R5 Productions is quite simply the longest running and most influential do-it-yourself concert promoter in all of Philadelphia.
What started as a small-scale operation to do shows for several little known bands has turned into a major Philly promotion firm, as well as a symbol for not giving in or selling out to big corporations.
R5 Productions was started in 1996 by Sean Agnew. At the time, he did primarily ska shows. In the first year, Sean did shows for several large up and coming bands like Less Than Jake, as well as several popular local bands, such as Ink and Dagger, and I Hate You. Most of the first year of shows took place at the First Unitarian Church.
In July of 1998, Sean lost $1,500 on a three day “Ska Fest” and was forced to move back in with his parents. At that point he made a vow to only do quality shows people would enjoy.
Throughout 1999, he did shows in various venues across the city. Some of the bands that did 1999 R5 shows include Discount, Trans Am, the Get Up Kids, Piebald, Murder City Devils and Melt Banana.
In 2000, Sean began doing shows at a place called 4040 in West Philly. His 2000 show roster took place almost exclusively at 4040. 2000 also saw some big bands play R5 shows, including Dillinger Four, Alkaline Trio, Earth Crisis, and Death Cab For Cutie.
In 2001, Sean worked almost exclusively out of the Rotunda on U Penn’s campus. His 2001 show list included Eighteen Visions, Him, American Nightmare, Lamb Of God, and Q and Not U.
In 2002 Sean returned to the First Unitarian Church until July when the venue was shut down for lacking the proper concert permits. Many other promoters may have folded in this situation, but Sean persevered, doing shows wherever he could, including Temple’s own Owl Cove, and The Pontiac Grille on South Street. The Church got their permits, however, and in November 2002, The Appleseed Cast headlined the first perfectly legal Church show.
Sean has been doing shows mostly at The Church ever since. To date, he has promoted and organized more than 420 shows, and shows no signs of slowing down.
In the last few months, he has done several large shows, including secret performances by both Dillinger Escape Plan and Thursday, as well as the final performances of Philadelphia’s own This Day Forward and Atom and His Package.
R5 Productions is also significant for being one of the only local production outfits to steer completely clear of Clear Channel.
Despite attempts by the multimedia giant to slowly appropriate Sean’s venues, he has retained independent control of his business and shows. His public resistance to takeover even caught the attention of Harper’s Magazine, which wrote a lengthy article last year, proclaiming R5 to be Philadelphia’s last bastion of truly independent concert promotion. Despite all this, however, Sean is still around, and won’t be leaving Philly anytime soon.
For now, people can continue to enjoy quality shows for a low price at the Church, knowing that they might be witnessing Philly’s next big breakthrough band.
Chuck DelRossJosephine Munis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org