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The NorVa Theater soon to celebrate its Centennial

Old Virginia Theater Resurrected Like a Phoenix to Soar into the Twenty-First Century
Soon to celebrate its centennial birthday in 2017, The NorVa Theater in Norfolk, Virginia is at the epicenter of Coastal Virginia’s nightlife. Located not far from Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Bay, the venue is the spot that local, regional and national live music fans swarm to. NorVa, short for “Norfolk, Virginia,” was in its first incarnation a Vaudeville theater when it opened in 1917, transformed into Movie Theater in the late 20th century. From 1980 to 1998 the building housed the Downtown Athletic Club before it was renovated and assumed its present avatar as a world class music venue in the year 2000.           Owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the venue is known for its state of the art sound system. In 2013, Rolling Stone Magazine’s readers voted The NorVa the number one venue in the nation. NorVa is also famous for giving its performers royal treatment when they are guests at the theater. In-house catering, sauna, and an indoor basketball court are just few of the niceties available to musicians at NorVa.

Virginia has a rich musical history. The Carter Family, one of the first stars in the country music genre (actively recorded between 1927 and 1956) were from Virginia. In 1935 rockabilly legend Gene Vincent was born in Virginia. Heavy metal bands such as Gwar and Lamb of God are also from the state.

On February 11, 1964 The NorVa Theater participated in a bold new broadcasting experiment. It was called closed circuit cable TV. The Beatles were playing a concert at the Washington Coliseum along with the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore which was transmitted to The NorVa theater as well several other regional movie houses. The concert was promoted as “The Beatles: Direct From Their First American Concert.” The coast of admission: $2.00. Compare that price with the popular fee for a pay-for-view event today.

With this rich history I asked NorVa a few questions about its past, present and future.

Q: “What can you tell me about NorVa’s vaudeville days? Where there any famous vaudeville performances at NorVa documented from the early days of the theater?”

A: “Unfortunately none of us have any info of the old NorVa movie theater…. I can’t even find any images of the interior. I’ve been searching for almost three years now with no luck!”

(I guess musicians were not “followed” on Facebook in 1917 they way they are nowadays.)

Q:  “I heard that in 2002 when Prince played The NorVa the tickets were sold out in five minutes, what other exciting things have happened at The NorVa?”

A:  “Since The NorVa opened in 2000- there have been almost 3,000 concerts so there have been many memorable moments on stage but too many to really go into detail. James Brown did play the first show ever at The NorVa on April 28, 2000. Prince did indeed sell out in five minutes (or less). We’ve had multiple marriage proposals take place on stage. One of my favorite moments in the past year was when someone formed a “hug pit” during Young the Giant. I mean, why mosh when you can hug?”   “I think the thing with The NorVa is we host bands before they become HUGE. We’ve even broken some in the market, and hosted bands that would normally play arenas or larger venues.  X Ambassadors broke in the market before anywhere else in America- thanks to 96x. We’ve hosted artists from Kanye West to Billy Idol. We just hosted Wilco earlier this month.”

Q: “I know the rock band Chevelle recorded a DVD at NorVa in 2003. It is not uncommon for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot on location, and I thought maybe someone might have shot some footage in the NorVa at one point or the other. If so, what movies or music videos can NorVa be seen in?”

A:  “The NorVa isn’t in any movies but can be seen in the music video for Dirty Heads Dance All Night and also in an episode of Discovery’s A Haunting.”

I received a simple but meaningful answer to my last question;

Q:” What are NorVa’s plans for the future”
A: “As time goes by we are always making improvements.”

NorVa is excited about its up and coming 100th anniversary in 2017. We wish an additional 100 years of success NorVa!

YouTube has a nice selections of live concert footage of Gwar, Lamb of God and other artists that were shot at NorVa. Gwar in particular has put on outrageous visual spectacles under NorVa’s roof.

I recommend the following videos captured live at Norva:

“I Hate Love Songs”


“Erase This” Lamb of God

There are videos from other genres but unavailable on YouTube but I have chosen to spotlight the above artists because they are indigenous to Virginia. Since its opening in 2000 such huge artists such as the Flaming Lips, Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson (just to drop a few names) have graced NorVa’s stage.

**All images via

Brooklyn native, Frederick Gubitosi, is a musician, artist, songwriter, and music journalist. Alumnus of Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College, the former teacher writes as an insider to world of music and the humanities. In the '90s he had two solo painting exhibits in NYC and was involved in a performance art group which merged live music, improv theater and multimedia. In 1995 he participated in Philadelphia's first performance of John Zorn's "Cobra" as a musician. In 2005 he wrote, directed, and created the musical score for his comic play, "Love, the Happy Disease." He now participates in events for Brooklyn's Creators Collective making improvised music for modern dancers.

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