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Marley McNamara: “Tending Bar is a Job. Music is My Career.”

October 21, 2015

MarleyMcNamaraOnline01As part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For a recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III caught up with Marley McNamara, the manager of The Districts and other Philly bands who also serves drinks at World Cafe Live … and was recently hired to help run shows at Johnny Brenda’s.

Marley McNamara never wanted to manage bands or artists. She didn’t know what she wanted to do. She just knew she loved music.

“I’ve always been a huge music fan ever since I was a kid,” McNamara says.

While growing up, she tried to learn to play piano and the bass guitar but it didn’t stick. She was more interested in the artists. She caught The White Stripes at The Trocadero in 1999 and everything began to fall into place.

“I was just so blown away by Jack White,” she remembers. “I knew I wanted to be a part of music.”

She went to Rider University to study journalism but she eventually switched to a public relations major.

After graduation, she returned to her hometown and began tending bar, first at Thomas’ Restaurant & Bar in Manayunk and then at World Café Live.

McNamara attended a music festival at The Fire in Northern Liberties and she befriended Ron Gallo, then the frontman of the band Toy Soldiers. Through Gallo, McNamara eventually became friends with members of other bands, like Levee Drivers and The Lawsuits. She soon found herself deep in this blues-based, Americana scene that was burgeoning in the city.

A few years later, she was talking to Gallo and some of the members of Levee Drivers and she said, “I don’t really know what a manager does but if I was to manage any bands, it would be one of you two.”

Levee Drivers became her first client.

Three weeks later, The Districts filled-in for a last minute set at World Café Live. The teenagers from Lititz – most of the guys were only 16 then – blew away the crowd.

McNamara approached them after their set and said, “Come to the green room. I want to talk to you.”

“We were definitely a little intimidated,” says Robby Grote, the lead singer of The Districts. “We thought we played too loud.”

Instead, McNamara asked, “Do you guys want to do this when you grow up?”

She soon started managing the band. She got them in the studio, they made a video that went viral and just as the bandmates moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, they signed a label deal with Fat Possum Records. They dropped out of college and have been on fire ever since. The Districts opened for The Rolling Stones in Quebec this summer, performing before 100,000 people. Keith Richards selected the band himself.

McNamara handles budgeting, promotion and publicity, as well as deals with their various agents and label reps. It’s a 24/7 job.

“I eat, sleep and breath those kids,” McNamara says. “I’m like the CEO of their business.”

“It’s nice to know we have someone we can always trust,” says Grote.

She continues to manage Levee Drivers, as well as Pine Barons, Peter Matthew Bauer and Ali Wadsworth.

“Marley is a very intelligent, and very genuine individual,” says Colin Smith from Pine Barons. “She’s extremely passionate for what she does. When you leave a conversation with her, you have all the groups she’s involved with drilled into your head.”

McNamara was recently hired to help runs shows at Johnny Brenda’s. And she still tends bar at World Café. Every once in a while, she has to take phone calls or respond to texts while she’s pouring drinks.

“I have my priorities in check,” she says. “Tending bar is a job. Music is my career.”

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