UPDATE: Have your gear stolen in Philly

I wrote about this recently and the Inquirer has followed my lead. The following article was in the Sunday paper about a week ago.

Rock Philly, then lose your guitar

By Mitch Lipka
Inquirer Staff Writer

Being a rock band traveling through Philadelphia is proving to be a rough gig.

At least eight bands have had their equipment stolen while on tour in the city since March, the most recent this month. In fact, it has gotten so bad the City of Brotherly Love has developed a less than warm and fuzzy reputation on the touring circuit.

Alan Redmond, drummer for La Rocca – the latest to have its van and equipment stolen – shared words of wisdom he gleaned from other traveling bands.

“Don’t walk on the street at night in Detroit, and don’t park your van in Philadelphia,” he said.

A common thread among the thefts is the locations – most took place in motel parking lots, mainly in South Philadelphia or near Philadelphia International Airport.

Many of the bands have asserted they are the target of an organized ring that seeks out bands because of the value of their equipment.

Philadelphia police disagree.

“They think there is this conspiracy and they’re being targeted,” said Sgt. Joe Cella of the Major Crimes Unit. “They’re not.”

He said the bands seem to be parking their vehicles in the wrong place at the wrong time. The areas where their vans and equipment have been taken happen to be places where lots of other vehicles are stolen – the vast majority containing no musical equipment, Cella said.

“What we have is groups that spring up periodically that target the hotels, the airport area, where you would have transient clientele,” he said.

Investigators said that when thieves take a band’s vehicle, it is simply a bonus for them to get so much merchandise that they can cash in on.

La Rocca, a rock band that hails from Ireland but has been based in Los Angeles for the last year, had to cancel three of the last four dates of its tour that ended last week.

Redmond said the band was able to play its last show because 20 to 30 bands offered to share their equipment for an L.A. show. Some of the $30,000 worth of instruments and gear that was taken, he said, dates from the childhoods of band members.

The band members stayed around Philadelphia for a week going to pawnshops and music stores to try to find some of their equipment. What they found, Redmond said, was that store owners were aware of the thefts and would be hunting for the equipment.

Because these thefts, at least for a time, knock bands out of business, the groups typically quickly post details of the crimes on their Web sites to alert fans and sometimes solicit donations.

“It’s just really unfortunate,” said Vazquez, the one-named bassist for the Boston-based band Damone. “You’re stealing from real people – people who don’t really have any money.”

Damone had its van and gear stolen in October and was in the city last week to pick up its van, which was recovered absent any of its contents.

The seemingly mounting number of band thefts, including those taking place elsewhere, caught the attention of music fan Andrew Jastremski. He started a site called stolengear.org dedicated to publicizing the crimes and helping the bands recover their equipment.

As it turns out, Jastremski is a lifelong Philadelphia resident and none too surprised the city has a soiled reputation among bands.

“It’s bad for Philly,” he said. “Philly’s got bad PR coming from every direction. This is just one more thing.”

Among the other bands that have played Philadelphia and left without their instruments:

Kyle Riabko (May).

Easily Amused (May).

Luce (May).

Ambulette (April).

Rosie Thomas (April).

Film School (March).

While these bands are not stadium headliners, their equipment – normally contained in vans, sometimes with trailers – can be worth $25,000 or more.

Vazquez said Damone’s van and more than $40,000 worth of gear were taken from outside an airport-area motel in broad daylight while he was eating breakfast. He said he isn’t angry about what happened and mostly hasn’t soured on the city.

“This place is awesome. There’s plenty of good food and everything,” he said. “It’s still a great city. I just don’t think we’ll be able to stay here ever again.”