PHILLY MUSIC MOGUL Sean Agnew didn't get a passport until he was 30. He couldn't travel - he was busy attending every show booked by his concert promotion company, R5 Productions, from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. He worked seven days a week. Now, he seems to be making up for lost time.
Agnew, 37, is the founder of concert promotion company R5 Productions, which books shows at First Unitarian Church and Johnny Brenda's and is responsible for the Punk Rock Flea Market and Mad Decent Block Party. Separate from R5, he's a partial owner of Union Transfer, Boot & Saddle, the Dolphin and Morgan's Pier.
In the past seven years, Agnew has visited 41 countries. He's booked shows via his phone from a boat on the Philippines, gotten comfortable in Tokyo and accepted a travel agency's email offer to be one of a handful of Americans who saw Dennis Rodman sing "Happy Birthday, dear leader" to Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
Agnew spoke with Jenelle Janci about booking bands, the future of shows at the First Unitarian Church, his almost-campaign for City Council and an upcoming all-ages venue.
Q Is there anyone you haven't been able to get your hands on for an R5 show?
Fugazi. I've done a show for every single member's side projects. And the main guy, Ian MacKaye, stayed over my house one time and is definitely someone I admire and look up to as sort of the blueprint of do-it-yourself, early '80s U.S. hardcore and punk.
I remember being so nervous. I had to call my roommates and be like, "Clean up the house. Ian's coming over!"
Q Does the fact that R5 started out so DIY still influence your management style?
I think it's a pretty unique thing. A lot of people in the club or venue world don't come from a super punk world. There's obviously some concessions you have to make as a venue - it can't be, like, land of anarchy. But, we try to just do simple things. For instance, at Union Transfer we try to have pretty reasonable ticket fees, reasonable drink prices.
The idea is to get people to become fans of the venue so they want to come back,
versus, "Oh, we can make an extra $4 if we charge them this fee at the box office."
Q What's the deal with First Unitarian? In September, word spread that you were shutting it down, but it looks like there's still some shows on the calendar.
So, before Union Transfer, we were doing a ton of shows at the church - maybe, at its busiest time, 20 shows a month. Then, as Union Transfer opened up and especially
after Boot & Saddle opened up, there started to be less and less.
The church had to find other uses for the space. A day school agreed to take over the basement full-time [on weekdays]. That's when we sent out that announcement like, "Hey, next year, there's not going to be many shows at the church." So this is sort of our last hurrah.
Q So there's no definitive end, like, "This is the last show ever at First Unitarian."
At this point, there isn't.
Q I have to ask what the story is behind your joke run for City Council in 2003.
I'm even confused by that.
This is, I think, right around the time that the church got shut down by the city for no reason at all. My friend Joey Sweeney , over AIM, was like, "Hey, you should run for City Council," and I was like, "Yeah, maybe!" and he was like, "Hey, would you mind if I posted this as a thing?"
It became this snowball. I kind of definitely enjoyed the attention. But then it started to get a little bit crazy and I was, like, "No. We don't need me to run for City Council." It was never intentional.
Q What's in the future for R5?
So R5, or I guess Union Transfer - the same partnership - we're building, or in the process of building, a new, smaller room that can do all ages, as well as have a bar.
We're starting to work on that, and that will hopefully be open at the end of the fall.
Q We can't say where it is?
Yeah. But it's definitely in the works.