Why an outdoor concert in the winter turned out to be a great idea

winter jam
The crowd outside XFINITY Live! At the 2017 Winter Jawn concert.

Winter in Philadelphia is unkind. It’s windy, it’s icy, it’s (still) smelly, it’s (sometimes) snowy. Still, John Allers thought it would be a good idea to host an outdoor concert in late January. As it turns out, he was right.

In 2011, Radio 104.5, Philly’s alternative rock station, for which Allers is the program director, unveiled what was then called Winter Jam, an open-air concert at the Piazza at Schmidts. The free event featured performers Bayside and locals Terrible Things and Valencia. Piggybacking off of the success of their popular Summer Block Party events — free concerts also held at the Piazza — Radio 104.5’s sales manager suggested a winter iteration playing into a snow sports theme.

“I’m sure a lot of listeners, bands and sponsors thought we were nuts when we first introduced the concept of an outdoor concert in Philly in the winter,” Allers said. 

Now re-branded as Winter Jawn, the live music event won a 2017 Reader’s Choice award. The new show is held at XFINITY Live! and has seen lineup alumni like Tegan and Sara, New Found Glory, Cold War Kids and just this year, Grouplove, Capital Cities and Phantogram. And it’s still free. 

Below, Allers shares his favorite memories and how the event has grown over the years.

Do you think there was a need for an outdoor wintertime event?

I think there was a need, though I can’t say I fully realized it at the time. I really didn’t know what to expect when we launched the event, but it sounded like a fun idea and based on the event’s success, I would say there is absolutely a need. Winter Jawn has turned into a great answer to cabin fever.

How did the first-ever Winter Jawn event translate with fans?

We were blown away by the response from day one! Now, I think the participants feel a [bond] from being a part of the event. We’ve been able to make it bigger and better every year to the point where we now hold it at XFINITY Live! with two stages.

How has the event grown since then?

We are able to lure larger artists and bigger crowds, as we’ve normalized the concept of an outdoor festival in Philadelphia in January. We’ve also been fortunate to have booked some great performers around a time when their music was really beginning to connect with our audience, including bands like Twenty One Pilots, Walk The Moon, Judah and The Lion, New Found Glory and more. From a fan perspective, I believe the event has yielded a great deal of word of mouth and photo and video sharing through social media and enticed more interest each year. 

What's the biggest challenge in organizing an event like this?

The biggest challenge has been educating artists and booking agents about the event and sharing all of our success stories. You should have seen the looks we got when we first asked artists to perform on an outdoor stage in Philly in the middle of winter. Yet once bands play Winter Jawn, they seem to like it and several artists have returned to play a second year, including Twenty One Pilots, Walk The Moon and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Also, making our artists and listeners comfortable should we have cold weather.

Why is it important for Radio 104.5 to throw live concerts?

Our audience loves live music and I believe it’s a great way to connect the dots for artists who have great music on the radio and want to expand their fan base.  Our listeners also have a lot of options when it comes to music consumption and we hope that through our Philly events we’re able to build a stronger bond and offer experiences unavailable from streaming playlists. 

What are some of your favorite Winter Jawn memories?

The year Twenty One Pilots headlined was a very special year. We were still hosting the event at The Piazza and Tyler Joseph left the stage and reappeared from an apartment balcony. The year [they] opened was also special, as that was one of our coldest years -- probably temps in the 20s. Tyler and Josh showed up on stage with no shirts and completely owned the day.

I also loved it when we found out that Elle King was a huge Nathaniel Rateliff fan. [She] even has some of his lyrics tattooed on her arm. Elle had never met him before they both played Winter Jawn and we were able to introduce them and hopefully serve as the catalyst for a long, rich friendship…and maybe future collaboration would be awesome.