Richmond may be a small city, but its cultural scene is off the charts.
Richmond may be a small city, but its cultural scene is off the charts. From music, art, and food, to people starting their own unique businesses, it seems almost daily new amazing things are happening around town.
As for the music, the scene has been alive here for a good while now. Veteran Richmond bands like GWAR, Lamb of God, and Avail are known all over the world. Today, bands like NO BS! Brass Band, Black Girls, the Southern Belles and the Trongone Band aren’t doing too poorly either.
The Richmond community is very supportive of its diverse music scene, and for touring bands who travel the East Coast, Richmond tends to be a great destination to build a base.
Though for some, Richmond apparently is one of the hardest cities to book, even for bands who have traveled across the US.
Recently several punk bands from the northeast vocalized their concerns on Facebook and we caught up with them to see what the trouble was.
Derek Rossi, lead singer and guitarist of Boston punk band OC45 voices his experience trying to book in Richmond.
“I know of a handful of venues in town, but have never been able to lock down a date at any of them. Despite reaching out three, four, five months in advance,” said Rossi. “And having, what I’d consider to be, a very good reputation with venues and promoters around the country.”
When booking shows he looks at other bands to see where they’re traveling. He is able to learn from their experiences in order to book the most successful tour.
“I haven’t seen too many of them passing through Richmond,” said Rossi.
This is due to the said ‘difficulty’ of booking shows here in Richmond, he said.
“Richmond needs a go-to promoter. It’s a lot of hard work and a totally thankless job. But if someone were to bite the bullet, it would make the whole process easier,” said Rossi.
Here in Richmond, Independent Booker Alex Wilhelm could arguably be the go-to promoter in the city. But he after all, is one guy and it’s impossible to be able to do it all.
“There just aren’t enough people to handle all of these touring bands,” said Wilhelm. “We have an incredible scene here but when bands are doing their New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-DC-Richmond routes, I think they forget that Richmond population-wise is very minuscule compared to the other cities.”
Over-saturation of touring bands leads to a caseload of emails a day for bookers. With our city being so small and the surplus demand for shows, there’s no real way to accommodate to all of them. For punk bands, one issue is that there is no exclusive ‘punk’ venue that a good amount of other cities have.
“Another solution (for punk, at least) is a go-to venue. In Boston, we have the Midway Cafe. One-hundred person cap, good sound, and they treat bands really well,” said Rossi. “If a touring punk band gets a show there, they’re guaranteed to have a positive experience and put some gas in the tank.”
Strange Matter or the Camel could also be go-to venues for punk but they also have so many other genres (alternative, metal, techno, soul, funk, etc.) that play there.
The Midway Café is the place to play for traveling punk bands in Boston and Richmond does not necessarily have that. Other examples for cities along the East Coast are the Milestone in Charlotte, NC, The Mill in Charleston, SC, and The Green Lantern in Lexington, KY that are very catering to punk bands.
Since Richmond does not have an exclusive ‘punk bar/(s)’, these punk bands have to work a little harder than usual to get a spot at a good venue. Considering our city’s reputation as a cultural hub, and the large number of local bands, there is no doubt that it is hard to book in Richmond.
But the city is welcoming to all things culture and all types of music, so there’s naturally more competition when landing a gig.
The Camel/Broadberry booking agent, Lucas Fritz has some insight on why these punk bands could be having this problem. The crucial thing that bands have to remember is that venues have to make profit. In turn for them booking your show, you have to connect with local bands and do your part promoting.
“I get 50 to 100 emails a day,” said Fritz. “If the email is too long and there are a lot of words I just don’t read it. If you have to sell yourself that hard then [it’s probably not worth his time].”
It is hard to weed through all of the emails to get to the worthwhile bands. Obviously the top priorities are the big name and semi well-known bands. Not to say that some of the skipped over bands aren’t working hard but sometimes when booking a show, you have to work extra hard and differentiate yourself.
Here’s a good approach when going about booking a show and writing an email to a venue:
“‘Hey we have been talking to [some bands in town] x band, y band, and z band that are interested in this date range. Is there anything that could work for us to all play a show?” said Fritz.
“‘Hi I’m this band from Oregon that you’ve never heard of and are coming to the east coast for the first time, can you book us?’” said Fritz.
So what are some good steps a punk band should take when booking a show in Richmond (or anywhere for that matter)?
-Connecting with local bands that have an established crowd and relationships with venues.
-Be willing to do work. Promote a show as much as you can with flyers, passing handbills, getting magazines to write about it. Not just making a Facebook event.
-Don’t make your email too long. Make it short, sweet, and to the point.
-Don’t be too demanding of you what you want if you’ve never played in that city before.
-Give a range of possible dates rather than just one date. Have local bands on board and offer to do gig-swaps.
-Start out doing house shows or at less popular venues to work your way into the scene.