Today we flash back 10 years to December 2000 and the new venue singled out as Venue of The Month on the site…
Edited by David Saslavsky
As a baseball fan, I can’t help but draw parallels between the current trends in ballparks and my favorite music venues. While we love the history and tradition of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, The Great American Music Hall, and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, those can never be replicated. Realizing that the venue is part of the experience, baseball ceased building giant multi-purposed stadiums, and returned to aesthetically beautiful baseball parks such as Camden Yards and Jacobs Field. Today, we are seeing the same renaissance in the new music clubs. These clubs are built to enhance the live music experience with great sound, sightlines, mobility and design. Each has a unique story. Washington DC’s 9:30 club was a former dance hall. Denver’s Gothic Theater was a complete theater restoration. Homegrown Music’s Bryan Rodgers tell us about Norfolk’s newest club, the NorVa, which was formerly…..a health club?
by Bryan Rodgers
First of all, there is no place like The NorVa. Keep that in mind, whether you read the rest of this review or not. This magnificent venue, recently opened in picturesque downtown Norfolk, Virginia, has a classic feel built in and all the qualities it needs to become the premier venue of its size on the east coast. All styles of music are featured, but The NorVa has already hosted some of the biggest names that are popular with jam-oriented music fans, like Medeski, Martin, and Wood, String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Ratdog, Soulive, Charlie Hunter, Jazz Mandolin Project, All Mighty Senators, Lake Trout, and more by the time you read this.
What makes this place so special? For one thing, the ambiance is comfy and upscale. Stained-glass windows line the stage right wall, a chandelier dangles from the ceiling, and ornate fixtures are the norm. “You feel like a rock star when you come here,” says one attendee at The NorVa’s Blue Note Tour show. It is a luxurious space, with its expansive lower floor that features two drink-serving areas that are well positioned and have practically no effect on the flow or comfort of the concertgoers. Chances are you won’t be lost in a herd of people who are trying to get to the bar. The stage is as elevated as you’ll see in a club this size, extending to near amphitheater-style height, and providing excellent views from anywhere on the floor. If you still can’t see, a quick glance upward reveals a video screen, a big one. A quick jaunt up the wide, well-lit stairway and you’ve stepped onto the 2nd level balcony, which is equally if not more comfy than the floor. There’s another full bar that is also well removed from the viewing area, plenty of tables and even more video screens by the bar that allow you to experience constant images from the stage. The view from up there is magnificent, and from straight back the sound is even better than from the soundboard area.
The owners of this former health club-turned-music shrine have also masterfully handled the touchy subject of smoking at shows. While it seems that concertgoers are split right down the middle on this issue, it becomes a forgotten concern once you pass through The NorVa’s entrance. Smoking is not permitted on the second and floor levels, but the third floor boasts a separate lounge that is bigger than some music venues. The three separate rooms of the “smoking lounge”, actually old racquetball courts, are adorned with works of art, leather couches, and tables, plus another drink station. It will easily accommodate the approximately 300 smokers that will attend a sold-out show. There are already video screens, and the speakers that dot the walls will not remain silent for much longer, as plans to pipe live music in are nearing completion.
The music spewing from those speakers is sure to be of the highest quality. Bands that play at The NorVa are bound to be impressed with the venue’s accommodations, which go way beyond making them feel at home. “This is how it should be,” enthuses Soulive keyboardist Neal Evans. “We drove for 6 hours, all cramped up, then we got here and it was like ‘wow’”. The incredibly spacious backstage and other areas of the NorVa contains two hot tubs (remember, it WAS a health club), a washer and dryer, a basketball court, catering room and separate hospitality areas overstocked with food and drink, and all the free pool, foosball, and video gaming you can handle. All of this is contained in a slightly confusing maze of corridors and dozens of rooms. Each band dressing room is unique; at The Blue Note Tour stop, Soulive’s lounge area was a veritable haven of laziness, with two video games, a brand-new pool table, foosball, and swank leather couches. What more could a road-weary musician want? Oh, down the hall is the fully stocked fridge with all kinds of beverages, fruit, and more munchies. Jazz Mandolin Project’s room looked more like the back corner of an upscale Vegas lounge than a nightclub dressing room, with more cushy reclining fixtures and a view of the most luminous part of Norfolk. These are only two of the dozens of rooms that make up the innards of The NorVa, which also houses the offices of Rising Tide Productions.
Rising Tide books shows for the venue and is responsible for bringing the fabulous Backstage Caf� to Norfolk. The Caf�, which boasts locations in Beverly Hills, California and Sydney, Australia, would be a welcome addition to any city. The walls are lined with bona-fide rock memorabilia (most autographed), hundreds of backstage passes from shows in the area, and tributes to classic recordings. It’s a sweet place to hang out before and after the show. The ambiance is wonderful, with whirling stage lights, two eating/drinking areas dubbed “stage right” and “stage left”, and killer music at all times. The Caf� is linked to The NorVa, and fans can purchase tickets for shows and even receive passes that allow them to enter the venue before doors open to the public. It’s just one of many personal touches that make fans feel special and helps make a trip to The NorVa even more memorable.
If you aren’t a rabid concertgoer, one visit to The NorVa will change that. I urge all fans of live music to attend a show at The NorVa to take part in a unique experience: the sharing of music in an all-around comfortable, majestic, and multi-faceted environment.