Getting To Know Josh Coplon, Creative Director for LAVA Music Festival

by James Duval

I recently sat down with the creator of the LAVA Festival about his vision for the event, how he got started, and where he wants to go next.

LAVA Music festival is an independently and locally owned music festival that will take place on Saturday, May 28th at O'Connor Brewing Company in Norfolk, Virginia. The festival will feature 9 bands on 2 stages with no overlapping sets, craft beer from O'Connor Brewing Co. and a selection of some of Hampton Road's best food trucks. More information can be found at www.lavafestival.com

 

James Duval (JD): The first thing that strikes me about you is that you’re only 23 years old. How and when did you decide to get into the festival industry?

Josh Coplon (JC): I’m lucky that I’ve been driven and had the vision early on. I started promoting shows when I was 15, so I’ve known I wanted to go into this field. I saw Sigur Ros at Lollapalooza in 2012 and at the time I’d been thinking about the festival industry and what I was going to do when I graduate. It was really a life-changing moment for me. So I just decided ‘this is what I want to do’ and got the ball rolling. In my last two years of school, I spent time on LAVA and getting to where we are today.

 

(JD): I remember reading that you’d interned for an overseas festival.

 

(JC): In fall of 2013, I did an internship with Iceland Airwaves, a 5-day venue-based festival in Reykavik. It’s a relatively small festival population-wise; there’s about 7000 people that attend, which isn’t really that small, but in the world of festivals it’s considered small.

 

(JD): How did that prepare you for a career in the industry? A lot of times when you hear the word “internship”, you imagine being the guy who gets everyone’s coffee, so you obviously avoided that route.

(JC): Iceland Airwaves was the perfect example of a working internship. I was the Artists Relations and off-venue intern. A big part of Iceland Airwaves is what’s called the off-venue program, which is a series of free shows that take place in the days leading up to the festival. It’s really elaborate – when I was working there, I worked for 48 different venues to put on 656 different individual performances. Off-venues range from places like bars where only 30 people can fit in, hospitals, libraries, a men’s clothing store; there was no rhyme or reason to where they could happen, just that they could happen anywhere. So if there were any international bands that wanted to play an off-venue show, I was in charge of that.

The other side was the Artists Relations side. Since there’s so many international artists coming, my boss would book their flights and I’d coordinate their hotels, as well as all the transportation while they’re there, which put me on call pretty much 24 hours a day. I’d get a call from a manager at 3:00 in the morning asking where the bus was that was supposed to get there at 3:30, even though it was still 3:00 in the morning. It was an insane amount of work in the best possible way. That was a big part of my learning experience; it gave me a lot of insight to the festival professional world.

 

 

(JD): And yet, after having these incredible experiences in a foreign country and studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, you made the choice to return to Norfolk. Up until recently, this city hasn’t really been famous for hosting a lot of smaller acts. So what made you come back?

(JC): My brother Andrew was a promoter in the area in the early 2000’s. He could only promote shows for the venue he worked for, so I started seeing a gap for bands that wanted to play shows, especially underage shows. So when I was 15 I booked my first show – Audiostrobelight at the 40th Street Stage. I kept booking shows there and thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ It’s really been fate ever since. I just have a deep connection to this area and I want to see Norfolk turn into a cultural center. Sometimes I would come home and I get bummed at the lack of things going on here, so it was a sense of good timing with me coming home and the Arts District starting and the Parlor on Granby opening. And personally, I’m invested in working for myself and if I move back to a major music hub, there’s already 50 people doing what I’m doing. This way I’m able to keep growing with the community and seeing where it goes.

 

 

(JD): This year’s lineup has a lots of local and statewide connections to the Virginia music scene. Was that an intentional decision?

(JC): A lot of pieces for it just fell in place. It’s so awesome to have such a strong Virginia presence at LAVA this year, which was intentional, but also not. Natalie Prass was one of my favorite artists to put out an album last year. She could have come from Colorado and I still would have wanted to book her. Major and the Monbacks are good friends and it’s great to have them back this year. And with Mathhew E White, there’s a Spacebomb connection with Natalie and Major and the Monbacks, who have both recorded albums there. Josiah from Ladada is also a friend though I actually had never seen him play until a LAVA warm-up show last year, but once I did, I was hooked. I’m semi-familiar with Lucy Dacus; she’s an up-and-coming artist from Richmond who has a lot of steam behind her. I have friends in the Richmond community who told me, ‘Hey, you should really check her out and take her more seriously.’ This was before Rolling Stone named her a top artist to watch in 2016 or Bob Boilen named her one of his favorite discoveries of 2016, which are beautiful things. It’s really important to me to be able to support the Virginia community. Like with Kishi Bashi last year; he’s a well-known name from this area, tours nationally, internationally, but also a good name to have [on the bill].

 

(JD): So there have been some changes in venue since the initial announcement with the venue changing to O’Connor’s and reducing the event to one-day. Was there ever a thought to scrap the festival and try again next year?

(JC): We ran into some circumstances that were out of our control, but we just ran with the punches. It was never the goal to cancel the event. Having it at O’Connor’s this year is very exciting. We’re all very invested in seeing the long-term growth of the festival. We’re not just a two-year or one-year event. This is something the area really needs. As we see the growth of everything happening, I think that’s just going to help tie LAVA in. Five years from now to already have this music festival happening could be huge. I think something unrelated to LAVA that also should be said is that the music coming to The Norva and Hampton Roads has been phenomenal this year. There are an amazing number of shows that I’m full on stoked to see. It’s cool to see what our music scene is evolving into. It makes me really happy. And to have more local bands opening for national bands is great. Sometimes it’s hard for local bands to break out of their immediate friends group that they play to so it’s a good opportunity for the couple hundred people at The Norva that probably have never heard of these bands or thought of the local music scene to get exposed and help the bands break out.

 

(JD): And what’s in the future for Josh Coplon? Besides a lot of shows.

(JC): LAVA Music Festival. May 28th. O’Connor Brewing Company. Tickets available at www.lavafestival.com. Once we get through that, we’re sealocked. Hopefully just more and more music. That’s really all I want to do, just bring as much music here as possible.  

 

 

Festival Lineup

 

Minus The Bear

 

Charles Bradley & The Extraordinaires

 

Dan Deacon

 

Natalie Prass

 

Matthew E. White

 

No BS! Brass Band

 

Major and the Monbacks

 

Lucy Dacus

 

Ladada