Double-decker buses aren’t just for tourists — they’re for concerts, too

By night, one of Philly's tourist magnets becomes a traveling venue for an array of indie musicians.

Kilamanzego performs as part of the 2016 Double Decker Music Series, which combines live music with a bus tour of Philadelphia. (Credit: Scott Troyan)

Kilamanzego performs as part of the 2016 Double Decker Music Series, which combines live music with a bus tour of Philadelphia. (Credit: Scott Troyan)

Double-Decker Music Series
June 24, July 29, Aug. 26, boarding at 7:45 p.m.
Northeast corner of Fifth and Market streets, near the Wells Fargo building
Tickets: $27

Sebastian Darkly Petsu had been working as a tour guide on one of Philadelphia’s double-decker buses for a few years when a Phish concert inspired a whole new way of taking in the city. He and a friend, the late electronic musician Charles Cohen, were tailgating the show, listening to fans jam in the parking lot.

“Out of nowhere he said, you ever think about putting live music on your double-decker buses?” says Petsu.

At first, it seemed logistically impossible. Now, Petsu does it every summer. Launched in 2013 as the Double Decker Music Series — with Cohen as its first performer — the tours combine history and commentary on Philadelphia with live musical acts, all gliding high above the city streets.

“There’s a routine, but also there’s a lot that you just can’t prepare for,” says Petsu. Familiar landmarks might be transformed by kids popping wheelies or a sudden marching band. The routes are improvised, as is Petsu’s banter, which is particularly geared toward locals.

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“The sounds of the city, the sights, what’s happening on the bus, it’s all kind of in conversation,” he says.

Petsu tends to choose acts with more of an ambient sound, so that the music “melts into the city and the city into the sound,” as he puts it. One year, musician Roso Langabeer, performing as Diamond Blazer, sampled and then looped the sound of an ambulance going by, blurring the lines between ambience and performance.

This summer, the series begins June 24 with a solo performance by Travis Johnson of the Brooklyn-based band Grooms, known for incorporating loops and samples into their songs. The Philadelphia-based band Hallowed Bells will also be performing their synthy, layered, dark electronic pop.

The bus tour on July 29 will feature Philly-based solo act Apologist and a duo of guitarists, Nick Millevoi and Mike Kennedy. The last bus trip of the season, already sold out, will feature Birdie Busch and Schuyler Thum on Aug. 26. Busch has recorded a Philadelphia-themed EP, so that performance should lend itself especially well to tour-bus listening.

“It’s a pretty intimate experience, even though we’re driving through the sixth-largest city in the nation,” says Petsu.

Every performance has room for an audience of just 30. Tickets are $27 and must be purchased in advance. All ages are welcome. Like all good things in Philly, the tour is BYOB (though no glass, please, and remember, there are no restrooms on the bus). Rain dates are posted online.

This article is part of a new effort recommending things to do in the Philly region. Tell us what you think.

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