by Len Lear
Local musician Jim Hamilton has long had a dream to create an arts center to go along with his state-of-the-art second floor, loft space recording studio in Germantown. He and his wife, who own the building, wanted to create a space for people to gather, enjoy music performed by talented players and singers and celebrate the arts. With the birth of Rittenhouse Soundworks Art Complex at 219 W. Rittenhouse St., they are making those dreams a reality.
On Sunday, Nov. 22, beginning at 7 p.m., they are presenting their third “Musicians Gathering Concert” in their 74’ x 62’ performance facility complete with exposed brick walls and cathedral-style wooden ceiling. Ten local acts will perform through the evening: The Jost Project, launched by another Germantown resident, vibraphonist Tony Miceli, and featuring singer Paul Jost, bassist Kevin MacConnell and drummer Doug Hirlinger; Kelly Meashey, Michelle Lordi, The Rhythm Poets, Radha Gopinath, Tom Lowery, Jacko Macnelly, Quint Lange, Dylan Taylor, Angella Irwin and the host, Jim Hamilton.
“We created Rittenhouse Soundworks to have a place for great music to happen,” said Hamilton. “Bringing together highly respected musicians who can play and jam together has always been the goal of creating this space in addition to providing recording opportunities using the most up-to-date equipment. In the future, we plan to provide educational experiences for young people, a library, video center and much more.”
Hamilton, 57, who grew up in Kensington, has been deeply involved with music for his entire life. His work as a drummer and percussionist has taken him all over the world, including performances at the Grammys, World Music Awards, MTV, BET and VH-1 Video Music Awards, along with appearances on TV with David Letterman and Jay Leno. During the 1990s, he toured with such headline acts as Boyz II Men and Gerald Alston. After returning home to Philly, he opened his own recording studio, which he operated for over 15 years. During this time he toured Japan and Europe extensively with Ursula Rutker.
What are the pros and cons of being on the road so much? “Some people deal with it better then others, but touring makes you crazy. It is completely isolating. Plane to bus to van to catering to stage to hotel to bus to hotel to soundcheck to dressing room to stage to hotel room to … you get the idea … Touring in Europe is very different. You may have two or three days in one place, and that’s good for your mind. It becomes easier to acclimate.”
How did the idea for the new complex come about? “I had grown disinterested with the limitations of recording in a smaller room. However, bigger rooms have been going away across the country at an alarming rate. This is because of reduced budgets and the demise of the record industry, but still, we wanted to give Philadelphia something it has deserved for years.”
The complex currently has a photo studio, sounding mix room, LP vinyl reference library with thousands of titles and the largest open floor plan for recording in the city. The building will also house an art gallery and commercial video production complete with a cyclorama. It will also have a performance stage for recording compositions and dance, and there are plans to broadcast three radio stations from the complex.
“Painters and dancers are transforming our Germantown community in the most amazing way,” said Hamilton. “Art is an equalizer. It levels the playing field. This is because art is about ideas and concepts. It doesn’t give you a grade or give you a test. Instead it asks who you are as an individual.
“Our educational system is stuck in the pre-industrial revolution mentality where you go to school to get a job. Really? It’s probably a better idea to not make our children fit into anything other then what they were born to be. Arts and entertainment represent the third largest segment of our local economy. This is not some pie-in-the-sky ‘Let’s save the world’ stuff. We, along with others in this community, are just saying yes to what’s needed right here and right now.”
Hamilton also has some very strong views about the current state of the music business. “When it changed from the music industry to the music business, we lost thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said. “Music is not a business. It’s a creative act that comes from nature. The music industry was successful when they didn’t have any idea what would be successful. Some guy with a cigar would say, ‘I don’t know; put it out and see what sticks.’ Then ‘real’ businesspeople with no talent or imagination got involved and drove it into its present state.”
For the time being, live performances at the new facility in Germantown are being limited to the monthly musicians’ gatherings in the recording studio. These events are specifically designed to showcase talent that most people would never get to see. They’re musical samplers, with each group playing about 20 minutes or so.
The cover for attending the concert Sunday evening is $10 a person. There is off-street free parking only. For more information, visit rittenhousesoundworks.com.