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The end of an era: Electric Factory is sold, will be renamed

The venues temporary new name: North Seventh.

Frank McElroy, Toby Leaman, Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog play to a sold out Electric Factory May 13th, 2010. ( David Swanson / Staff Photographer )
Frank McElroy, Toby Leaman, Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog play to a sold out Electric Factory May 13th, 2010. ( David Swanson / Staff Photographer )Read moreDavid Swanson

Goodbye, Electric Factory.

Hello, North Seventh?

For 50 years, the brand name Electric Factory has been an integral part of the Philadelphia music scene.

First it was the club at 22nd and Arch that was open from 1968 to 1971 and was Philly headquarters for counterculture-era acts from Jimi Hendrix and the Who to Elton John, who gave the original venue a shoutout at a Wells Fargo Center show Tuesday night.

Then it was the name of the Larry Magid-led concert company that was locally dominant for decades at venues like the Spectrum and the Tower Theater. And since 1995, it's been the name of a club on Seventh and Willow that's hosted acts in recent years such as St. Vincent and Little Steven, and as recently as this past Saturday, the rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Now, it is no more.

That's because Magid and his business partner Adam Spivak have sold the 2,700-capacity venue to Bowery Presents, the club business division of AEG Presents, the Los Angeles-based concert company that owns the Keswick Theatre in Glenside and books shows at the Mann Center for Performing Arts.

Bowery Presents, a New York-based company that was acquired by AEG in 2016, has an ownership stake in the Philadelphia clubs Union Transfer and the Boot & Saddle, and books shows at venues including Underground Arts and Ardmore Music Hall. And they're no stranger to the Electric Factory: They've been booking the venue since 2015, with former Magid associate Bryan Dilworth, the chief talent buyer.

The now former Electric Factory will be the first venue in the city wholly owned by AEG and Bowery, whose main competition in bringing concerts to the Philadelphia region is Live Nation, the world's leading promoter, which plans to open the Met Philadelphia, the 3,500-seat venue in a former opera house on North Broad Street in December. That will add to that company's constellation of venues that include the Fillmore in Fishtown and TLA on South Street.

On Wednesday, Magid, who turns 76 next week,  said he and Spivak decided to sell to Bowery Presents because "you just know when it's time." He has a nondisclosure agreement about the dollar figure in the deal, but joked that "I got more than $100 for it — and less than $100 million."

The venue's name has to change because of a legal technicality. Electric Factory Concerts — which was owned by Magid and Adam's uncle, Herb Spivak (who founded it along with his brothers Jerry and Allen) before being swallowed up in various mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s — eventually became part of the global enterprise Live Nation.

When Magid left Live Nation in 2010, he retained ownership of the Electric Factory club and its name, with the agreement that if and when he sold it, the name would revert back to Live Nation who — if you're following along — are AEG / Bowery Presents' chief competitors.

Not surprisingly, "naming rights were not released by the venue's former owners" — Live Nation, that is — according to a Bowery Presents press release. (Magid said he didn't realize that the Electric Factory name would be finished when he sold the club, and only realized it Tuesday.)

For now, the venue is going to be called North Seventh. And BP plans on coming up with a better name via crowdsourcing.

Unless Bowery Presents announces plans to significantly beef up the booking schedule of the former Factory, which has some cool shows coming in with Chvrches Oct. 9, Kamasi Washington on Nov. 9, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead on Nov. 23, this deal does not appear to significantly impact the concert scene.

It's more like a shuffling of the deck, with different names being attached to familiar players. "It's always the same places and people in the Philadelphia concert business," said Sean Agnew, who owns the independent booking company R5 Productions, and is ownership partners with Bowery Presents at Union Transfer and the Boot & Saddle on South Broad. "It's just the letterhead that changes."

Dilworth points out the extraordinary continuity: Working for various companies, he's been one of the talent buyers at the venue at Seventh and Willow since it opened in 1995. "We will be doing some improvements," he says, "but we would have done them anyway. We have a healthy and robust show schedule, that we're certainly looking to increase. Our plan is to take the existing legacy of the building and expand on it."

Dilworth doesn't see Live Nation's swanky new venue as a threat to the (now former) Electric Factory.  "The Met is a different kind of building, from what I see," he says.

The end of the Electric Factory in name is significant less in the ways it will shape the future than on how it marks a neat 50-year stopping point of an era that began when the original Factory opened in February 1968.

"It's a little bit of an emotional day for me," said Magid, who keeps a hand in the business working with old friends like Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, and Bruce Springsteen and who just finished booking a national tour for the British prog-rock vets Yes.

A week rarely goes by, he says, without someone telling him stories about a memorable show at the Factory.  "Usually the first one," that was only open for three years.

Original Factory partner Herb Spivak recalled that the original Factory had previously been a tire warehouse, which he and his original partner, Shelly Kaplan, rented for $1,500 a month.

"It all started from that garage,"  said Herb Spivak, 86, who owned the Lombard Street jazz club the Showboat before going in to the rock business. "From there, Philadelphia became, I believe, the most important music city in the country. It's sad to see an institution like that lose its name."

"I'm going to miss the Factory," said Magid. "You don't walk away from something like that without having feelings about it."

Before the Factory, "there was a scene in San Francisco," Magid says. "But if it only happened in San Francisco, it would have been an aberration."

"It had to happen on the East Coast, and it did in Boston at the Boston Tea Party and in Philly at the Factory. It started in '68 and it grew. And being part of that, that was special. Not only changing music, but the political system and the voice it gave to young people. We changed the world."