Larry Magid: The Scene Builder.
Larry Magid remembers when there was no rock ‘n’ roll in the city.
“Nothing happened in Philadelphia,” Magid says. “There was no scene.”
Long before Union Transfer and Underground Arts, before stadiums like the Wells Fargo Center would even think about holding concerts and before Ben Franklin smiled from the roof of the Electric Factory, Philadelphia was mostly a jazz town. In the early 1960s, a young Magid was just getting his feet wet in the music industry. Over the course of the next half-century, the West Philadelphia native would become responsible for many of the city’s most historic music memories.
“You just ride the wave,” Magid says with a shrug, reflecting on the towering list of acts he helped bring to Philadelphia, from Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix to the international phenomenon of the Live Aid and Live 8 concert events.
Sitting inside a spare conference room of the modest offices of his company, Larry Magid Entertainment, the man whose name is on the door is dressed as unassumingly as his attitude in a simple button-down shirt and thick-rimmed glasses.
Plaques and guitars are stacked in corners, waiting to decorate the walls but the work always comes first. Magid doesn’t need to prove himself to anybody at this point. Now 73, Magid still isn’t ready for his career to be considered a retrospective. The music mogul takes a break from another hectic day. He’s just got off the phone with London, and he has an appointment to keep with Bruce Springsteen’s people later in the afternoon.
The music business was not Magid’s first intention.
Magid studied communications at Temple University in the 1960s. Hoping to become a writer, he worked for a small music publication run by a friend. One afternoon, someone in the office asked Magid to book bands for a fraternity party at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I said I would do it, then I had to figure out how I would do it,” he recalls with a laugh. “And it worked.”
The new career path stuck.
Magid never finished his degree. He left for New York City to work for a booking agency and learn the ropes of the music business before his hometown started tugging him back.
When visiting home, Magid liked to spend time at the Showboat, a jazz club that was run by the Spivak brothers: Allen, Jerry and Herb. The Spivaks knew Magid was a talented booker, and one day in the late ’60s, they pulled him aside for advice. Magid says the Spivak brothers saw what was happening in the rest of the country and wanted to get in on the rock business here in Philadelphia. Magid’s advice?
“You have to start building things.”
Soon after, out of the shell of an old tire warehouse on 22nd and Arch streets, the Electric Factory was built, and Magid was the one chosen to fill it.
The original Factory held 2,500 people, far beyond what any other venue in Philadelphia could handle at the time. It opened in 1968 with a concert by psychedelic soul act the Chambers Brothers. It was just in time for a period that many remember as a counter-cultural revolution, and the artists that supplied its soundtrack could be found night after night at the Electric Factory – Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and the list goes on. Fans saw the greatest talent of their generation with tickets costing only $3 per show, courtesy of Magid.
Some of Philly’s own got to take the stage as well, like renowned musician and producer Larry Gold, who played the Electric Factory many times with Michael Bacon as the band The Good News.
“It changed the core of the city,” Gold says about the Electric Factory’s cultural impact. According to Gold, the music and culture of the day was already present in the city, but the Factory provided a place for it to come together and be amplified. Nobody else was bringing the music quite like Magid.
“Larry [Magid] is one of the people who invented the rock ‘n’ roll business,” says Bryan Dilworth, co-founder of Bonfire Booking and a talent buyer for the Electric Factory. Dilworth worked for Magid for several years when the Electric Factory re-opened at its current location on 7th Street near Callowhill.
“The procedures, the way we market things, all the way down to the way we present shows—he had to come up with all of that,” says Dilworth.
In 1985, Magid helped bring Philadelphia to the world stage through Live Aid, the historic benefit concert held simultaneously in England and the United States. Magid’s friend and veteran promoter Bill Graham was asked to spearhead the organization of the U.S. portion and told Magid he was thinking about doing it in New York City.
But Magid could think of no better location than Philadelphia’s own JFK Stadium, the former open-air sports stadium in South Philly.
Magid was tapped again 20 years later when he was 63 to organize Live 8 (pictured above). Many people might have taken such a massive moment in their career as a good note on which to retire, but Magid isn’t like most people.
Magid has experienced his fair share of changes in this latter half of his career. Though he still owns the Electric Factory venue, he sold his company, Electric Factory Concerts, to SFX Entertainment in 2000. SFX was acquired by the Clear Channel Entertainment division, which later became Live Nation. An empire was building, and Magid had a view from the top as a chairman.
But his heart wasn’t in it.
“Clear Channel was a prison sentence,” Magid says. “I used to joke that I was the Count of Monte Cristo, counting off the days in my cave with chalk marks until I was free.”
Selling his company meant the promise of job security for Magid’s many employees, but it also meant a contract. What Magid realized was that he didn’t want to be somebody else’s employee.
So in 2010, at the young age of 67, Magid decided to strike out on his own.
“You start over again,” he says about his decision. “But you don’t have to start from scratch, and you don’t have to do what other people want you to do.”
Since leaving Live Nation and starting Larry Magid Entertainment, Magid has been much happier. Rather than working 12-hour days and dealing with hundreds of concerts per year, like he did at his old job, Magid is now able to be more hands-on with a few heritage acts he’s grown close to over the years, like Billy Crystal and Bruce Springsteen.
“Nothing could make me prouder than watching Bruce Springsteen, who started as an opening act, become the biggest act in the world and knowing that I was a part of the catalytic force that enabled that creativity to grow,” he says.
These are the parts of his work that stick with him—watching Crystal go from a club comic to a comedy legend, or putting on a concert for Billy Joel before he had put out his first record.
“It’s like a doctor bringing a baby to life,” he says.
Seeing the potential in an act is what Magid believes set him and his team apart. When Magid caught a glimpse of the future in an act, he did everything in his power to make his premonition come true.
“We weren’t just working on that one show, we were also working on the next show,” he says about putting together concerts for promising acts.
“We were building something.”
More than just building world-famous entertainers, Larry Magid was building Philadelphia into the music city it is today.