Rich Howells

After backlash, Philly music registration bill withdrawn; protest becomes victory march

After backlash, Philly music registration bill withdrawn; protest becomes victory march
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A controversial bill by Philadelphia City Council was withdrawn almost as quickly as it was introduced after receiving heavy criticism from the city’s music scene.

Introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla on Jan. 21, the amendment to the current licensing laws would have forced Philadelphia bars, clubs, restaurants, and other venues that can hold 50 or more people to collect the personal information of musicians and DJs, such as names, addresses, and phone numbers, and hand it over to the police, who would then have the power to “veto” any show at any time.

Sitting down with artists, venue owners, organizers, and other representatives of the Philly music community on Monday, Feb. 1, Squilla said he would withdraw the bill and start over again to craft legislation with input from them that accomplishes what he claims was his original intent – to close a loophole in the current legislation that allows venues to operate without a special assembly license. Presently, venues can live stream concerts or play music from an iPod or other device without the license.

“There’s no way the city was going to create a registry,” Squilla assured the group, according to a report from The Key.

“To me, [the bill] wasn’t affecting venues; it was only affecting the people operating without a license. … I missed the boat on that and will take full responsibility.”

Squilla said that he is a big supporter of the arts, noting that his district contains more venues than any other in the city, and denied rumors that the bill was crafted in response to a deadly shooting outside of a rap concert last year at the TLA, which falls under Squilla’s district.

“The TLA has an event license, and this was for venues without licenses,” he clarified.

“There’s a distrust between some performers and the government, a feeling of ‘big brother watching you,’” he continued. “That was not my intent.”

He also promised to address the bill’s license fee increase, which would have gone from $100 per year to $500 over two years, adjusting it to $200 over two years.

Calling the bill “a gross violation of our civil liberties” in an online petition that received 15,850 signatures, the city’s music scene responded loudly and swiftly after Billy Penn broke the story on Jan. 27 with phone calls, e-mails, and social media messages. Even bands with ties to Northeastern Pennsylvania, like Captain, We’re Sinking, joined the conversation on Facebook, saying, “This bill is insanity.”

With the bill withdrawn, a planned protest on Thursday, Feb. 4 became a victory march instead, though activists warned that they would continue to keep a close eye on Philly government.

“We’re partially here because it’s a victory, and we’re partially here to keep the pressure on,” Léa van der Tak, one of the demonstration planners, told Billy Penn.

“These people here are expecting a rewrite that could still threaten them, that could threaten their music scene. By being here, we’ll let them know that we are still here, we are still listening, and we will pay attention.”

Photo of Kitty Rotten at the Feb. 4 march by Dan Romagano