At the batting cages near Sixth and Girard in Northern Liberties, the band Amanda X held the crowd of roughly 200 captive. They were ready for the final song, a cover of Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”
People in the audience Saturday swayed and cheered. After the song ended, the crowd began to dissipate. And with that a very Philadelphia thing became no more.
Everybody Hits, mourning fans say, was special.
“The whole point of this place is that it was batting cages,” said concert promoter Mel Grinberg, 24, of Kensington, “that just happened to have sick shows.”
To explain how the place came to be, founder David Gavigan, of Fishtown, answered that “it all goes back to Eighth and Poplar.” That’s where he’d go to play pickup baseball back in 2009. At the time, Gavigan was settling into Philly, still not quite sure what he wanted to do professionally. The Phillies were hot and the passion for baseball was infectious. He made a lot of friends on the field. He noticed that often their trips to batting cages for practice meant heading outside of the city.
“So,” Gavigan, now 33, explained, “I wrote a business plan and I figured it out.”
At the pickup games, Gavigan met Malik Collier, a teen from the neighborhood who was on his way to playing ball for Montgomery County Community College. When Gavigan was preparing to open the cages, Collier helped with the heavy lifting. When Collier finished college, Gavigan gave him a job -- and eventually sold the business to him last July.
Collier, now 26, remembering how he had to make the hike to New Jersey to swing at batting cages when he was younger, said he felt obligated to provide affordable advanced classes at a cage in his neck of the woods. He described Everybody Hits as a place where kids could learn the sport, sure, but also where they could just be. While the landscape of the Philadelphia river wards has changed drastically, Collier was proud to run an establishment that welcomed young people from there, he said, unlike some of the newer cafes and bars.
“They didn’t have too many places that were patient with them,” Collier said of the youth that he and Gavigan mentored. Some of their neighbors, he said, looked at them “like a problem or a threat. We know at the end of the day they’re kids. ... A lot of places didn’t treat the kids like they were their own.”
Since the venue wasn’t only batting cages, Collier said, he thinks the space -- a farmers market in the late 19th century and later a silent-movie theater -- may have been less intimidating for visitors. Friends from the pickup games are partly to thank for that, too.
Those games had their share of artists at bat, who started asking Gavigan about booking the venue for concerts. Gavigan told one of them yes in 2014. That friend brought a PA system, and the cages hosted the first show on a Sunday in May. Four acts played: Arc in Round, I Im Eye My, Bananas Symphony, and People Skills.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” Gavigan said.
The name took on another meaning. Gavigan estimates that roughly 300 to 400 shows took place in the venue in its 6½-year life span, notching around 1,000 bands.
“The amount of emails we got demanding to play here,” Grinberg recalled, laughing. “And having to explain that it’s in demand.”
“And people asking for baseball cards,” fellow promoter Northrup chimed in.
They both consider the venue and the shows there unforgettable. Grinberg and Northrup were amazed the space lasted as long as a DIY music venue. They weren’t alone.
It’s become a common story: A cherished underground venue pops up in Philadelphia, makes fans and artists gush about the shows and parties there, perhaps even wows visitors with its creative, unexpected reuse of an older location, then later it’s gone.
The landlord, who couldn’t be reached Saturday, is reportedly selling the building. Another beloved DIY venue on that same block closed in 2016 after an order from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections to cease operations.
Michael Fichman, the founder of 24HrPHL, a community that aims to support Philadelphia’s nightlife, said venues like these are always in a precarious position.
“Right now, the supply of available space to legally put entertainment and people in a building does not line up with the demand for it,” said Fichman, who is both a city planner and DJ who’s played at Everybody Hits. “And what you get are places that are either unregulated and maybe that can pose a kind of safety problem, or there are unregulated venues that are very much on top of their safety also. But both of those types of venues can close in an instant because they don’t have a lot of control over their own property.”
When commenting on the state of things, Gavigan didn’t seem hopeless. He’s hoping someone younger will pick up the torch.
“I don’t know, times change,” he said. “I don’t think Philadelphia won’t figure this one out. It was a good run, though.”
Before the lights went low and the shows began, shoppers perused the space and looked through the baseball equipment, signage, and sports paraphernalia. Everything had to go. Balls were selling for a dollar. Helmets were going for five. The sale was kind to Hannah Kurtz. On her way out, she explained that she bought a T-shirt, music stand, Phillies pennant, plaque with Phillies cards, a bat, and possibly ... the batting cage.
Kurtz needs some time to figure out if she can go through with the biggest purchase, and answer questions such as where to store it. But she’d love to have it and keep Everybody Hits alive in some way. She fondly remembers seeing kids run around the space when she’d visit. This, she said, was truly a community space.
“I would be happy if someone took it and did something great with it, even if it’s not me,” said Kurtz.
After the show, some lingered, making conversation, sipping brews, hanging out. A visitor made it into the cage to try the machine out. Baseball, he explained through the netting of the cage, isn’t even really his thing.