Do Philly’s mayoral candidates care about the local music community?

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Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com
Kurt Vile performs at Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com

We here at The Key, for a number of reasons, tend to avoid being overtly political. But as our hometown nears tomorrow’s mayoral primary election, we’re compelled to wonder what the new mayor is willing to do for the community which we cover, investigate, support, and celebrate.

It’s not easy to be a musician in any city, and a lot of the support that Philly mayors have offered the music scene has been more symbolic than practical. In other words, Kurt Vile may have been given a city medal and celebrated with Kurt Vile Day, but policies such as musicians-only parking zones adjacent to venues remain in the idea stage. Still, musicians from all backgrounds have been an important part of our city’s national and international branding, and candidates should be paying attention to how to make their world better.

So, do Philly’s seven main mayoral candidates (six Democrats in Tuesday’s primary and one Republican) care about our city’s scrappy, diverse, tight-knit and generally excellent (though we’re clearly biased) music community?

If the responses to my inquiries – which, to be fair, came during perhaps the busiest time of the election – are any indication, then the answer is yes, but not a whole lot. Of the seven candidates, only three actually responded to The Key: City Councilman Jim Kenney, the front-running South Philadelphian and a long-time politician who has championed progressive causes; Doug Oliver, a senior VP at Philadelphia Gas Works and former press secretary under ex-Governor Ed Rendell (who was also a mayor) and Mayor Nutter; and Nelson Diaz, an attorney who has served as a City Solicitor, judge, and general counsel for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton.

Melissa Murray Bailey, a businesswoman and the lone Republican candidate, was able to answer about half of the questions. Neither State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams (also considered a frontrunner) nor former State Senator Milton Street were able to respond at press time; meanwhile, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham (also considered a viable frontrunner in some circles) did not reciprocate any of The Key’s requests for comment.

This perhaps comes as no surprise. Kenney is the one frontrunner most visibly concerned with the youth vote, and the music scene’s vitality likely embodies the sort of cultural capital (namely, young, newer residents who might otherwise be politically disengaged) with which Kenney is concerned. Diaz, on the other hand, is a professed bolero music fan, while Oliver (who, at 40, is the youngest of the six Dems) is best known as the mouthpiece for a mayor who’s rapped with Questlove and worked to captivate young voters throughout the course of his tenure. 

So, on the eve of an election that’ll determine Philadelphia’s forseeable future and have some impact on the eclectic people who populate our music scene’s stages, crowds, offices and studios, what do our candidates think?

Photo courtesy of Kenney2015.com
Photo courtesy of Kenney2015.com


Jim Kenney

1) Favorite musician/band of all time? U2

2) Favorite local musician(s)?  Questlove

3) Favorite venue for shows? Tower Theatre

4) Last show you attended? Kinky Boots

5) What do you think about the state of the local music scene? What’s strong? What’s lacking?
I think overall it’s strong, but I think we would benefit from more medium-sized venues and more funding from both the private and public sector.

6) If you become mayor, how will you strengthen local music? What initiatives will you support or promote to make the state of local music stronger?
As mayor, I’ve promised to create 25 community schools by the end of my first term. Community schools integrate social services as well as after school activities, including stronger arts and music programs, into the students’ lives by locating them in their school building. By having local bands dedicate their time to mentoring younger students, I think we can help to strengthen an entire generation of local music here in Philadelphia.

7) Is there any way, besides what you said for question 6, that you would change policy to support more musicians and empower them to support themselves through their art?
Beyond dedicating after school time for students to engage in musical activities, there is no question that we need to increase the number of paid music teachers in our school system.

 

Photo from philly.com
Photo from philly.com

Doug Oliver

1) Favorite musician/band of all time? The Roots

2) Favorite local musician(s)?
 Jill Scott

3) Favorite venue for shows? 
TLA

4) Last show you attended? 
Kevin Hart (Sorry. I haven’t been to a concert in a while. You know. #CampaignLife)

5) What do you think about the state of the local music scene? What’s strong? What’s lacking?
One of Philadelphia’s greatest exports has been its vibrant music scene. I would argue that several sounds in poplar music – the Philly sound 1.0 and 2.0, otherwise know as R&B and Neo-Soul – find there roots here in this city. Artists like Kindred The Family Soul carry on that legacy, and I love it. If there is one thing I miss, it’s socially-conscious music, across all genres. There used to be a time that the music reflected and addressed the issue of the times. You could take the pulse of the people by listening to the music. That’s not the case as much now at a time when, I believe, it’s critically necessary.

6) If you become mayor, how will you strengthen local music? What initiatives will you support or promote to make the state of local music stronger?
I recently introduced my Beyond the Bell initiative, a plan to bring some of the same tools that helped build successful business and tourism corridors in Center City and University City to the neighborhoods outside of the core. These areas are home to vibrant multiethnic communities and businesses as well as pockets of diverse local music mainstays. I would also like to invest in the Uptown Theatre along North Broad Street, making it a catalytic project to spur economic development and support existing, legacy African-American businesses.

7)  Is there any way, besides what you said for question 6, that you would change policy to support more musicians and empower them to support themselves through their art?
I am a huge proponent of STEAM industries – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. I would love for our local music scene to work with entrepreneurs to create new ways to make music and weave it into the overall landscape of innovation while at the same time creating revenue streams that will allow them to support their work.

Photo from NelsonDiazforMayor.com
Photo from NelsonDiazforMayor.com

Nelson Diaz

1) Favorite musician/band of all time? Tito Puente

2) Favorite local musician(s)? Teddy Pendergrass

3) Favorite venue for shows? My wife and I enjoy listening to jazz at Paris Bistro and Cafe in Chestnut Hill.

4) Last show you attended?
I haven’t had much time during the campaign, but I managed to attend a couple of [shows] during Jazz appreciation month and on Valentine’s Day.

5) What do you think about the state of the local music scene? What’s strong? What’s lacking?
I had a very informative meeting with RECPhilly last week going through some of the strengths and weaknesses of the local arts scene and music scene. It was clear from that conversation that aspiring young artists here in Philadelphia face a number of challenges as they strive to make it big – particularly when it comes to recording time in studio and space for visiting musicians to stay on tour. At the same time, we have a lot of the infrastructure we would need to be a truly world-class music city like we used to be. We’ve lead some of the most innovative movements in music, and with the right investments we can make this part of the creative economy a much bigger part of Philadelphia.

6) If you become mayor, how will you strengthen local music? What initiatives will you support or promote to make the state of local music stronger?
I strongly believe in making major investments in the arts and in music starting in school. It pains me that we might be missing out on the next Mozart or Picasso because our children aren’t being given access to the creative arts. I also believe we have to work with the music industry to determine exactly what the major impediments are to the growth of a dynamic music scene – as mentioned above, studio space and the cost of touring seem to be at the top of the list.

7) Is there any way, besides what you said for question 6, that you would change policy to support more musicians and empower them to support themselves through their art?
I would add that I appreciate the way you phrased this question – how do we as policy makers empower musicians? I have a town hall coming up on Thursday at Venturef0rth to meet with musicians to ask that very question, and I look forward to the answers (no reports on how this forum went at presstime).

Photo from facebook.com/melissaformayorPhilly2015
Photo from facebook.com/melissaformayorPhilly2015

Melissa Murray Bailey

1) Favorite musician/band of all time?
Bon Jovi

2) Favorite local musician(s)?
The War on Drugs

3) Favorite venue for shows?
Festival Pier

4) Last show you attended?
OAR at Festival Pier

Reflections

All three Democratic candidates have hopes to empower the local music world by bringing it in line with the interests of our long-suffering school district and the business/entrepreneurial community’s economic resources. Diaz’s is most specific, tied to the policy recommendations of organizations like RECPhilly who are embedded in the community, but all three intend to make music a bigger priority through existing public and private infrastructure.

Of all the candidates who responded to our questions, Oliver is clearly the most music-savvy, while Diaz is probably the most policy-savvy in this regard, considering the relationship that he’s had with RECPhilly; Kenny looks to bolstering music education in the Philadelphia schools as a springboard to more community involvement in the arts and music at large in Philly. Everybody seems to love Questlove.

But loving The Roots, while encouraged, is easy. Hats off to Diaz for having the world-renowned Tito Puente on his list, as well as Philly soul legend Teddy Pendergrass. His admiration for heritage genres makes sense, given his Harlem upbringing and many years watching Philadelphia develop into an even more robust music city (and by the way, Nelson, it still is world-class).

So who cares the most about local music? Who could follow through on their plans? Hash it out in the comments!

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