Jett, just to name a handful. From jazz and soul, to rock and rap, Philadelphia has been producing talent for decades. If you want to say, "I saw them before they were famous," then you'll definitely want to hit up one of these venues for bragging rights.

World Cafe Live-University City:
This venue began because a local music lover was tired of small, smokey bars. He teamed up with the public radio station, WXPN, and World Cafe Live was born, based on the station's program, World Cafe. There are two stages on two floors, and dining options for each. In addition to purchasing tickets for local acts or big names, you can attend a free concert every Friday hosted by WXPN. I can honestly say the free concerts have always been incredible, and you never know who you'll catch before they become household names. The venue is so dedicated to supporting local music, that even my daughter got to perform there with her music school.

Johnny Brenda's-Fishtown:
The downstairs at Johnny Brenda's is a hip dive bar with pool tables, while the upstairs features a world-class sound system, a balcony and a unique theater. Built on a philosophy of supporting the community, they serve beer from local brewers and have an eclectic menu using fresh ingredients supplied from area farmers. Anything from alternative indie to metal can be heard blocks away at Johnny Brenda's, so don't miss out.

The Fire-Northern Liberties:
The Fire is sponsored by IOU Records, and is a pioneering rock club in Northern Liberties. They quickly established themselves as an artist-friendly venue with a passion for developing talented new artists, both local and touring. They've hosted such artists as My Chemical Romance, Jason Mraz, John Legend, Cold War Kids, and Philly's own Dr. Dog. They also have a full service recording studio on site and eight draft lines dedicated to local and regional beers.

First Unitarian Church-Center City West:
Since the mid 90s, this venue has been renting it's space to R5 Productions and putting on indie and punk-rock shows at night. R5 Productions is a promotions agency, whose main goal is to provide Philadelphia with cheap, friendly, shows in honest intimate settings. Seeing a show in the basement of the church always feels like a neighborhood or college party, which adds to the sense of community and uniqueness of the venue. And yes, you can attend non-traditional worship services at the First Unitarian Church during the day.

Milkboy-Center City: This restaurant, bar, cafe and music venue in one, hosts an impressive lineup of local and nationally recognized musicians. Started by the founders of Milkboy Recording studio, which hosts the likes of Erykah Badu, Miley Cyrus and The Roots, along with food and beverage veteran Bill Hanson, every live show, drink, and dish at MilkBoy Philadelphia is all inspired by MilkBoy's roots in music and the thriving music scene that got it all started.

Chris' Jazz Cafe and Time- Center City
As the birthplace and hometown of some of the most notable figures in jazz, including Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, and Dizzie Gillespie, Philadelphia's jazz roots run deep. I chose Chris' Jazz Cafe not solely based on DownBeat Magazine naming Chris' one of the "100 Great Venues Around the World to Hear Jazz," but because I love the intimate atmosphere, affordable prices and because I've seen some of my local friends play here.

Time features jazz almost every day with three upscale areas, the dining room, the whiskey bar and the upstairs club. Live jazz is held in the dining room, so you can enjoy the music while you eat or drink at the bar. Budding musicians looking for a place to play are welcome at Time for open mic night on Tuesdays and an open jam on Sundays.


Elisa Domenick is a writer and documentary filmmaker with a passion for adventure and exploring places off the beaten path.