One of my favorite things about living in Philadelphia is the abundance of great live music – both really big names and smaller local bands. There are a ton of venues in the city at a variety of capacities and Philly is on a lot of band tour schedules because of its location on the East Coast between other major cities. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while because it’s the kind of information I wish I could have found when I moved here and started looking to go to shows.
Here’s a list of the venues I most frequently look to for live music in the city. I’ve included a list of the shows I’ve seen at each so you get a sense of what my tastes and biases are. Note that this is NOT by any means a comprehensive list of music venues in Philly, which has a rich musical history worth exploring beyond what I say here.
1131 S Broad St. (Broad & Ellsworth) | 150 capacity
This is probably my favorite venue in the city. You’ll see a lot of smaller and/or local acts on the calendar, so there may not always be names you recognize. That said, when there IS an artist you know on the list and get a chance to see them here, it’s awesome. The space is very small and the stage is not very high off the floor, which makes for really cool, intimate shows. In addition to housing a great live music venue, Boot & Saddle is also a bar/restaurant. It’s really convenient for weeknight shows to be able to get a quick dinner before the show in the same building!
Seen here: LÉON, Cigarettes After Sex, Tall Tall Trees, Max Frost
1026 Spring Garden St. | 1,200 capacity
Union Transfer is another one of my favorites in the city and is probably most consistently booking acts that I’m interested in seeing. The venue is a good size (not too big) and there is a good variety of places to stand in the bar area, on the sides, and on a balcony level, so you’re not just stuck on a huge flat floor without being able to see (usually). The one downside to Union Transfer that I’ve run into a few times is that for some all-ages shows, you aren’t allowed to take drinks down to the floor and have to stay in the 21+ bar areas. This is usually not an issue though because you can still see pretty well. This is actually where I end up standing at most shows regardless. If you’re into the kinds of shows Union Transfer has on their calendar, I’d highly recommend joining their Union Transfer Top Secret Fun Club Facebook group, where a lot of show announcements and presale codes get posted.
Seen here: Sleigh Bells, Lake Street Dive, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Parquet Courts, The National, Sheer Mag
3025 Walnut St. | 650 capacity
World Cafe Live occasionally brings in some great acts and is a nice in-between small and medium sized venue. There isn’t much that is super distinctive about the venue itself. It’s a good place to catch a show and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on their calendar. One perk if you work relatively close to the venue is the Free at Noon series, which is exactly what it sounds like – a free concert every Friday at noon.
Seen here: Anderson East, Delta Rae, Devon Gilfillian
334 South St. | 1,000 capacity
This is not my favorite venue in the city, but there are some great shows here. The location on South Street is great for pre/post show dinner or drinks purposes though. A really interesting variety of genres are represented on the TLA show calendar, which I appreciate and the venue has a cool historic theater vibe, which does make for a nice atmosphere in the venue. One downside of TLA shows is that tickets and fees tend to be pretty expensive for a relatively small venue. I would recommend stopping by the box office in person to avoid online fees if you can!
Seen here: Talib Kweli, Marian Hill
421 N. 7th St (b/w Spring Garden & Callowhill) | 2,500-3,000 capacity
There are definitely pros and cons to the Electric Factory. It’s a really big flat open space and acoustics can definitely be an issue. The layout of the space is tricky too and bars can be hard to get to depending on where you’re standing and how crowded the place is. That being said, the Electric Factory pulls in some pretty big names and I saw one of my favorite shows of all time here. I don’t tend to be super interested in their calendar of shows, but it’s certainly worth checking out especially if you’re into EDM. The Electric Factory consistently brings in big EDM names far more than any other venue in Philly that I’m aware of.
Seen here: Vulfpeck
5201 Parkside Ave. (West Fairmount Park) | 14,000 capacity (Amphitheater), 7,000 capacity (Skyline Stage)
The Mann Center is a great place to catch a show in the summer when the weather is nice. Two very different kinds of shows happen here. What most people think of first is the big amphitheater with covered seats and a lawn seat section. A better bet for concerts though is the Skyline Stage at the Mann. This stage has a very music festival feel and is a great outdoor venue. There’s a ton of space to spread out, so you can stand up near the stage or spread out on a blanket further back behind the crowd and still see everything.
Seen here: the Xx (Skyline Stage), Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! podcast recording (Amphitheater)
29 E. Allen St. (Upstairs at The Fillmore) | 450 capacity
The Foundry is another one of my favorite venues in the city and has the added benefit of being in Fishtown where there a lot of great bars around for pre/post-show drinks. The room is actually much larger than the venue capacity suggests. There is a big bar in the middle of the venue floor and some couches / lounge areas in the back. The stage is low to the ground and it is pretty easy to get a good view from anywhere in the venue, even on the sides of the stage. Since it’s a Fillmore-affiliated venue though, ticket fees are really high when purchasing tickets online. If you’re in the area at the right times anyway, I’d suggest buying tickets at the box office to save some dollars.
Seen here: Wavves, LEON
29 E. Allen St. | 2,500 capacity
While shows here can be more on the pricey side, The Fillmore is probably the best “bigger” venue in the city and is one that brings in a lot of big names. The room is huge but is set up well so that it’s reasonably easy to see the stage from most angles. Big non-concert events also happen at the Fillmore quite frequently and I would highly recommend checking those out too. I had a blast attending the Fishtown Neighborhood Association Chili Cookoff (amazing chili sampling) and this year’s Philly Beer Week Opening Tap event (so much beer).
Seen here: Glass Animals
1201 Frankford Ave. | 300 capacity
Johnny Brenda’s is an important venue in the city, credited with sparking Fishtown’s revival in the last decade. Right at the corner of Frankford and Girard, Johnny Brenda’s is a really solid bar/restaurant with a great music venue upstairs that brings in a mix of local and bigger name acts. My favorite thing about seeing shows here is the balcony where you can actually get an excellent view of the stage. I’ve been meaning to prioritize going to more shows here. New Year’s resolution perhaps?
Seen here: Swift Technique, Cults
1248 N Front St. | 125 capacity
Kung Fu Necktie is a weird one that mostly brings in acts I’m not interested in but occasionally will have something awesome (and/or hilarious). It’s a really small space that can get annoying fast if people are dancing with no regard for the people around them. That said, it’s still awesome to see shows so up-close so if anyone you’re interested in seeing is playing here it’s totally worth going. Again, this venue has the added bonus of being in Fishtown and near a lot of great bars.
Seen here: Moon Hooch, Shwayze
1100 Chestnut St. | 200 capacity
This is probably my least favorite small venue in the city, although I do really like the downstairs bar. The space is really long, making it sometimes hard to get a good view of the stage, which is pretty low to the ground. This is another spot that trends toward local acts, but occasionally someone who is a pretty big deal (like Theo Katzman of Vulfpeck) comes by so I’m always on the lookout for similar shows here.
Seen here: Theo Katzman
1 Harbour Blvd. in Camden, NJ | 25,000 capacity
Okay this one is technically in Camden, not in Philadelphia, but I think it still counts since it’s just across the bridge. This one is similar to the Mann Center in setup, but way bigger. I bought tickets to see Jack Johnson here totally on a whim and ended up having a really good experience with the venue. If you’re on the lawn, you pretty much can’t expect to see the stage at all – but the sound is good and you can see everything on a big screen overhead. One thing to note is that when it gets dark and you’re in the lawn section, it can be almost impossible to find your spot again if you get up to go to the bathroom. This might have happened to me…
Seen here: Jack Johnson (with Lake Street Dive opening!!)
2125 Chestnut St. | 600 capacity
People who aren’t familiar with this venue are always really confused when I say I’m going to “The Church” for a show. Yes, it’s actually a real church. Yes, it’s also kind of a big deal in the city’s music scene. The venue is really just a multipurpose room in a church basement with a stage in the front. Shows are all BYOB (no glass allowed – bring cans) and tickets tend to be on the less expensive side so you’re not going to break the bank going to a show here. Depending on where you’re standing, you often really can’t see well here. This ends up not being a huge deal because the crowd is usually really engaged so you still feel the show’s energy. A lot of the shows here are hardcore or similar, which is not really my thing, but I’ve seen some excellent indie artists here.
Seen here: Bully, Japanese Breakfast, Code Orange, Turnstile, Angel Du$t
I will continue to update this post as I explore more of the city’s music venues. Do you have thoughts about any of these places? Venues I need to prioritize checking out next? Let me know!