A few years ago, Brian Coakley was a student at the University of Tennessee, the host of a weekly late-night electronic dance music show on WUTK, and a fledgling live-music promoter. One of the first big shows he worked on, in 2009, was an appearance by alt-hip-hop producer and DJ RJD2 at the Valarium, booked by AC Entertainment.
Coakley is bringing RJD2 back to the same space this weekend. But the circumstances are a lot different now.
The former Valarium space, part of a massive warehouse complex just north of downtown, near the junction of Interstates 275 and 40, is now known as the International and is run by Coakley and a small staff. They’ll be celebrating the venue’s first anniversary with RJD2’s return to Knoxville on Saturday, June 6.
“We’re all really excited about it,” Coakley says. “We all love his music. And for Midnight Voyage, in particular, which is a big part of the backbone of this business, it was one of the first shows that we really started helping promote back when AC brought him to the Valarium in 2009. That was one of the first shows where we got our hands dirty with the promotion and spreading the word on the streets. A lot of us are really into his music, and he’s super-amazingly talented, so we’re really pumped about the show.”
The International space has been an off-and-on nightclub and concert space since the late 1980s, first as the Orpheus, then in at least two different incarnations as the Electric Ballroom. From 2007 to 2012, it was the Valarium, with an adjacent building used as a smaller venue and bar space. For most of 2013, it was the Blackstock. Coakley, who had worked at the Valarium, and his team took over the lease after the Blackstock shut down and hosted their first show last June. An adjacent building operates as the Concourse for smaller shows.
“It’s been a wild ride, for sure,” Coakley says.
The rapid turnover of the Valarium to the Blackstock to the International has given the location a reputation as a kind of Bermuda Triangle for clubs. But Coakley and his team have managed to keep the venue booked on a regular basis with a mix of EDM acts, hip-hop, hard rock and metal, indie rock, cover bands, and occasional country performers. Coakley says the club has averaged at least three shows a week. “We haven’t been closed a lot,” he says.
The club’s most productive run came in late April and early May, when three consecutive shows at the International—melodic metal act In This Moment, rapper Big Sean, and Marilyn Manson—all sold out.
“That felt good,” Coakley says. “That was a huge morale booster. I’m glad that happened recently, because it helped give everybody a boost in confidence and it signaled that we were really starting to become known, not just an underground thing.”
Gary Mitchell, the owner of the Valarium, frequently talked about his plans to expand the clubs into a stand-alone warehouse entertainment district. Those grandiose plans never materialized. Now that Coakley’s been running the 70,000-square-foot space on his own for a year, he’s started having the same vision. He has no immediate plans, but he sees the possibilities.
“I’d love to see it expand into all the different space we have one day—just turn it into an entertainment megaplex,” he says. “I think it’s mostly a money thing—it would cost millions. But it would be amazing. It could be its own entertainment district, like the Old City.”
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