A rightfully quick death for a tone-deaf bill

By Thursday morning, Councilman Mark Squilla (above), the police, and other city officials involved were backtracking faster than they could moonwalk.

The swiftness with which Councilman Mark Squilla's spectacularly stupid music-venue licensing bill went up in flames last week was a delight to behold.

The social-media firestorm that erupted Wednesday over the alarming, Orwellian proposal - which called for venue operators to collect performers' names, numbers, and addresses for the police and which would give the cops final approval of licensing venues - was as effective as it was immediate.

By Thursday morning, Squilla, the police, and other city officials involved were backtracking faster than they could moonwalk.

Those provisions were mistakes, they said. Gone. No problem.

They said those requirements had nothing to do with the original intent of the bill, which Squilla now says was meant to target clubs that live-stream music without a license.

They scoffed at the implication that the measure would disproportionately target smaller, minority venues outside of Center City.

The misstep offered a teaching moment for the politicos and officials who had collectively cast themselves in the role of the Rev. Shaw Moore, the famously austere minister from Footloose: In 2016, in Philadelphia, millennials are not a constituency you mess with.

The city is changing. Dance or go home. And don't insult some of your most socially engaged constituents with idiotic and ill-conceived ideas.

The thunderous response from Philly's music scene prevented prolonged embarrassment. This was not going to be even the marginal slog it was in 2010, when the city's creative class rallied against a similarly stifling - and potentially business-crippling - measure by Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Bill Greenlee. That bill sought to police the city's music scene by having promoters notify the city of their shows 30 days in advance.

It took a few months to kill that bill. It took a day to sink this one.

"I think they were surprised at how engaged this constituency was," said Chris Ward, the promotions manager at Johnny Brenda's. "Someone realized that they needed to address this immediately because it wasn't going to go away."

The exponential power of social media was certainly at play this time around. Squilla was trending on Twitter by Wednesday night and nearly 15,000 people have since signed a change.org petition in opposition to the bill.

But the outcry only offered more proof of how vibrant and vital Philly's music scene has become. It has rightfully risen to national prominence. It is inextricably linked to the city's newfound momentum. And it has become a powerful draw for young people choosing Philadelphia.

We don't need to be embarrassing ourselves with stuff like this - looking like a bunch of narcs - when real momentum is happening in our city. When national headline after headline touts Philadelphia as the place to come and build a life.

We should be doing everything we can to champion our music scene. Like working to get rid of the endless red tape that plagues many smaller performance spaces - the wellspring of a vibrant music community, the types of places other cities work to foster.

While the downtown music crowd may have crowed the loudest, it's plain to see the bill was not aimed at established downtown businesses, which schedule acts months in advance and work with nationally known producers.

Despite his backtracking, Squilla and others behind the bill have all said it was meant to weed out problematic artists and crackdown on problematic venues.

It's not too much of a stretch for people to think that means smaller venues in neighborhoods that aren't as economically successful or established as Center City.

It should have been plain to all how this bill would be received - how tone-deaf it is. How it fails to consider that some of the places they would crack down on could help revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

The bill will be fixed, they promise. It never should have been written in the first place.

mnewall@phillynews.com215-854-2759