The Mayor of Spin: Philadelphia's Michael Nutter on Hosting One of the Country's Biggest Free Concerts

Philadelphia's Michael Nutter on hosting one of the country's biggest free concerts - and how DJ'ing prepared him for politics

As the birthplace of the Constitution and home of the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia goes big for the Fourth of July. This year is no exception, as the city plays hosts to the annual Wawa Welcome America festival's Philly 4th of July Jam, the largest free outdoor concerts in the country telecast live on VH1. The concert, which launched in the early 1990s but has picked up steam since Mayor Michael Nutter took office in 2007, this year features Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran and local stars The Roots, among others. But there's an important name missing from the talent roster: Nutter himself. The former DJ, who did a full-length non-karaoke cover of "Rapper's Delight" at his second inauguration in 2012, is more than qualified - but less than enthusiastic about taking the stage. "I'm a small-crowd-venue person," says Nutter, 56. "I'm going to leave that to the professionals."

In the '80s, Nutter was the professional, calling himself Mix Master Mike (not to be confused with the Beastie Boys DJ). Partygoers could listen to him spin at local club Impulse, where he worked for nearly nine years, starting at age 19. "I wasn't just the DJ. I carried ice and even worked the door," says Nutter. A beefier bouncer may have been able to get by on bulk alone, but Nutter points out that not being "the biggest man" meant he had to become a master negotiator. It's a skill he still uses as a politician, and not the only one he learned at Impulse. "The essence of being a good DJ is one of the most essential components of being an elected official: You have to know your audience," says Nutter, who says that meeting politicians at the club showed him the career he wanted. Two years later, he mounted his first political campaign, losing his first time out but winning a city council seat in 1991.

He may have put down the mic, but Nutter wants to expand the city's reach with festivals. Aside from the 4th of July Jam, there also is Jay Z's Made in America festival (launched in 2012, with input from the mayor, it had a reported $10 million impact on the city's coffers). "The art and creative scene here has really increased in recent years," he says, adding that in 2015 the city hopes to also host a jazz festival. And since Nutter admits that he is working on a new rap cover to replace "Rapper's Delight," there's still the chance for a surprise full set at a future festival.

-Ayana Byrd


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