Last week the notorious Sean Agnew (the main man behind R5 Productions, Union Transfer, Boot & Saddle, and Morgan’s Pier in Philadelphia) did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit for curious fans and admirers. Agnew makes traveling to North Korea with Dennis Rodman seem like a nonchalant skip overseas and being a hugely successful promoter look easy. Diplo follows him on Twitter. He was one of our first partners (he’s very hip, what can we say), and last we’ve heard, he’s off to Bali for a few weeks. The guy is basically the real life International Man of Mystery. Read more to pick his brain:
Question: Could you describe the work that went into getting R5 up and running? Did you find a room and then try to book bands to play? Was it the other way around? Or did you just want an excuse to meet sweaty punk bands? Thanks for doing this AMA and for helping keep the Philly music scene so strong and vibrant!
Agnew: R5 completely came up from the mid to late 90s punk scene in West Philadelphia. Heavily influenced if not completely ripped off from an older group of show organizers called “The Cabbage Collective.”
In short me and my friends wanted to see bands who weren’t playing Philadelphia. So we found any venue/room/building that would let us set up a show there. Warehouses, art galleries, community centers, church basements. Then we would contact the bands directly. I miss that.
Q: Could be a tough one because of how many shows you’ve booked… Based on personality, quality of performance, and overall disposition; who is your favorite artist you have booked? On the opposite side, who is the worst?
Best / Favorite: Easy. Ian MacKye (Fugazi / Minor Threat etc). For a zillion reasons but this is the guy that pretty much invented / spread DIY culture (along with Black Flag, etc.) BUT he is still at it today. Totally uncompromising. He stayed at my house and left a dark chocolate candy on my pillow and then hand wrote a thank you letter in the mail a few days later.
Worst : The guy from the Eels was a total jerk. I’ll come back once I think of someone really terrible.
Kim Gordon once made us get her daughter a grilled cheese before she would get on stage. She wasnt mean about it though. Just weird. It should be noted that it’s really rare when an artist is a total JERK.
Q: Wondering what the weirdest or most uncomfortable part of your North Korea trip was and if you got a chance to see Rodman’s wang. I’ll hang up and listen to your answer.
A: Most uncomfortable when he made these totally insane and lavish claims that his uncle, cousin and ex-gf were all still alive (they were reported to have been recently executed at the time). We felt so embarrassed for him. Like “What an idiot, this guy will believe anything.”
Q: How is UT able to consistently provide such low ticket prices, yet put on more shows than most other venues…I can’t figure out the math. Side note: love UT – thanks.
A: Basically we rather you come to lots and lots of shows and enjoy yourself rather trying to suck every dollar out of you. We want lifelong customers. It’s such a bad vibe when a venue charges you something like a $5 service for the privilege of buying a ticket at the box office or $7 for a Pabst.
Q: Any desire to stage a one or multi-day festival in the area?
A: Possibly. My favorite festival in the world is Primavera (Spain). Was just there this weekend. Super crazy bookings, all sorts of genres – all at a really beautiful site. Goes super late. In a million years I couldn’t see something like that happening in Philadelphia because of all the red tape in trying to do any sort of event outside in Philadelphia (believe me. we have tried).You can read about Primavera here. It would have to be something like that. Not such a fan of the stand outside under the sun for 12 hours kind of festival.
Help Sean and R5 stop the violence in Philadelphia. Get tickets to Kurt Vile & The Violators, The Districts, The Tontons June 20th at Union Transfer. All proceeds will be donated and matched by MTWB for the revitalization project at Ralph Brooks Park in South Philadelphia. The renovation will include a new state-of-the-art basketball court, safe and well-lit play areas, an urban farm, and a mural by renowned local artist Steve Powers (ESPO). For more information on the benefit concert and the Ralph Brooks Park revitalization project, please visit http://www.MTWBProject.org.
Photo by Philadelphia based photographer Gene Smirnov.