There was a time not too long ago when a core collective of now well-known Philadelphia musicians would gather and share their talents. Before the fire that destroyed the Five Spot in early 2007 — an Old City nightclub famous for the wide-ranging genres of musicians, both up-and-coming and otherwise, that would perform there — notable hip-hop, jazz and neo-soul performers like Jill Scott, Jazmine Sullivan and Floetry, backed by the Roots, would jam frequently in low-pressure situations for events like the Black Lily during the early-to-mid 2000s.
The showcases eventually served as a huge platform for these artists to gain traction and to simply further hone their skills without the fuss of a big production.
Since then, such occasions of outward creative and artistic community have not exactly died out but have taken a little while to get back on their feet.
"I think what might've happened — which is a good thing — is that everybody launched at the same time," said Chill Moody, the West Philly hip-hop artist who aims to bring back what's been neglected. "So you had Jill Scott, you had Marsha Ambrosius, you had The Roots, you had all these people that were there every week, they all blew up. So it's like, 'Who's the next people?' and it just took a while for us to find those next people."
The goal, Chill says, is to rebuild — to discover those "next people" — and reorganize that community that met and shared their work locally, and he's doing that through his new initiative, Phirst Tuesdays — a monthly open mic/jam session held on the upper level of Bourbon and Branch.
"I always hear people older than me talk about how The Roots had the Five Spot and the Black Lily, and how that's something… . They haven't got that feeling again since then, but I'm still hearing about it to this day," Chill recalls upon what sparked the idea for Phirst Tuesdays. "So I wanted something that was going to live on similar to that. Not re-create that event, but re-create that feeling a little bit and give it to my generation so five years, 10 years from now, they'll be like 'Yo Chill used to have something.' "
Since the event's first session in December, the rules are as such: Beginning at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month, interested artists — from gospel singers to poets to folk songwriters — can sign up for a performance slot. It's not first-come-first-serve, and ultimately Chill and his band will curate the order of appearances, including the two or three "featured" acts who get 10-15 minute sets.
While the roster of talent may rotate from month to month, there is a steady group that will remain the backbone of the event: R 'n B singer Beano maintains hosting duties while Chill's band is grounded by music director Man-Man, drummer Wheatbread, J Roc on keys, and DJ Ricochet. And then there's Chill himself, who gets on the mic from time to time, though he's humble and adamant about keeping the spotlight not on himself, but the performers he's hoping will gain exposure from the event.
"I try to keep low key, I'm not on the mic all night — that's why I got Beano hosting it," he said of the singer, who Chill also manages. "It's a nicethings affair, its not necessarily a Chill Moody thing. Nicethings is my brand, it's my company. I'm just there drinking, honestly."
And he'd be doing that, regardless. Just from frequenting the downstairs restaurant — he's a huge fan of the fish tacos, meatloaf and whiskey selection — Chill connected with CJ Smith and Greg Altman (also of the band Vacationer), who book events at Bourbon and Branch to put on the monthly showcase.
"I'm around so many talented people all day, every day and it's like, [from] meeting more and more people, I just wanted to create a place to house them all," he recalled.
From there, the first event brought out a medley of performers from a touring musician who sat in on bass most of the evening to another DJ — artists Chill had known for years but never actually seen their performances.
It was almost as if he wasn't expecting it. "The first night the talent that we had was … unmatched."
"Second night, everybody was good, too," he adds after a moment of recollection. "The second night was the first time we had a poet."
While there's no saying what exactly could happen at Tuesday, Feb. 3's showcase, no definites on who'd feel compelled to jump up on stage or what new future Philly rising star could get their start under Chill's eye, he does hope this paves the way for a new wave of camaraderie and potential.
"I'm hoping to see more support within the artist community in the city stemming from this," he stated. "And that's something that's forced, not a 'Philly supports Philly' hashtag — nothing like that. Make it legit and you're supporting this person because you saw them on stage and because they're dope, and not because ya'll area codes match or whatever. You like their music so you support them."
And so far, things seem to be working. The intimate space draws good crowds, and already comparisons are being made to the event that Chill wanted to emulate.
"One of the older friends of mine walked up to me the first night and, without me saying anything to her or why I was doing it, she was like, 'Yo, this reminds me of the Five Spot, this reminds me of the Black Lily. This is that.' That was the first night," he said. "'Same type of venue, same type of music. All of it feels the same.' So that was dope."
Phirst Tuesdays take place at Bourbon and Branch (705 N. 2nd St.) beginning at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month.