by GW Miller III
Run into multi-instrumentalist Josh Pannepacker and there’s a good chance he’s smiling, having just made an amusing observation or offered a fond memory. And you’ll most likely find him in a bar with a Rowhouse Red or Walt Wit in his hand.
“Yeah,” he says, “I’ve played in most of the bars in Philly.”
These days, he’s the sound engineer at Ortlieb’s, keeping bands happy six nights per week by adjusting their audio levels and creating a moody atmosphere with the lights.
When he isn’t at the club, he’s most likely playing, practicing or touring with one of his many, many musical projects—Cheerleader (which spent a few weeks touring the UK in May), Sad Actor, Sun Airway, Trouble Everyday, Streetwalkers, Cops on Dirtbikes, Cocoon or Shorty Boy-Boy (his solo passion project).
Countless other bands preceded those.
“I love playing with people, creating with them,” Pannepacker says. “Mix chemistry with people and you get wild flowers.”
The move to being a nightly sound guy started on April 1, when he was hired by Kyle Costill, the manager at Ortlieb’s and collaborator with Pannepacker on multiple musical projects.
“It wasn’t a joke, either,” says Pannepacker. “Kyle was talking about this for months.”
“I wanted someone who everybody likes and who really cares about the work they’re doing,” says Costill. “He is a dude of the music scene. I wanted someone at the helm who was invested in the scene. There’s nobody better than Josh.”
Running sound wasn’t a new venture for the 30-year old from South Jersey. He also works sound and video at weddings and parties for an events company. He served as a recording engineer at WXPN with the legendary Gene Shay. He interned at The Studio (now MilkBoy The Studio), worked at Indre Studios and even ran his own studio in South Philadelphia for about a year. He also taught drums, guitar and bass at the School of Rock.
“It was more of a hobby,” he says of his behind-the-scenes life in music. “I was able to get money out of it and it was better than a job at a coffee shop.”
He shines the most, however, when he’s on stage, in front of a crowd. Regardless of whether he is drumming for Sun Airway, on a cross-country tour with M83, or pounding the keyboard with Cheerleader at Kung Fu Necktie, Pannepacker is constantly dancing, smiling, flirting with the crowd and inviting everyone to have a good time.
“He really is a true showman,” says fellow Philly performer, Ang Bocca. “He has balls. As an audience member, I like people that really go for it on stage. Music with a pulse and performance with guts. He has both.”
Because he’s performed in so many bars and venues, he appreciates considerate staff who assist the musicians. Now he tries to be that guy.
“How would you like your vocals affected?” Pannepacker asks singers before shows. “It’s hard to find a sound guy who really lives the stuff.”
The only problem is that he’s seeing talent on a nightly basis, providing a world of potential collaborations.
“If you’re cool and you do cool stuff,” Pannepacker says,” I want to work with you.”