Volunteer-run webshow “191 Live” is striving to revitalize the Philly music scene by offering local bands the opportunity of a lifetime.
Walking into the doorway of Rebecca “Athena” Martin’s house was like walking into another world. At first glance, it was a normal home filled with furniture and typical household items. The basement, however, was a completely different story.
Every step taken down the dimly-lit staircase uncovered something new – scattered instruments, amps, computers, lighting equipment and fog machines highlighted the room’s decor, which included a life-size stuffed horse and a clown mannequin smirking in the corner.
Since 2007, this basement – covered in band posters – has doubled as a TV studio. Martin’s basement has housed the volunteer-based music webshow “191 Live.” Every weekend, Martin, founder and producer of the show, invites a different local band into the studio to perform a concert, which is broadcast live on the Web every Sunday at 6 p.m.
“Philadelphia used to have a very large name for profession in terms of art and music,” Martin said. “[‘191 Live’] is try[ing] to take back local control of businesses – keep out the big global magnet companies that come in and put on these live shows that victimize our local bands. Many people have tried to do networking organization and it failed, but we are now four years strong.”
Solely volunteer-based, “191 Live” has aided more than 500 musical groups, giving each band professional photos, the opportunity to perform live on the show and the promotion of the bands’ name with no charge.
“I think as soon as you add money to something it takes away from the spirit of what this has become,” Martin said. “Volunteerism is a character of the people that it draws and the people that it keeps.”
Though there are many guest hosts on the show, Derek Scott Harris volunteered for the position of the main host and is now the face of “191 Live.” He said every Sunday the show consists of different segments including personal interviews with featured bands, a live performance and videos highlighting the local music scene.
He added that viewers can interact with the band by either logging onto their webcams or by typing questions during the show.
“[‘191 Live’] wants to get all that great local music to people who haven’t heard it and can’t make it out to shows, whether it be because of financial reasons or their age or whatever,” Harris said. “We want to bring the show to the people and we want to bring the message from the bands to the people and just build this network and spread the love.”
Every Sunday, “191 Live” has a minimum of 6,000 dedicated viewers on its Facebook page alone, and depending on the band, those numbers fluctuate.
“Common Enemy had [more than] 13,000 viewers, Machines of Penalty [more than] 10,000, and then we have had bands that had nobody watch which is a shame,” Martin said.
“It’s all what you make of it and it’s all how you promote your band and what you want to get out of it,” Harris said. “Now once we do the show, the videos are up there so it’s something that you can show your friends later. The bands can use it for anything.”
“191 Live” provides basic equipment needed for live performances, but Martin lets each band transform her basement into their preferred stage. She said some of the bands have elaborate costumes, LED lights and props, while others stick with the basics.
Although the individual band is allowed to portray themselves in whatever manner they choose, “191 Live” does have one main rule it lives by.
“Our biggest thing is we operate on really just one principle and that is positivity,” Martin said. “We know everything that happens in this city behind the scenes – all the garbage, all the crappy shit, who’s a crook, who’s not, what venues rip you off, which ones don’t. Instead of concentrating on the local catastrophic big scandal that goes on, we chose to focus on somebody who’s doing a good job or doing something positive and doing it the right way. The unprofessionalism that goes on because of the Internet is so disgusting that we chose to be intentionally the opposite of it.”
Harris said he believes both the positivity and the hominess of the show keeps musicians coming back.
“It’s like ‘Wayne’s World,’ this is not VH1,” Martin said. “[Still,] all of [the shows] are wild and crazy and totally fun. It’s just a great time.”
The “mad, home-cooked food” Martin said she provides for every band probably has something to do with “191 Live’s” success as well.
“People love being here,” Harris said. They never really [want to] leave.”
Whether it’s because of the delicious food, the upbeat atmosphere or the positivity, “191 Live” has affected more than 4,000 artists, and with every show, the program grows.
Currently, Martin and her volunteers are working toward setting up a music-volunteer program in association with “191 Live,” to provide school children with musical influences.
“The one thing that concerned me being a former educator, especially in the Philadelphia school district, has now been void of any arts and music curriculum since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,” she said. “In ‘191 Live,’ we have put together an exchange program of local guitar centers and stuff like that to try and get some music classes going on volunteer basis after school using the schools facilities.”
Martin explained the plans for this movement and said the contacts are all lined up. Now she needs people to volunteer to teach music to Philadelphia school children and to administer the program.
“How many great jazz players or horn players or drummers are out there, we will never know about because they haven’t been exposed to music at all,” Martin said.
To get involved with “191 Live” or to tune in to its weekly webcasts, visit https://www.stickam.com/191bands or visit its Facebook or Myspace page.
Sheila Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.