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You don’t have to travel too far from home to witness great musicians performing in the region. In fact, make a short trip to any of downtown Knoxville’s concert venues, restaurants, or even coffee houses and you’ll see talented acts performing any given day of the week. There’s one venue in particular though that’s been making waves for both local as well as traveling concert goers since it opened its doors in 2014. Though some may know the venue better as “the old Valarium” or something of the sort, The International is making a name for itself by doing what none of the venues before it were able to do – create a sustainable venue that hosts world-renown acts of every genre.
Owner Brian Coakley’s history with the venue dates back to 2010 when he began working at The Valarium. He recognized a void in the Knoxville music scene, and once Blackstock closed down he discovered the perfect way to fill that void. The International fills a unique role in Knoxville in that there aren’t any other standing-style venues of this size in the area. It’s also the only venue in town that provides a mid-level concert experience. “There’s room to move in here,” said Coakley, “and you don’t really get that at the Tennessee Theater, The Bijou, or places like that. Those are amazing venues, but they’re a different style.”
What makes this company stand out from those in the past is that it focuses primarily on the guests. “At the end of the day, there are things that we do that aren’t about maximizing profits and minimizing loss. There are things that we do where we’re just like, ‘People are gonna love this.’ And that’s something I haven’t seen in a long time is the passion they have for putting on a damn good show,” said Marketing Director Jay Harris.
Harris began working for the venue only a month after Coakley moved into the building. “When you go to a rock show or an EDM show, this is the room you need to be in,” Harris said emphatically. In the past, Harris has either worked for or with four of the building’s venue incarnations – The International, Blackstock, The Valarium, and The Electric Ballroom. “The biggest difference I’ve noticed in working with the group we have here now is that this is a much younger group of people than have been involved in this venue previously. And they’re much more focused on the overall quality of the experience. The show quality and production is one thing – and we have a guy who handles all that stuff – but everyone who works in this office now are all hyper-focused on the experience overall from the patron’s point of view,” said Harris.
Before it became The International, the venue played host to a number of companies. Though it’s been difficult to track down the building’s complete history, Coakley has a general idea after doing research of his own. “It wasn’t a venue for most of its life. It was a tractor repair facility for a while – International Harvester – and at some point it got picked up by Mountain Dew: it was called the Hartman Beverage Company, and they used it as a storage warehouse. Then The Concourse was Braden’s Furniture. I think it became a venue in the 90’s. It was The Orpheus for a while, then it was Electric Ballroom, then starting in 2007 it was The Valarium,” said Coakley. In fact, not only was the building a storage facility for the Hartman Beverage Company, it is even rumored to be the place where the Hartman brothers concocted the recipe for Mountain Dew.
“We’ve got to keep things moving and keep pushing the boundaries, so to speak,” Coakley said. And that’s exactly what he’s done. Along with instilling new life in the venue by booking such a range of well-known acts, his team has also been making a number of changes to the show experience as a whole at the venue. “We’ve focused a lot on production. I like to think the lighting and sound is better than it’s ever been,” he said. And since Coakley is an integral part of the EDM production company Midnight Voyage, the venue hosts premier electronic acts every week.
One of the biggest events for the venue thus far was its first annual Freakevil Halloween event, headlined by DJ Wick-It. The DJ declared on his Twitter the next day, “Knoxville has the best electronic music scene in the southeast. End of story.” That declaration is due in large to The International and Midnight Voyage.
Midnight Voyage is a company Coakley launched in college. “I started doing a radio show on WUTK in 2008, and it was called The Midnight Voyage – it started at midnight – and it was based on electronic music. It morphed into this thing where we were presenting shows at various venues. We built it up as a brand for electronic music. It’s something I started and has taken on a life of its own. We started as a weekly event in 2010, and we’ve been doing it every week for four years – that’s like, over 200 shows.”
Harris also hosts an alternative goth/industrial dance night called Temple, which made its new home in the International after the shift. With Temple and Midnight Voyage, The International continuously has the rock and electronic ends of the music spectrum covered.
While their demographic for most events is 18 to 35 year-olds, the venue attempts to reach out to those both young and old through the variety of shows they host. In its short life as a venue, The International has had no problem making a name for itself. “We don’t want to be the ‘EDM club;’ we’re not a ‘club,’ we’re a concert venue. We want to bring in such a variety of shows that no one thinks of us as a club anymore – they just think of us as a place to go see shows, whether it’s classic country, a new EDM DJ, or a rock band, folk band, or punk band. We’ve had pretty much every genre represented from rap to country, metal to EDM,” said Harris.
As for the future, both Coakley and Harris agree that there are big things in the works, though they won’t reveal any specifics just yet. The International has booked a range of impressive acts for the months to come including Mushroomhead, Excision, and Young the Giant. For a complete show calendar visit InternationalKnox.com.