On February 4th at 1:28pm EST, Golden Tea House posted a Facebook status announcing its discontinuation after three years of operation. To most people reading this article, the previous sentence is probably as inconsequential as it is confusing given that houses rarely run Facebook pages. But to a slew of musicians and music lovers living in and travelling through Greater Philadelphia, the announcement and accompanying hashtag bring tears to the eyes.
I spent the summer of 2014 doing research at Villanova University – and in case you didn’t know already, college campuses tend to be rather desolate places in the summer. I had a couple of good friends on campus with me, but the need for outside interaction and a new community to call home drew me into the DIY music scene that pervades Philadelphia in the warmest, most inclusive way.
The first show I went to was in the basement of a UPenn frat house and consisted of a couple bands from Montclair, New Jersey – Tawny Peaks who have since broken up, and Pinegrove who have become a consistent favorite of mine. The music was tremendous and the people were the kindest collection of human beings I ever had the pleasure to share a basement with. From this basement, I made my way around the city to the various other house venues and their respective cellars, kitchens, decks, and living rooms – all of which seemed to effortlessly embody the “safe space” environment college classrooms and work places struggle to adamantly to mold and implement.
A popular murmur you hear from millennials and older generations alike consists of the pessimistic and cynical opinion that community, family, and unadulterated human connection is dead, or at least breathing its last breath.
Confronted with the DIY scene and other low key environments, and these cynics are forced to either change their mind, or grant that this last gasping breath is both powerful and hopeful for things to come. Embracing human beings of all races, sexes, genders, classes, ages, religions, and whatever other socially taboo identifier you can think of, while encouraging the artistic expression of anyone willing to share it, the scene and the people that make it up do better justice to celebrated ideals of community and kindness than any haphazard attempt by an intellectual elitist politician, programmer, or professor (not to disregard the valiant attempts and impacts of certain members of those groups). With that in mind, there are a few things spending time in Philadelphia basements have consistently allowed me to remember, and they are as follows.
1. Remember to be kind. So much of your own and other’s happiness is dependent upon this simple choice. And it is a choice to be kind – one that if chosen frequently enough becomes a practice, a habit, a second nature. When you’re kind, people feel welcomed and reciprocate that feeling with kindness and openness of their own. This is what makes a successful and understanding community like Golden Tea House embodied and the DIY scene continues to realize.
2. Music is the purest expression life. Whether you play it or listen to it, expose yourself to music in all of its forms as often as you possibly can. So often we think of music as it being listened to by us, but once again the relationship is far less one sided and much more reciprocal. Music listens to us as well. It’s a friend, a therapist, a motivational speaker, and something to keep close in every situation life throws at you.
3. Tell people what you like about them. There is nothing more rewarding than going up to a musician or a poet (or anyone sharing an artistic, intellectual, physical, or otherwise thought-provoking talent for that matter) and sincerely telling them you appreciate them and their work, that something they put out into the world has resonated in you and made life a little more enjoyable. As said before, kindness is pervasive.
There isn’t much else I can efficiently convey without significant compromise to the true warmth of reception and home-like community I have been lucky enough to enjoy form hanging out in Philadelphia basements and immersing myself in the local DIY music scene. It isn’t unique to Philadelphia (though the city does potentially claim the most extensive network), so all I can recommend is to figure out the rest yourself.