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WHERE WE BELONG

Where We Belong: Ardmore Music Hall

With our Isolation Drills series, MAGNET has been checking in with Philadelphia-area musicians to see how and what they’re doing during the pandemic. Now, we’re also shining a light on our beloved local venues, hoping their stages will be saved. Photos by Chris Sikich.

MAGNET: How is Ardmore Music Hall currently holding up?
Chris Perella (owner):
Well, we’ve had almost no revenue for 10 months, so we’ve gotten crushed along with every other venue. We will live to see a reopening, so I’m grateful to say that confidently. We’re using the downtime to tackle some renovations that we were scheduled to begin right before COVID hit. We’ve had to rethink everything and accept certain trade-offs, but overall it’s got us all really jazzed on the future and the venue being better than ever. I just hope we’re talking about second or third quarter 2021—and not later. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to host livestreams and do whatever we can to stay engaged and to help our team and artist friends make a little dough.

What was the last show you had at AMH?
Mondo Cozmo, 3/12/2020.

What does the future look like for AMH?
It’s bright, though we’ll be limping coming out of this if there’s not more support from the government either for bars or venues or both. We’re really thrilled with our new balcony seating area, new box office and expanded general-admission space downstairs. We’ve got our amazing partners: Ripplewood, the epic, award-winning restaurant on the other side of the wall. And Ardmore is an awesome town, so we feel confident that we’ll eventually thrive again. But it may be a really difficult year still ahead

How can the public support AMH right now?
Memberships, merch (brand-new awesome logo!) and supporting our livestreams. We’re proud to say they’re all live, in-the-moment, engaging streams with full bands playing together, something very few venues have done anywhere in the country as often as we’ve been able to do these past six months. Tuning in, donating and sharing is super helpful for us and any of your favorite venues and bars out there right now. Stay engaged, and help us all keep on going! On February 5 and 6, Philly’s own Disco Biscuits will be the first band to play the freshly renovated Ardmore Music Hall stage, to kick off 2021. The shows will be free streams, in partnership with nugs.net, and give AMH the chance to host the jamtronica titans, who typically sell out rooms four-times larger, three-times over.

Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits) on Ardmore Music Hall and life during the pandemic
The Ardmore Music Hall is my local venue. A place where “everybody knows my name.” And I know theirs. Only three miles from my home—I’m able to soundcheck, come home for dinner, put the kids to bed and be back well before showtime. I’m lucky enough to have an open invitation to bring any of my projects, either existing or germinating, to their stage.

Though the Disco Biscuits are too big for this 600-cap room, I’ve brought in almost all of my projects: SPAGA, Conspirator, Electron, even the very first performance of Billy & The Kids (featuring Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead), as well countless one-time-only supergroups consisting of all top-tier players. But I also go to the AMH as an audience member because of how well they curate their schedule. It’s always a diverse lineup, yet always deliberately put together. And it’s the positive attitude and friendly atmosphere that separates this venue from the pack.

COVID has not only shuttered venues around the country like Ardmore Music Hall, it has impacted our entire ecosystem. I’m not sure what our industry will look like when the gates begin to lift. The Disco Biscuits cancelled our show on March 12, 2020, at The Fillmore Philadelphia with only an hour before doors were set to open. Our crew had arrived at 8 a.m. as usual to set up, and the stage was ready for the band to perform. The city’s shelter-in-place orders weren’t put into effect until almost a week later, but we knew the risk a sold-out indoor show could have. So we pivoted and spent the next three days in a recording studio rather than embarking on the first dates of our spring tour. It was difficult to stay focused and creative.

Over the ensuing months, there were various obstacles and anxiety that stymied a lot of our ability to create as a group. Yet we managed to pull off some memorable moments. On June 23, in the middle of the country-wide protests and awakening, the Disco Biscuits performed to an empty Citizens Bank Park and raised more than $75,000 for Black- and Brown-led grass-roots organizations as well organizations that help address the ongoing effects of our country’s legacy of slavery. It was a powerful moment. Playing inside a stadium meant for 43,000 people to absolutely no one was the epitome of art reflecting life. The drone shot images were stunning. 

The next few months brought about multiple potential opportunities that all failed for various reasons, like newly imposed restrictions or unanticipated COVID-based obstacles. Yet finally by October, we were able to pull off 10 shows over three weeks at makeshift drive-in locations. They were successful by all accounts. Everyone from fans to band to “venue” staff were rewarded with a positive feeling of a successful and safe event that made everyone joyous (if only for a brief moment in time) that with a little innovation and patience, we can adapt.

But here we are again at in winter, almost worse than we were at any point prior. Outdoor distanced events were never really that profitable, but they were something. Now we wait.

In the meantime, I have turned to doing private livestreams from my home. With the encouragement and technical help from my wife, Angelika, we offer private live sets of music I’ve been working during throughout the quarantine. There’s still the same sense of unity and appreciation of music when performing for fans virtually. And along with that, a small sense of normalcy. I still get pre-“show” jitters before the streams, and I get to share my art with fans safely. But most importantly, it has created a new bond between my wife and me. A new shared common goal. She’s the creative and technical director as well as marketing coordinator.

And together, we will make it through this.