What would it look like if you and your college girlfriend or boyfriend tried to run a six-venue music festival? That’s what happened for Greg and Jenn Seltzer, who, 30 years after meeting at Penn State, continue to embrace their love of local music while producing Philly Music Fest from their home in Narberth.
The crux of the event focuses on spring-boarding Philadelphia-based artists. While most big cities have music festivals that draw performers from every genre and all across the globe (Boston Calling, Lollapalooza, SXSW and Coachella, to name a few), Philadelphia has no such event, though Made in America once showed promise.
In 2023, Philly Music Fest will feature acts like Kurt Vile and the Violators, Tigers Jaw, Marian Hill and nearly two dozen more regulars and up and comers. In the past, the Seltzers have gotten artists like Low Cut Connie, Alex G, Japanese Breakfast and Mt. Joy.
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For a Main Line couple with no prior professional connections to the music industry, it’s an improbable feat not only to be running seven years later, but to be thriving.
“We, for better or for worse, are the people that do all the work. We have no staff and we have no salaries or producer/promoter fee,” Greg says.
Since launching Philly Music Fest as a nonprofit in 2017 for a one-night, one-venue event, the Seltzers witnessed as popularity exploded. Now, the event is a week-long affair at six different venues, starting Oct. 9-10 at Ardmore Music Hall and finishing Oct. 15 at Solar Myth in South Philly.
Between those shows, Philly Music Fest will come to World Cafe Live, Johnny Brenda’s, Milkboy on Chestnut and Underground Arts.
“I think I promised Jenn last year I wouldn’t add any more shows,” Greg notes.
But thankfully for us fans, “he lied,” Jenn jokes.
The new show, a jazz night at Solar Myth, will feature a Herbie Hancock tribute from The War on Drugs drummer Charlie Hall and Chris Forsyth.
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The key to keeping the event as healthy as it has been over the past seven years has been eliminating the monetary aspect which plagues most other music festivals. As a nonprofit, Philly Music Fest eliminates the need to pay producers or promoters. Because of that, musicians and venues are paid fairly, instead of just gaining exposure like many other music festivals promise.
Any net proceeds are donated to various charities that benefit the next generation of Philadelphia-based musicians like Girls Rock Philly, Rock to the Future and Settlement Music School. In 2022, Philly Music Fest donated approximately $100,000 dollars; it’s on track for the same amount this year.
Somehow, between the regular hours of their jobs, Greg and Jenn are able to keep everything running smoothly, but their backgrounds certainly help. Greg is a full-time partner for the Philadelphia-based law firm Ballard Spahr, while Jenn works part-time as an accountant. Together their overlapping fields of knowledge cover many of the legal and financial issues that an event like this would create for those lesser-equipped.
“Philly Music Fest is a year-long commitment for me,” Greg notes.
Between communicating with venues and scheduling performers, Greg nearly works two full-time jobs just to keep Philly Music Fest off the ground, while Jenn handles all the merch, finances, hospitality and charities.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I peeked through Greg’s iPad right now to his [list of desired performers] for 2024,” Jenn says.
Right now, Greg estimates his list has 150 bands on it. In six to eight months time, that figure will get narrowed down by about 125. There are a host of Philadelphia acts Greg considers his white whales, from Dr. Dog to The War on Drugs, Black Thought, Ween and Lucy Dacus (a Philly transplant).
Between Greg and Jenn, it seems like Philly Music Fest isn’t growing any further, though Greg did say that last year before adding a seventh show, and there’s always time for change.
“I think we have to continue to just ride the wave and see where it’s taking us because so far it’s worked,” Jenn observes.
For those still looking to get attend the shows, Oct. 11 at World Cafe Live and Oct. 14 at Underground Arts still have tickets remaining.