Blackstock Set to Reopen as the International

After abruptly closing two weeks ago, the former Blackstock Auditorium is under new management.

Brian Coakley, who started the Midnight Voyage series of EDM shows there in the late ’00s, when it was still called the Valarium, has assembled a team and will take over the lease on the building, which expired in early March. Coakley spent three years working at the Valarium, and says he was never really ready to let the place go.

“I was just kind of waiting, I guess, for the right time, and had been talking to the landlord because I knew him from back in the Valarium days,” he says.

During the late 1980s and early ’90s, the building, located off of Western Avenue near the intersection of Interstates 275 and 40, operated as the Orpheum and Electric Ballroom, hosting rock shows and dance nights. Local promoter Gary Mitchell upgraded the building and opened it as the Valarium in 2007. Mitchell closed the Valarium at the end of 2012; Daniel Leal opened Blackstock in early 2013.

Now, under Coakley’s leadership, the building will once again be renamed. Coakley, who will co-manage the venue with Jennifer Barlow, plans to call it the International. First on Coakley’s list of things to do with his new venue is to spruce it up a bit, starting with a bathroom remodel and updates to the sound and lighting systems.

“We want to bring it up to a level of quality that is above and beyond anything that has been done in these buildings before,” he says. “Not fancy or ritzy, because there’s going to be a lot of hard rock and metal and rowdy crowds down here, but we still just want it to be a little nicer and a little less grimy than it’s been in the past.”

And Coakley isn’t naive when it comes to the difficulties the venue’s had in the past. It’s big and it’s a bit isolated, and it’s a challenge to get enough people to fill the large room.

“We’re looking to set the bar pretty high in terms of the level of quality people expect when they come to a show here,” he says. “I think that with a place like this, with it being a destination, there has to be a big draw in terms of the level of talent people are expecting to see here. There has to be something to get them to go a little bit out of their way.”

Once the place’s facelift is complete, Coakley says he hopes to make it a multi-genre venue, with shows running the gamut from hard rock to dance music, funk to country and bluegrass, and maybe even some jazz.

“We love all different kinds of music, and we just want to do as much different stuff as we can,” he says.

And, of course, the Midnight Voyage, a series of live performances dedicated to national and international electronic-music artists, will return to its original home. Coakley started the series in 2008, when he was hosting an EDM show on WUTK. The series had a permanent home at the Valarium from 2010 through 2012, when the club closed and Coakley moved the series to NV Nightclub in the Old City.

“We were born out of the Cider House and the Valarium, doing our EDM events there,” Coakley says. Andrea Kerns, who helped Coakley bring Midnight Voyage to life, will continue to be part of the that series, along with Jennifer Barlow, but the team at the International will include a bunch of new faces.

“It’s people that we think are qualified,” Coakley says. “It’s going to be a much bigger team than anything we’ve had before.”

But Coakley says his time running the show in the Old City has given him a good handle on how to produce shows on a large scale.

“Working with a variety of different venues and producing shows on our own has shed a lot of light on what a venue should provide for a show,” he says. “It’s taught me about what should be in place and what kind of infrastructure you really need to operate an event efficiently, and make sure everybody’s happy. I’ve got a group of really awesome people coming together down here, and we’re ready to make some awesome things happen.”

And though he’ll be parting ways with Duane Carleo’s Carleo Entertainment for now, Coakley says there’s no hard feelings involved.

“I would still like to be able to do some of the events down there in the courtyard,” he says. “Everybody’s been pretty cool about everything. Nobody’s trying to compete with anybody or step on anybody’s toes. We’re just trying to do our thing and do what we love.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been edited to make clear that Andrea Kerns will remain with Midnight Voyage but will not be involved with the International.

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Comments » 2

Drkvamp writes:

"Sprucing up" So.. velvet everywhere.. rude bartenders.. and a total disruption of the accoustics.. Like the Valerium. Hrmm.. sounds .. lovely *eye roll*

You want a place for metal shows, and awesome dance nights.. go back and take a look at how it was when it -was- the ball room. Two bars.. Easy access to both.. No lines.. tiki torches.. or corralls.. Bartenders were nice.. Not epic rude.. You ordered your drink, you watched it be made, you drank it, and probably ordered another.. The Valerium sucked so much .... I'd hate to see a possibly great venue shot down again because of .. "Sprucing up"

Also.. The Ballroom had a crowd.. Every Saturday the place was filled.. A strong crowd who knew the bartenders.. who knew the rest of the staff, who helped with clean up.. Then the Valerium decided it was too good for that.. The Temple Crowd was made homeless.. Will it be again?

Learn lessons.. from The Valerium and The Blackstock.. Neither of which lasted near as long as the ballroom..


djstatik writes:

Well if anyone can resurrect this venue it's Coakley. I think the challenging location as a "destination" is actually a huge plus. So tired of the transient crowds of Old City venues. A bunch of unaware club hoppers on the pull just to chin stroke on the patio all night. Hopefully, the new management will learn from previous promoters mistakes and deliver a cohesive set of shows and weekly events to build a loyal base of customers. Good to hear they are updating the lighting, sound, and especially the bathrooms.

I'm hoping they figure out an easy way to partition the big room for all sizes of shows so the "Cider house" can stay closed, or be used strictly as overflow for larger events and not host competing, or disparate shows simultaneously. There is enough competition in Knoxville clubland without competing with yourself.

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