By Jeff Maisey
Norfolk’s local underground music scene has a long history of young, upstart guys who take it upon themselves to seek-out a potential venue and book a mix of homegrown talent as well as lure the occasional nationally touring independent band on an off-night between gigs in major markets like Washington, DC and the tried-and-true college town circuit including Raleigh/Durham.
In recent months, Charlie’s American Café, in the Riverview section of Norfolk, has become the new hot spot to check out bands, thanks to the willingness of proprietor Ted Warren and a trio of musician/promoters – Tyler Warnalis, Benjamin Briggs and Andrew Briggs – operating as TBA Productions.
Friend and fellow promoter Josh Coplon, on the other hand, began his LAVA Productions company with the idea of creating a large, outdoor indie-pop music festival out at Suffolk Airport. With lessons learned, Coplon has begun promoting LAVA Mini-Fests at venues such as Toast and O’Connor Brewing Company.
I recently caught up with Coplon and Warnalis at Charlie’s for a quick Q&A.
VEER: What was the first concert you ever attended?
Tyler: Oh, wow. Actually the first concert I went to was Woodstock in ’99, and that was quite an experience with a lot of cool bands. There were some riots at the end of the festival too. Very unlike the first Woodstock. I don’t know what convinced my parents to let me go.
Josh: I have a double answer. The first concert was NSYNC when I was five. No shame. But then the first concert that sort of brought me back into reality was Flogging Molly at The NorVa in like 2003.
VEER: Off the top of your head, what are your top three favorite bands?
Josh: My current three favorites Big Thief, Broken Social Scene and Pinegrove. All over the diversity scale of music.
Tyler: One of my favorite current bands is Buck Gooter from Harrisonburg, Virginia. They have an exciting live performance. Another favorite band is Cake. And…Sonny & Gabe – local.
VEER: How did you get into the business of being a concert promoter?
Josh: My brother (Andrew) used to book shows in early 2000 under Innuendo Entertainment. When he started working at The NorVa, which he is no longer with, there were no all-ages local shows going on. I was 15 and I identified a market. I had friends now known as Super Doppler, previously known as Major & the Monbacks; people who had nowhere to play. I started booking shows at 40th Street Stage, which was across from Felini’s. That’s how I got in the door. I found I really liked it.
When it came time to go do school it was do I go for meteorology, which was really my life plan, or do I go to school for music business? When I got accepted into Berklee I obviously went in that direction.
I came home and was out of the scene for four years except for a random show or two. Then I reinvented myself through LAVA stuff and The Parlour. It kept going from there.
Tyler: I started out playing music in this area six or so years ago with DJP & Mr. T. Before that with my cousin, Skye Zentz.
Getting into music promotion had a lot to do with Ted Warren, the owner of Charlie’s. He approached me to see if my band could play at Charlie’s. I was curious what they had going on there. I went and checked it out. I got in touch with Ben Briggs who lives in the neighborhood and had been doing shows for a long time. He and I walked through and thought it was a good place to start doing something a little bit bigger than he was doing out of his house, and more experimental and diverse than the area has seen for a little while. We want to have a focus on building shows around bands coming through the area. A step above DIY, but with that same attitude.
Working with Josh at both of his LAVA festivals was an inspiration, just being able to see what was possible in this area, and how to organize and work with people. So I owe a big part to Josh as well.
VEER: What have you learned about the business side of music in the last year?
Josh: You can never go with what you think. I originally thought LAVA was going to be larger than it was given the bands we brought in. No one seemed to want to go to Suffolk. They didn’t know where it was. They couldn’t associate.
What I’ve learned, too, is this area is a fortunate and unfortunate circumstance in that there hasn’t been a venue or promoters trying to bring bands here that I would like to do or the size of the band. I like Shaka’s, but that’s really for punk shows, rap shows, and some jam things. They book a great schedule and diverse shows, but a show that I would want to book, generally speaking, like Of Montreal, people wouldn’t go because people just don’t like to travel. I’ve learned that you have to look at your demographic and really understanding the market.
When people want to see a concert they immediately check The NorVa’s website. Our challenge is how do we break people from only thinking of local or any music only being at The NorVa? I love The NorVa. I go all the time. It’s probably my favorite venue. However, there’s more music in the area than just that. It’s figuring out just to get people to know about things going on. I’ll talk to people who have no clue what LAVA is – which is fine – but then they’ll tell me Of Montreal is their favorite band of all time. I’m like, well they played here three times in the last two-and-a-half years. They have no clue. The challenge is in reaching our audience, and it’s hard.
Tyler: Touching on what Josh said, just making sure you can touch people through all kinds of ways. It’s just the world we live in now where you have to hit social media really hard and talk to people face-to-face. It’ll all very important. We set out this year to make sure we had a clear schedule and calendar for Charlie’s. We put out a calendar every month that has all the shows listed on it. Just conveying information and getting people to realize it’s there.
VEER: What do you have coming up that you’re most excited about?
Josh: On June 17, we have the Super Doppler, formally known as Major & the Monbacks, Block Party at Bold Mariner Brewing Company. It’s also their album release.
Then July 22 is the next (LAVA) Mini Fest at Toast with Screaming Females, Suburban Living, You’re Jovian, and bunch of other great bands.
We’re going to do a block party in Virginia Beach at the WRV/Three Ships parking lot in July.
Tyler: right now we’re working on a show July 10 that is going to feature Today’s The Day and a few locals. To play with Today’s the Day is something we’re all really excited about. Part of it is making connections with bands we really like.
In August, we’re planning a show with Buck Gooter around my birthday. Later in August we’re hosting You’ll Never Get to Heaven. In September we’re going to be helping to put on Norfolk Zine Fest.