The Walkmen on stage at Union Transfer | Photo by Matthew Shaver |

Year End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2013 awesome. In this installment, photographer extraordinaire Matthew Shaver tells us about some welcoming aspects of Philadelphia.

I moved to Philly about 3 years ago from a sleepy DC suburb in Virginia.  Having recently grown tired of the quiet life and having to drive EVERYWHERE, I wanted to live in the city.  I love DC, but that place is expensive and small, so I found an opening for a job up here.  I love Philly, and to everyone who has ever used the term “City of Brotherly Love” sarcastically, you’re doing it wrong.  I was welcomed with open arms, made a ton of friends, and got a nice little gig at an awesome radio station taking pictures of live acts to keep me warm at night.  I do miss home, though, but the longer I’m here, the more this feels like where I was meant to be, and here are 5 of the big reasons why this year was better than the last:

1. New HipCityVeg:  Nicole and the staff are amazing.  As someone that likes their vegetarianism without an ounce of pretentiousness, I couldn’t be happier with the experiences I’ve had there.  The opening of a new spot in University City and a new bar venue coming means that she is tightening her grip on the city, and giving me more and more places to sit and eat comfortably.

2. Union Transfer:  If you’re not familiar with the 9:30 Club in DC, next time you go, get familiar.  Union Transfer is shaping up to be a similar experience.  Large enough to feel epic and small enough to feel intimate, the club hosts large A+ talent and smaller acts that require the stage to be pushed forward, but never feels lonely.  Staff is friendly as hell, too.  Every interaction I’ve had with security has been as pleasant as you could hope for, and never have I seen them looking for trouble; they are invisible and react appropriately when it arises.

3. The War On Drugs:  I grew up outside the areas that Ian Mckaye and Fugazi would hang out in.  I was never far removed from someone that had them on speed dial.  The Dismemberment Plan took up a large portion of my teens and early 20’s.  One of the things I needed most when moving up here was a Philly band to fall in love with.  The War On Drugs, with their Dylan-esque vocals, smooth, gentle, rolling waves of guitar ambiance, and simple but intriguing melodies fit the bill perfectly.

4. Webb Camera:  When you’re taking a lot of pictures, you need a friendly place to go for service and to shop around.  Sure, a lot of things can be done over the internet, and yes, they can be a bit pricier, but nothing beats walking in to a small shop like Center City’s Webb Camera, chatting with a friendly staff, browsing new products, and leaving with a feeling that you were helped by a friend.

5.  Boot and Saddle:  I hope this place makes it big.  Every city needs large venues, but also the small ones with acts that will someday play the big ones, some that never will, and some who choose not to.  I feel an attachment to Boot and Saddle in particular because I was there when they opened, and every time since then it has been awesome.  Mostly though, they don’t let the name define them.  Yeah, there is country and folk there for sure, but alt-rock and electronic acts as well.  The separation of the bar and the stage is perfect for the size too, come in and get a drink, and if you’re not there for the show, I don’t have to hear you.  Great staff and food are icing on the cake.