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Music Confidential

A local interview and concert series is launching from one of the country’s most culture-minded business journalists.

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In 2014, a sold-out Foo Fighters concert at the National was believed to be the first crowdsourced concert by a major commercial artist anywhere.

Regardless of whether you like the Foo Fighters, it was a memorable moment in rock concert history. However, nobody really capitalized on it to promote the city’s own music or arts scene, even though it was a highly improbable and successful grass-roots effort that received widespread national media attention.

Public Radio’s Roben Farzad hopes his new concert series can bring about some better momentum. A nationally known business journalist, author and podcaster based in Richmond who hosts the show “Full Disclosure” on Virginia’s home for Public Media, VPM, Farzad is starting a new interview and concert series that will feature mostly national touring bands talking about the business side of music.

“I start by believing there’s a business story in every interesting story,” he says. “Internally, I was pitching this as ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ meets ‘Austin City Limits.’ And I think Richmond can pull it off.”

His inaugural venue show will feature the ’90s alt-rock band, Nada Surf, first being interviewed then performing a full concert before a seated audience at the National on Sunday, Nov. 10. The whole night will be filmed for a documentary pilot by local filmmaker Lucas Krost, one of the folks responsible for the Foo Fighters show and a neighbor near Farzad’s downtown studio.

Roben Farzad - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/FIle
  • Roben Farzad

“That’s what I want to offer every band: You get the public radio treatment, the live show, it’s filmed for a doc pilot, and you get the hug from Richmond — including a box of Sugar Shack donuts,” Farzad says.

A New York band, Nada Surf caught a break after giving a tape to Ric Ocasek, the driving force behind the Cars, whose recent death was mourned widely on social media. Considered a father figure by band members, Ocasek produced its debut record and helped land a deal on Elektra Records. The band had one minor hit, “Popular,” in the summer of 1996 but were later dropped by the label.

“This is the story of their rise and fall and how they reinvented themselves, coming back in 2002 with a much more genuine CD that they put out independently with their own money,” Farzad explains.

Enthusiastic about music, Farzad did his first interview regarding this new concept with Cracker’s David Lowery at local Rainmaker Studios. He thinks there’s a void for this kind of thing. Even unplugged shows don’t cover the business side, he says.

“[Founder] Kristin O’Connor at Rainmaker and Lucas are great. I would not be able to do this on my own,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a Richmond band. I’ll bring anybody. Spoon, the War on Drugs, D’Angelo, Missy Elliott, Aimee Mann.”

He’s already booked the next artist, Silversun Pickups from Los Angeles, and hopes to bring a personal favorite, Pat Benatar, back to town to perform (maybe) with the Richmond Symphony. “I’m going to pitch Pat hard,” he says.

Farzad was shocked to learn Benatar was from Richmond while sitting in his car outside of his studio, which is near the downtown police station.

“Before the episode, I practice my voice by singing her song ‘Shadows of the Night’” [To my delight, he starts belting out the chorus with karaoke gusto.]

Suddenly, a cop was rapping on his car with a nightstick.

“He says, ‘What the hell are you doing? I can hear you down the block,’” Farzad recalls. “I apologized and he tells me, ‘You know Pat Benatar is from Richmond, right?’ That literally happened. I had to Google it because I didn’t believe him.”

Another dream guest would be Virginia’s most powerful music figure, Coran Capshaw, founder of Red Light Management in Charlottesville who is always hovering near the top of Billboard’s Power 100 list. With more than 300 acts and $500 million plus in touring grosses, he is notorious for avoiding the media.

But if anybody could hook the whale, maybe Farzad could.

Having once described himself as an “Iranian Jew who speaks Spanish living in the one-time capital of the Confederacy,” Farzad is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School who started out at Goldman Sachs. A special correspondent on “PBS NewsHour,” he has appeared on the BBC, CNN and CNBC as well as writing for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Seven years ago, after marrying his wife, he moved to Richmond and fell in love with the city, carving out a niche here. In conversation, he frequently plugs the dining and arts scenes, as well as the top-notch production studios.

His debut book, “Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami,” was published in 2017 and optioned for a miniseries, though he notes that the option just lapsed. He’s hopeful it will be picked up.

Anyone who attends the Nada Surf show will see that Farzad is an energetic personality unafraid to ask the hard questions, as a recent interview with local columnist Michael Paul Williams showed. The two got into it about strategic philanthropy in Richmond, namely the two big companies that nobody can afford to offend.

“Lord help you if you call out the big *consumer packaged goods company and utility who are big patrons of the arts,” he says. “I can’t do my show [PBS, NPR] at the biggest theater here because of the name it has on it. People don’t realize that.”

So he’s growing his new idea organically without kissing the rings of any downtown authority. He wouldn’t mind if it became Richmond’s own version of KEXP-FM’s live studio sessions on public radio in Seattle, popular on YouTube.

“I get very excited about showing the country Richmond, it has a lot going for it,” he says. “And I think I’m at my best now when I do the business of culture and the culture of business.” S

Public Radio’s “Full Disclosure” interview and concert with Nada Surf will be held Sunday, Nov. 10 at the National at 8 p.m. $30-$35. Roben Farzad’s “Full Disclosure” airs on VPM on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 8 p.m. and will expand in 2020, he says.

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