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Derek Dorsey: The Talent Finder on Two Wheels.

December 2, 2011

As part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For the most recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III hung out with Derek Dorsey, the music promoter and Friday night bartender at The Fire, who found his calling after meeting his hero, Lance Armstrong.

Derek Dorsey was standing by the keg, backstage at a concert on Penn’s Landing, when Lance Armstrong approached him.

“Hey, man,” Dorsey said to Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner. “You want a beer?”

As he poured him a cup of Yuengling, Dorsey spoke of his love of cycling and about his then recent diagnosis of dystonia, a neurological disorder that sends him into spasms at unpredictable moments.

“He said to keep riding and never stop,” Dorsey remembers, more than six years later.

From that point on, Dorsey, 38, the talent buyer, artist development rep, promotions coordinator and Friday night bartender at The Fire in Northern Liberties, took cycling seriously. He began training five hours per day, cycling up and down the hills of East Falls, Manayunk and Roxborough. He did that every day for a year, up to 700 miles per week, and then began competing in events across the country.

“It’s the biggest escape from this disorder,” he says. “Specifically climbing a mountain.”

Some of the inclines last 8 to ten miles, an increase of up to 3,000 feet in elevation.

“With every step, every pedal, you accomplish something,” says Dorsey, who now competes in a half-dozen races and a few time trials every year.

While he’s never won a race, he’s also never had any spastic episodes while riding.

“My doctors tell me to keep biking,” he says with a laugh.

When he’s not on the road, Dorsey is at The Fire, the popular neighborhood bar that brings in the top music talent from the region as well as major touring acts. He helped establish the reverential relationship the 11-year-old club has with musicians.

“It was a new experience – bringing live, original music to Girard Avenue,” says club owner Dan McShane, who opened the venue in 2000 and hired Dorsey in 2002. “Derek had a lot of connections and really knew the scene.”

A West Philly native who grew up five blocks from Will Smith, Dorsey has been working in the music industry since the mid-1990s after graduating from Penn State University. He’s managed bands, run festivals and developed a solid reputation for recognizing talent. He gave stage time at The Fire to a young John Legend, then a University of Pennsylvania student known by his family name, John Stephens.

The Fire, thanks to Dorsey and McShane, has fostered such talents as Dr. Dog, Santigold and Toy Soldiers, the rambunctious and soulful Americana band that is their latest triumph.

The loyalty they’ve established is represented by the fact that the bands that got their start at The Fire often return. They’ll play before a crowd of 150 people when they could easily sell out the TLA.

“It’s all because of what Dan created,” Dorsey defers. “To this day, The Fire is still my favorite place to see a show.”

In a perfect world, though, Dorsey would be on two wheels, climbing a hill.

“Biking is about commitment,” he says. “How well you climb a mountain pass says a lot about a person.”

One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 9, 2011 7:34 pm

    Dorsey is the man! Big heart and now big lungs from biking! Keep your head up DORSE!

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