Interview with Matt Hansen [Bianca Wieck]



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00:00:00 - The Founding of the Camel and How It Runs

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Partial Transcript: BW: Ok, hi my name is Bianca Wieck, it is October 30th, and I am interviewing Matt Hansen, owner of Camel-

MH: That’s correct.

BW: -a venue on Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia. So, first of all, could you explain what the Camel is?

MH: We are a music, a lower-tier music venue for the city that gears towards local and regional music, so, local bands, up and coming bands, bands coming through the city that have not had a history here before, people trying to basically tour up and down the East Coast. You know, we get bands from Tennessee, North, South Carolina, Maryland, like, we’re like a nice hub for people to get their feet wet with the Richmond market.

BW: Awesome, so, and then how do you get bands from other states? How do you advertise to them?

MH: So, we have a number of things. One thing is that we offer residencies to bands to try to help them grow that we see potential, we give them a monthly residency, sometimes a weekly residency. So we’ll offer them an opportunity and what they do is, and this is like the legal side of stuff, we’ll ask for an exclusivity clause or a proximity clause so that, like, two weeks on either side of their residency, we’ll have them come in and it helps, basically, we limit them playing around locally within half an hour, 45 minutes within the city so that they concentrate on making their single monthly residencies huge. But then what they do is they’ll trade, so when they go on the road, they’ll tell bands about the Camel, so they’ll try to do a show trade, they’ll use their residency here as an opportunity for out of town bands to come play for them. So that’s one way we get our name out a little bit, but that’s probably the least of all of them, we have booking agencies, my partner Lucas who’s a part-owner of the Broadberry, he has access to networking that he’s been working on since before we owned the place, under the previous owner he worked and learned the tricks of the trade, and I kind of worked alongside him as well. But basically, honestly, we’ve gotten to the point now where our name is so big and it’s been in existence for so long that we have three of us handling the booking, cuz we’re overwhelmed with the amount of people trying to book shows here. So, we don’t, we no longer have to try to reach out to bands, we have booking agencies that work with us locally, and we have bands hitting us up from all over the place trying to play here. So, it’s, you know, it was a lot of work building that network up, but now we have the benefit of it being already solidified. We have so many people, we have a booking email, we have a personally receive hundreds of emails a day. But I imagine in the beginning it was a lot of phone calls and emails back and forth in coordination. Now it’s about time management, with the local bands to match with the correct out of town bands, and stuff. Does that answer your question? That was like long-winded, I’m sorry.

BW: No, no, absolutely, no worries, so, do you have a sense of how it was founded? Or what values it was founded on?

MH: Yeah sure, so actually it started as a, I believe, a coffee shop slash social meet-up spot, and then in the 90s it kind of grew into a political staging area as well as- um, have you been here before?

BW: No, not on this part of Broad Street, no.

MH: Ok, so, if you look in the building, what used to be the far side which is currently the venue side, was a big hall for people to meet up and they had readings and acoustic acts in this area here, and then eventually those people sold the business to the owner before us, the current owners, and he built out the bar, built out the kitchen, built out the stage, and started developing the musical aspect, and then about three and a half years ago we bought it from him and continued it rolling. The place was kind of dilapidated and falling apart, pretty dingy, actually someone told me the other day, one of my employees told me that he said he works all over town, at like three or four venues, and he’s like, the Camel’s the most corporate, meaning we have rules, we have standards and systems for everything now. And at first I was kind of like, that makes us seem not that cool, but at the same time I’m like that’s what we’ve worked for, that’s what we’ve strived to make sure people aren’t like smoking pot behind, or, um, we’ve tried to bring the place up a level. But it started out as this social place, this kind of artistic hangout, and the music sort of built up, and now our main focus is the music. Our focus now is being employee-owned and operated trying to develop local bands, and being a place for local and regional bands to come through, and start… I’m just gonna keep talking until these things until you stop me.

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen discusses how the Camel was founded, how it attracts musicians locally and regionally, and how the Camel keeps afloat in the competitive music industry.

Keywords: Broad Street; Camel; advertise; booking; local; music; name; network; regional; social; trade; values

Subjects: Broad Street venue; band booking; building; developing music; history of the Camel; music venue

00:05:17 - Types of Audience Members at the Camel

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Partial Transcript: BW: Haha, no that’s ideal, don’t worry, so, who attends the shows? What kind of people attend?

MH: Everybody. I mean it’s funny, we’ll get folks calling up here, folks coming in and they’re like, am I too old? And I’m like, no never. The only time we limit is on busy nights, or if we have a third party agency booking a show here, they’ll ask due to an artist request through like a writer or terms of contract, only 21 and up, or no under 18 or 16. But we’re an all ages club, like, I guess you can say that the people you expect to see her are the types of people that appreciate the music we book, and we book all types of music. So we do Country, Hip Hop, Bluegrass, Americano, Jam, Indie, and everything in between, like everything. Like right now, since we’re up the street from the VCU Single Center, and a lot of us went to VCU, are grads of VCU, or grew up in Richmond, so we have a huge staple for the VCU basketball crowd. They come before the games, they leave and a lot of them don’t even care about the music. But some of them will come back, because they’re both VCU fans and music fans so like, you know, all types and sizes for sure.

BW: So then the people that come to these shows, are they interested in like one type of music, is it just people that like all the types of music you give?

MH: So, it’s mostly the idea of live music. And there aren’t as many of those that come here or that exist in general that just want to be around live music all the time, but we have like 20 to 25 people I’d say that are here 3 to 4 times a week just to come to be around music. Then there’s like the step up, where they’re big fans. Like we have fans of the Jam crowd, the EDM, and they’re here for all those types of shows. And then there’s like the next tier up that are people, usually musicians themselves, who will come for Bluegrass on Friday night or be here at an Indie Rock show on Tuesday. It’s- what’s up guys?

(conversation with customers leaving venue:
Customer: We’ve been lookin for ya!
MH: Right on, sorry guys, I’ll see you next time though!)

MH: Um, sorry about that, those are like some VCU guys, but yeah, so, the musician-types are here more often, coming to see their buddies play, or have the time, sitting in for a show. But I’d say the scene of Richmond is divvied up for sure, they sort of flock to wherever the music is playing, if it’s on Cary Street here at Strange Matter or house shows, underground venues and stuff, like wherever their core friends or musician buddies are playing at the time, yeah.

BW: So then, what kind of demographic attends your shows? Is it, a different ethnicity attending one show, or people from everywhere?

MH: Um, usually, people from everywhere. I’d say, um, depends. I don’t know, we hope to get everybody. But certain shows will have, predominantly, like Jams will have a bunch of like, you know, young white college kids. While the Hip Hop scene it ranges, again that depends on the performers, who’s the lineup and who booked the show. And that goes into who they cater to, advertising, marketing to. But the demographic, again, goes to what I was saying about all ages and sizes, and stuff, but it’s definitely, there are some shows where we can expect, um, uh, a particular demographic, I guess, for sure.

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen reveals who exactly attends the Camel's shows, what type of music they listen to, and what demographic they mostly are.

Keywords: attend; demographic; everybody; fans; live music; people; show

Subjects: advertsing; demographic; fan base; musician-types

00:09:49 - Musicians at the Camel

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Partial Transcript: BW: Ok, so what type of musicians does the Camel usually feature? I mean, I know you talked about different genres, but are they same, like, middle-aged, white guys?

MH: Oh yeah, no, the musicians are actually the most dynamic. I would say yeah, for sure, I mean, which we love to see. And I’ve even discussed this with some of the guys, by guys, I mean men and women, just, kinda like the Northern way of saying ya’ll, ya know, that book the shows are definitely trying to keep the dynamic where, uh, there’s a push right now for more female presence, for sure. So, some folks more than others pay attention, so like you know, part of the industry is that you want to play for people that enjoy the music but you also want to branch out to new clients, new listeners, that will dig your music. Like, folks that will come to one show, might not know about this one bands that’s slightly different, so if you try to mix the two together to like, cross the crowds to build the band up, and with that, uh, you know, the diversity of music, some people say, you know, we need more female front women! Like, rocking it out, singing, again, in general, the musicians themselves are of every ethnicity, sex, or in between and everything. But, I’ve noticed a push for more female presence for sure.

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen talks about the type of musicians that are featured at the Camel, and the push for more female artists.

Keywords: bands; dynamic; female presence; musicians; singing; type

Subjects: female presence; new clients; type of musicians

00:11:29 - Broad Street Venue History

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Partial Transcript: BW: So then, going to Broad Street, do you know the history of any of the venues on Broad Street? Are there any other venues on Broad Street with you?

MH: Yeah, so there’s, um, Broadberry down the street, don’t know why I forgot the name of that my partner is an owner there and I helped open it up when it first started. There used to be, wow, so now you’re gonna date me, because I’ve been here a long time. I’m not from Richmond, but I’ve been here for almost 20 years, um, so I’m old. But, yeah, so there’s these places, there used to be Rockets downt the road, by VCU campus, it was on Broad or Laurel and Shafer or something. I never had the pleasure of going there, but that was an upstairs club, from like the late 90s to early 00s, that shut down now, I think it’s changed hands a couple times, I think it’s called Asado at the moment. But as far as the actual Broad Street corridor, well there’s the National, have you ever been to the National before?

BW: Yes, I have, yeah.

MH: Ok, so its owned by some folks, well it used to be owned by some folks that did AEG, it’s a much bigger company and I think they bought all that out, which, in turn, brings, again, gives more attention to Richmond and helps grow the scene by bringing like, their networking is established amongst the top-tier bands, so they’re gonna be bringing in your huge bands or whatever. I think that happened like 10 years ago, like 7 years ago. I think that’s it for Broad Street. There was like some stuff in the Fan, and some stuff by the VCU campus, and downtown, but for Broad Street I think that’s it.

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen discusses what he knows about the other Broad Street venues and their history.

Keywords: Broad Street; Broadberry; National; downtown; networks; venue

Subjects: Broad Street history; Broadberry; venue history

00:13:22 - Process of Buying and Building Up the Camel

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Partial Transcript: BW: Ok, so how did you find the venue? How did you get into it? What was the process of buying it?

MH: So I actually worked for the previous owner and he, due to some personal reasons, wanted to leave the industry or get out of Richmond, I think, and, so me and the three other current owners who worked for him all got together and bought it from him. And that was about, almost 3 and a half years ago. We basically didn’t want to see the place go under, so we took advantage of the opportunity, like I said earlier, there was a lot wrong with the place. Business-wise, like physically and aesthetically, we put in a lot of money- we actually just put this in in August (points to surrounding bench area) with one of the guys who does our carpentry, some of the staff was here and the door guys and kitchen guys and we built this in the span of a week. So it’s things like that that we’ve been doing in the span of 3 years to build the place up. If you came here like 4 years ago, you wouldn’t believe how different the place is. Anyway, we knew it was definitely gonna be an investment of time, of blood, sweat and tears, we wanted to build it up, I used to play here, I’m a musician myself and you know I became a bartender here, went to VCU for Business, and I’ve been working here my whole life, so it’s a culmination of my whole experience, um, but, uh, we work hard every day. Georgia right there is one of the owners also, myself, and then Xavier is in the kitchen, and then Lucas is actually here right now too, I think he’s getting ready for the basketball game. We’re here like all the time, and we work the different facets of it for sure. But yeah, I’m glad, I would never take that decision back, because we’ve helped it grow into a place it wasn’t before.

BW: So, I noticed on the front of the building (referring to a picture) that it says the Camel is a “Social Oasis.” Can you describe what that means?

MH: Right, so that’s actually been a point of contention. As I mentioned before, the gentleman that is our resident carpenter, um, he’s been here as long as the business has, no matter the owner. He’s helped fix and build stuff. That was actually the motto of the original Camel in the 90s. And we left it up in the beginning. It’s funny, so there’s actually laws about advertising space occupying the front of your building, not to get into the nitty-gritty, but it’s limited on the width of your building, and all these other rules and regulations. So, because of us having our logos, “Employee-Owned and Operated,” and our calendars and stuff, we were way over it, over our allotted space. So, after we did the patio, we repainted the whole front and stuff and we decided because it wasn’t part of our motto now, we were gonna paint it over so it would give us an extra 13 or 14 square inches of space we could elsewhere. And also we have a radio station above us, WRIR, they’re trying to advertise themselves, so we were trying to like, free up some space for them. So that was one of the first things to get painted over. But there’s been a bunch of people coming here for a while that were upset that that has gone down. You can kind of still see it there…

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen goes in detail about the process of buying and beautifying the Camel, some Richmond legislation he has had to deal with as an owner, and his own history as a business major and as a co-owner of the venue.

Keywords: advertise; beginning; building; buying; experience; venue

Subjects: beautifying a building; buying a venue; history of the Camel; working with city laws

00:17:16 - City of Richmond Laws and Regulations

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Partial Transcript: BW: Yeah, so, sorry I’m gonna wait for that to pass (referring to loud motorcycle passing). So you mentioned window space size, and I’m not familiar with that, so is that only in the city of Richmond?

MH: Oh, I’m sure every city has something like that. This has nothing to do with the music venue or restaurant, this has to do with being a business on Broad Street. Basically, from what I understand, there were folks who got upset because there were places with their actual advertisements were like shoddy, so I guess at some point last year, this is the kind of crap we have to deal with being a business on Broad Street, amongst many other things, I guess somebody complained so they pushed through a new law last year where you can only occupy 25 percent of your window space with advertisements, if it’s a see-through window. And that goes in tandem with you can only have the equivalent of the width of your building in square feet in advertising on the front of your building. So, we’re two businesses, well they’re a nonprofit, but still an organization so we are still trying to figure out, since they’re up there, we’re still trying to figure out how to free up some space to advertise but it’s constantly applying for special use permits and zoning applications with the city to try and make this stuff go through. That’s just like the bureaucracy of government, which I’m sure isn’t like the best one that exists in the United States, so. But yeah that’s just an example, I guess, you might be interested in. That’s just a business thing, a special use permit to be a nightclub, which is something I had to work on which I inherited from the previous owner, um, because I think he was shadily trying to get around playing music after the noise ordinance, which I think is 10:30. So, we almost got shut down because there was an old neighbor that didn’t get along with the previous owner here, so he was constantly complaining to the city and it was revealed that we didn’t have a permit to play music after the noise ordinance. So, we petitioned and we got a bunch of bands and a bunch of people in the industry behind us and banded together and we applied to be changed to nightclub status. And we had to go through this like 16 month period where we were like, on probation. We had to log all of our hours and make sure we were ending at a certain time and then if we didn’t have any violations for that period of time, our application would be processed, and we would go down and defend our case, and nobody had anything bad to say. This was after we took over, this was like a year after we took over. And we were given nightclub status, which is not venue status, we’re not legally considered a venue, we’re considered a nightclub, so we can have dancing and entertainment and music. But another weird thing actually is that to be considered a venue you can only have music up to 4 times a week. You can only have live music 4 times a week. It’s crazy how, we have music more than anybody in town, because we’ll have multiple shows a day sometimes, we’ll have music every day of the year, and we’re not considered a music venue. So certain laws that would apply to us that would normally apply to a music venue. Which isn’t a bad thing, um, for like lighting rigs and occupancy rules. We’re zoned as a bar/restaurant, but with nightclub status it’s ridiculous, it’s convoluted.

BW: Fascinating. So you did eventually did get nightclub status?

MH: Yeah, and now we can go till 1:45 technically, but we tell the bands 1:30 to give that like wiggle room, that extra 15, 20 minutes. And we’ve never had that issue since we’ve gotten the status, but, we’ve made agreements where our neighbors behind us, on West Grace Street, we no longer load in the back door. So when music is blaring at like midnight or 1 am, there’s like families over there so with stipulations for our status that we have to follow still. And we’re super strict about it, like I said, one of our employees called it, “the corporate venue of Richmond” but like in order for us to keep going and growing, we have to make sure we have to follow these rules, or whatever.

BW: Awesome, well thank you so much!

Segment Synopsis: Matt Hansen elaborates on the city of Richmond's intricate and convoluted rules about music venues and nightclubs, and how the Camel has had to deal with these laws.

Keywords: applying; city; nightclub; permits; regulations; window space size; zoning

Subjects: industry; live music; nightclub status; probation; regulations; special use permits; zoning laws