Music is intergenerational for Hal Real.
He remembers going out to see live music with his adult friends, and getting pushback because many adults felt unwelcome in live music venues.
In 2004, Real aimed to fix the problem by opening World Cafe Live, a venue on Walnut Street committed to bringing live music every day of the week to people of all ages.
“In this day of age, we spend too much time in our ear buds or on the computer or on our iPhones, more than we could have predicted 10 years ago,” Real, the owner of the venue, said. “We want some time for people to have a community together, applaud and stomp their feet a little.
This year, the live music venue is celebrating its 10th anniversary. World Cafe Live originally opened in 2004 on 3025 Walnut St. The venue’s counterpart, local radio station 88.5 WXPN, located in the same building, functions as the mouthpiece for the venue.
Eric Schuman, an on air host and producer at WXPN, said the venue and the radio station have inevitably fed off each other since the Cafe’s opening.
“I think that the very existence of the venue from the very start changed XPN in a big way,” Schuman said. “We’re doing a lot more live events just because we have a place to do them pretty easily. The technical side of the building is that there are tons of wires running from every stage to every studio. So, we can broadcast so much more content live on the air in a way we could never before.”
Schuman, a 2010 graduate of Temple’s School of Media and Communication, formerly known as the School of Communications and Theater, started interning at WXPN in 2006 during his senior year in high school. Since transitioning from an intern to doing full-time work behind the scenes and on the mic for the station, Schuman said he has watched the style of music on the station and on the stage, evolve.
“I often say World Cafe Live and XPN get a reputation on what XPN used to play in the early ‘90s when we first started,” Schuman said. “XPN has evolved from folk blues singer-songwriter to incorporating punk and electronic, not so heavily pounding that stuff, but adding that to the fringes of our programming, and World Cafe Live has been following in that same vein.”
WXPN was originally located on 39th and Spruce streets, where Schuman said he heard horror stories of bands with more than four pieces trying to fit into the small studio space to record.
“Forget about getting that double bass in there,” Schuman said, laughing. “More people have been in this building and have had face time in this building in the past 10 years than probably ever in the old building.”
Twenty-two-year WXPN employee Bruce Warren was with the station when the idea to move into the World Cafe Live building was born. Warren said that the most significant part of WXPN’s collaboration with the venue is the live aspect of its broadcasts.
“What has changed is our ability to deliver content over multiple platforms,” Warren said. “It prepared us for the next 10 years, much of which we didn’t know was going to happen. Ten years ago the Internet was in its infancy. Specifically, I think our ability to serve local audiences with local music that didn’t exist before we moved into the new building is significant.”
“We’ve always been about being the center of a music loving community,” Schuman added. “And now, people can come to this place where they can see how the station works, but they can see music happening.”
In 2011, another venue in Wilmington, Delaware, called World Cafe Live at the Queen, was added. Real said that since 2004, the amount of live music venues in the city has tripled.
“It’s gotten more competitive, but I think it’s put Philly on the map more as a music place to come to Philly, live in Philly, to be part of this community,” Real said. “It’s on the map for an artist that knows they want to be discovered – it’s a special place. It’s an important stop. It’s not just another city on the tour.”
The design of the building itself was made intentionally for die-hard music fans, professional recording and live events, Schuman said.
“It’s not just a concert space in this building,” Schuman said. “There are certainly many concert spaces that sound awful. [World Cafe Live] was built by music lovers, for music lovers.”
With its 10th anniversary this year, Real said that looking back, he is proud of the venue.
“Having Adele in the building four times before anyone knew who she was, that was big for us,” Real said. “There are so many examples of artists who made it big that started with us. I feel the same with local bands. For me, a proud moment is when I don’t know anyone and it’s a packed house. Maybe I don’t know the band, but everyone is having a great evening. That’s the best for me.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Rocha contributed reporting.