The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar (affectionately known to locals as the “tea house”) has been hosting live music since it opened a decade ago. The first concerts were organized by Jason Andrews (whose business card read “Hospitality Czar”). But since Andrews’ departure in 2006, a dozen different individuals have taken turns working out arrangements with bands, promoting events, and setting up the tiny stage and PA on a nightly basis.
It’s been a fairly informal process. I started hanging out there every night when I first returned to town in 2005, and before long I was asked to design posters, and help collect a cover charge at the door. I worked as the “sound guy” for about two years, despite having no prior experience in sound mixing. I haven’t been an employee there since 2008, but I still design posters every month, and occasionally lend a hand with the set-up.
In recent years, the music at the tea house has been organized by Holy Smokes Booking, a DIY concert booking agency operated first by Jacob Wolf, and then Matt Northrup. Holy Smokes helped to organize a process that was often haphazard and chaotic, while upholding the venue’s reputation as a prime spot for touring bands and locals.
Wolf and Northrup left town recently and the booking is now in the hands of Amanda Laskey, who’s been working behind the scenes at the tea house for some time. She began as an intern for Holy Smokes in 2011, giving her a foot in the door in her fledlging career in the music industry. “It turned out to be a lot more work and responsibility than I expected because Jacob moved to Brooklyn,” Laskey said. “I thought I would just be putting up flyers, but I ended up talking to bands and booking agents. In a bigger town, it would never work like that.”
Laskey handles the booking under the name Lap the Miles (after her favorite Emily Dickenson poem). She’s continued to book shows weekly, despite not currently being in Charlottesville. The rising fourth-year at UVA is in New York for a summer internship at the Museum of Modern Art, and is arranging events remotely by e-mail. The physical work of the day-to-day operations has been left to musician and WTJU DJ Zak Krone, with assistance from fellow WTJU DJ and Nailgun Media blogger Joy Merton.
“I wanted to run the shows without having to book them, and Amanda wanted to book the shows without having to run them,” Krone explained.
With a good working system in place, the new team has put together a promising line-up. The coming week alone sees indie darlings Widowspeak (July 10), a show of local bands headlined by local vets Girl Choir (July 11), as well as a concert on July 9 in which the similarly-named Shark Week, Desert Sharks, and Sharkopath will all share billing.
“There’s so many amazing shows coming up,” said Krone, “like Woods with Parquet Courts, and the Love Language show, and the So So Glos are coming back. Matt did a ton to turn this place around, and Amanda has really run with it. The last show Matt booked, The Men, that was like a dream. I couldn’t believe it was taking place there.” Indeed, the stop was unlikely, as every other tour date on The Men’s schedule was at a venue with a capacity of several hundred.
Krone was initially attracted to the tea house because of the access. “For years, it was the only place [my band] Left and Right could get a show” he said. “We were a shitty college band, and it took forever for us to get halfway decent, and that was the only place that would let us play.” It quickly became Krone’s favorite local venue as an audience member, as well as a performer. “It’s cool to be able to see something like The Flaming Lips at the Pavilion, but the shows you’re going to brag to your friends about having seen, five years from now, are going to be at the Tea Bazaar,” said Krone. “And all the local bands have played their best sets at the Tea Bazaar—The Fire Tapes, Invisible Hand, Miami Nights, Great Dads—it brings out more of an edge in local acts.”
“Bands and their agents have developed relationships with [the venue] over time, and it’s made my job a lot easier,” said Laskey. “It’s a place that a lot of bands are excited to play. Although when they first come in, they look very confused about where they’re going to play, before we have the stage set up.”
“It has the worst load-in in America,” Krone admitted. “They’ve got to get everything up those two tiny flights of stairs, and then it’s a million degrees in that room. But having toured and played all these other venues, you come to realize that it’s amazing how well the Tea Bazaar treats touring bands, how much they care about making sure that people want to come back, making sure it has a good reputation…when I’m paying people out at the end of the night, they’re always really excited about coming back.”
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