An intimate setting for live music

Photo by Casey Owens 

Pop-up basement concerts go back generations in South Philadelphia.

Some of the greatest music artists like Marian Anderson were known to host gigs that included Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in her Graduate Hospital home.

In those days, namely the early 1900s, people of color had a hard time getting seating to see their favorite performers at places like the Academy of Music, so Anderson improvised by hosting her own parties. Though times have changed to some degree, parts of the population still feel unsafe going to larger concert venues thus the need for underground shows is still sometimes a preferred option. 

Last month, Drea Juers hosted her first gathering in her Point Breeze apartment with the goal of connecting friends while enjoying local music.

“It spun into this wanting to connect all my creative queer Philly friends, because I have a lot of friends who are artists and queer and wanted to create this safe space where we could all enjoy some music and art,” Juers said.

It sold out within 24 hours.

It helps that the headlining act was alternative, R&B powerhouse Sug Daniels, who is a recent South Philly resident and a native of Delaware. It was also convenient that Juers used the Side Door application, which was created by Canadian cofounders Dan Mangan and Laura Simpson. The virtual booking and ticketing platform gives artists and hosts control of show prices and allows the two parties to decide the cut. You don’t have to have a stage to host a show, just a basement or a kitchen and a few chairs. In Juers’ case, her three-bedroom apartment fit more than 30 people and provided an intimate setting to see Daniels perform her acoustic ukulele.

“It was really magical because it was some of my very good friends and it was a very queer space and it felt very healing,” Juers said.

She also said those types of places can be hard to find in a public setting, even in a large city like Philadelphia.

“I definitely think it’s tough to come across these spaces,” she said. “Just in Philly alone, there are only a few gay bars and queer places for people to connect. And there are so many different intricacies that go into that. And oftentimes, they become unsafe because certain people invade them or are very catered to white cis(gender) people. Being queer, trans or (black indigenous, and people of color) community, finding those spaces is really hard. I think it’s really important and I think Side Door is doing a really good thing in being able to connect people that can provide these safe spaces and can promote artists, especially queer, trans, ‘BIPOC’ artists who are underrepresented.”

Photo by Casey Owens

According to a statement on Side Door’s website, the app’s goal “believes artists deserve more control and fewer gatekeepers, and that an empowered arts community will produce the most interesting, diverse and daring ecosystem of expression.”

The site has facilitated more than 2,000 shows since its launch in 2019 and more than 700 artists have earned more than $1.2 million combined. It seems to do so much more for hosts and audience members.

“For myself, I’ve always enjoyed music, but I struggle sometimes with going out to live shows, especially if they are in big venues that are crowded because I often get overwhelmed and feel unsafe,” Juers said. “To create a space that’s intimate and feels safe for both the artist and audience is really important and make everyone involved to feel good about the event.”

Hosts just might want to make sure they have cool neighbors ahead of time.

“I definitely told the neighbors beforehand that it might get loud and we invited them over,” Juers said. “But it turned out really well and I got a lot of great feedback. People were texting me the next day thanking me for creating that space saying it was really beautiful.”