R5 Is Seriously Cutting Back on Shows at the Church
In an email sent to its list today, R5 Productions announced it is seriously cutting back on shows in the basement of the First Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut. The Church basement had been hosting all-ages shows promoted by R5 for 18 years.
R5 Productions’ Sean Agnew previously held shows at a club called 4040 at 4040 Locust Street, until overblown spats with neighbors forced its closure, and at the Rotunda at 40th and Walnut on Penn’s campus. Eventually, most of the R5 shows migrated to the basement of the First Unitarian Church.
But now R5 is pretty much ceasing to book shows in the basement. Agnew now co-owns Boot & Saddle, a bar and small venue in South Philadelphia, and Union Transfer, a 1,300-seat venue with a three separate bars in the former Spaghetti Warehouse on Spring Garden. “With these new venues and a slew of other that have opened up around Philadelphia,” R5’s email read, “it’s become increasingly difficult to book bands who want to play the church.” The Church was a victim of its own success. With fewer R5 shows, the church needed a regular tenant to keep revenue up. An after-school group will start booking the venue in a few weeks. R5 will cease doing weekday shows soon, and hopes to book on Saturdays and Sundays.
Shows in the sanctuary or side chapel will continue as usual.
The basement of the First Unitarian Church — the “F.U. Church” to teenagers and other easily amused demographics — is a hot, smelly, sweaty concert venue. There isn’t any air conditioning and there wasn’t even a convenient beer store close by until recent years. But the place has hosted everyone from Arcade Fire to Mumford & Sons to your favorite indie band (there is literally a 90 percent chance they played there) to that terrible ska band you forgot about literally 15 minutes later. For a while I feel like I never paid more than $10 for a ticket. I remember trudging from West Philly through the snow in 2003 to see what would have been a sold-out Interpol show that ended up half-empty. Shows are all ages.
“The church has been and continues to be an amazing partner to work with for almost twenty years,” the email read. “What other church would ever let a group called Pig Destroyer play five days before Christmas?” I wouldn’t quite call the church our CBGB’s, but R5’s First Unitarian Church shows are all-ages affairs in the basement of a church in downtown Philadelphia. It’s pretty damned punk rock.
Read R5’s full email below:
Hellos – We have some sad news to pass along. As you likely know, we (r5) have booked thousands of shows at The First Unitarian Church since 1996. A bunch of now super famous and legendary bands got their first “big break” there…. Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, At The Drive In, TV On The Radio, the xx etc. Even Ryan Gosling came through to play at the now infamous venue.
In the last few years, we have been fortunate enough to open two dedicated venues, Union Transfer and Boot & Saddle. With these new venues and a slew of other that have opened up around Philadelphia, it’s become increasingly difficult to book bands who want to play the church. The church heavily relied on our rental income for the basement hall and since we were no longer using the space as frequently as we have in the past, they understandably had to find a more permanent tenant.
In a few weeks an after school group will begin to use the basement hall which will make our ability to host shows on weeknights extremely difficult. We still plan/hope to do shows on Saturdays and Sundays moving forward. We realize that limiting ourselves to just two days, there won’t be many opportunities to present future shows in our favorite venue.
So over the next few weeks, this will be our last big series of shows at the church. We’ll still have a show or two here or there but this is essentially the last big run. Take a quick look below for our remaining church shows in 2014. We encourage you to come out to a show, especially now that fall has arrived and it’s the perfect church show going weather (aside from those gross ginkgo smell balls – we certainly wont miss those).
The church has been and continues to be an amazing partner to work with for almost twenty years. What other church would ever let a group called Pig Destroyer play a five days before Christmas? We are forever in debt to them.
One last thing, this does NOT include the seated shows in The Sanctuary or smaller Side Chapel. Those will continue to happen as normal.
Hope to see you out at the church at some point this year.