South Philly's Connie’s Ric Rac is the go-to spot for punk rock funerals

King Animal, Keith Richards McHugh, and Paul Bearer auction off a custom silk screened piece at A Valentine Benefit for Freddy Pompeii at Connie's Ric Rack. Credit: DAN E. LONG

It’s a Sunday afternoon on the lower half of the Italian Market’s Ninth Street, and there’s a crowd in leather jackets below gray clouds of billowing cigarette smoke. The only thing louder than their chatter is the crunching guitar and thudding drum sounds emanating from inside Connie’s Ric Rac, the intimate, decade-old, South Philly club ready for loud displays of blustery punk. It is only 3 p.m., however, not 10 p.m., and what you’re attending is one of Connie’s afternoons dedicated to those in the Philadelphia punk rock community at a time of medical need or bereavement for one of its lost, loved members.

“Back when we started, there were mini-scenes based on genre, coolness, or even geographical locations, but as much as there were hipsters who hated us, we had friends that supported us, and in turn we supported them,” onetime Philly punk Joseph Annaruma says of the love and disgust that connected the local punk scene from the '70s to the '90s.

“That’s Philly punk.”

In terms of its kick-out-the-jams sound track, Connie’s has become a punk scene replacement update for David Carroll’s legendary Artemis, his Hot Club or South Street’s J.C. Dobbs -- to say nothing of vintage no-longer-existing spaces Omni’s, Funk Dungeon, and clubs such as Love, East Side, Kennel, and its ilk. But since getting its liquor license in 2010, Connie’s has slowly become both a memorial hall and benefit center for Philly punks fallen and falling, recently hosting events to celebrate the dead (Revival bartender Maryann Memmem, Brown Sugar guitarist Jay Medley) and the hurt in need of money for medical reasons (DIY venue booker Lenny Crunch, Viletones’ guitarist Freddy Pompeii, Dobbs’ bartender Tommy T).

Before these March events, Connie’s held medical money-raising benefits for Stickmen’s Beth Lejman and punk-turned-painter Mikey Wilde, as well their memorial showcases.

“We certainly have become their home, proudly,” says Ron Bauman, booker-partner in the Italian Market bar. “We love the punks. They love us. Our walls are black. We’re the least pretentious club in town, which is why old punks and new dig it here.”

"Any conversation about Connie’s would be remiss if we didn’t mention Joe," says Bauman, speaking of Joe “Brown” Tartaglia Jr., the co-owner of the Ric Rac who helped build the live venue and passed away in 2013. "Keeping the place going and thriving is done in his honor." 

Margaret DelColle, who is currently taking care of Pompeii, says that although  Freddy has felt sadly disconnected from his music and his South Philly neighborhood, the Connie’s showcase gave him a boost (he has been in Penn rehab since August and has not left, save for chemo and radiation treatments).

“The Connie’s benefit was amazing; a great club, as it’s just the right size, no cost, and their cooperation is exceptional,” DelColle says, adding that bands such as the Dead Milkmen and fans who love Freddy filled the room and that Connie’s donated 10% of the bar proceeds to the Freddy Fund.

“Freddy was feeling sad about it all, as he wanted to be there, see who performed and attended,” says DelColle. “People sent him texts, posted videos and photos on Facebook. When he saw the response, the huge number of friends who showed, he was overwhelmed and had himself a good cry. Then gratitude kicked in and the will to live and beat this cancer. “

Broad Street Pharmacy’s Peter DelloBuono and Frank Bengermino were part of the Philly punk scene -- friendly with those above-mentioned names -- but they don’t feel nostalgic. “Miss it, yes, but let sleeping dogs lie,” says DelloBuono. “Can’t go back; the past is the past; hopefully, a good memory we can possess,” says Bengermino.

Yet as they keep in touch with '70s/' 80s/'90s scenesters and events at Connie’s via Facebook, they participate by showing up and hanging out. “It’s a combination of factors: respect for the ill or deceased, to see old friends, plus Connie's reminds me of the old Hot Club,” says DelloBuono.

“It’s a dive,"  says Bengermino, "but one of the only places in the city where more of the lesser known local bands showcase and it’s like what you say about your extended family as you get older, ‘The only time you get together any more is at weddings and funerals.' ”

That’s the point, says Bauman, that Connie’s is very much a family, that it respects the values of the punk community, “especially the forefathers who paved the way, like Pompeii and Crunch,” and that they are happy that “this is where punks feel at home, where they can come together to mourn, support, and rock out.” 

Connie’s benefits may include those acts who stayed local (Kenn Kweder, Dead Milkmen, Gibbous Moon featuring Hellblock 6’s Noelle and Shemales’ Michael Mosley), but it shows its true mettle with those who left and return, like Throttle singer Annaruma, who works at Virginia’s NASA Langley Research Center as a content management analyst. Annaruma returned to reunite with his fellow Throttle members in Jay Medley’s honor.

“Though I hadn't spoken with Jay for a couple of years, we had history,” he says. “It was an honor to do the memorial, and we played harder than we ever did, even in our 50s.”

Annaruma adds that when he was singing “Code of the Freaks,” he says he looked toward the entrance, “and I swear to God, I saw Jay standing there, with that big smile he had, the same look of encouragement that I would see from him when we played back in the '90s. I’m not sure if I just saw something I wanted to see or there was something beyond my pay grade to comprehend. But it will stay with me until it's my turn to join the old crew no longer on this plane.”