Left: Sean Agnew, of R5 Productions. Right: Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla.

Five of Philly’s most prolific music venue owners and show promoters are meeting today with Councilman Mark Squilla, who recently came under fire for a bill that would have created an “artists registry” of sorts.

Though Squilla has said he’s pulling the bill that lit up on social media and led to a petition with nearly 16,000 signatures against the move, these heavy-hitters still have concerns, according to Sean Agnew, owner of R5 Productions as well as venues Boot & Saddle and Union Transfer.

He said that as conversations move forward with potential further regulations on the music community, “we want to see the whole and complete Philadelphia music scene represented.” The bill and the backlash it created are more than adequate grounds for that concern, he says.

Squilla, who represents Philadelphia’s first council district that spreads from parts of South Philly all the way to Port Richmond, introduced a bill in January that would have required owners of clubs, bars and music venues to collect the names, addresses and phone numbers of entertainers to be put in a registry and then share that information with police upon request. The “Special Assembly Occupancy” bill would have given police veto power over shows held at venues that can hold 50 people or more. It also would have raised the license application fee from $100 a year to $500 every two years.

The councilman first said the bill, was written in concert with Philly Police and the Department of Licenses and Inspections, was introduced to improve public safety by cutting down on illegal venue operators.

But the city’s music community pushed back — hard. After Billy Penn first reported on the bill, Squilla’s social media channels had become inundated with comments from concerned citizens. A Change.org petition garnered thousands of signatures, and public protests and meetings were scheduled to discuss the pending legislation.

Councilman David Oh, an at-large member who has taken on arts and culture pet issues, got involved and said he worked directly with Squilla to look more closely at widespread implications of imposing the requirements laid out in the legislation. Ultimately, Squilla promised to pull the bill entirely. 

On Monday, Oh and Squilla met with a group of about a dozen interested parties, including musicians, music bloggers and a man who goes by Professor Pooch and offers music business lessons via YouTube. That group of individuals who met with the councilmen could be in a position to advise council on how to move forward, including nominating a music industry task force that would officially provide support on legislative issues impacting the community.

But Agnew and other top promoters and venue owners in the city who asked to remain anonymous say they weren’t in on that meeting and are concerned that venues owners — the people most largely impacted by further licensing and regulations — didn’t have a voice.

So today, representatives from their corner of the industry are meeting with Squilla in a meeting that was planned shortly after the bill was first made public. And even though the councilman has said he’s scrapping one of the most controversial parts — the so-called “artists registry” — owners still want a seat at the table as further conversations happen about other legislation that could be in the pipeline that might include more regulation of their industry.

Squilla and Oh did not respond to a request for comment. However, Squilla has said that a public hearing would be held in the event of further legislation being introduced. No such hearing has been scheduled.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.