Rock Of Ages

The Current Success Of The NorVa Lies Deep Within The Building’s Storied Past



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The NorVa’s rebirth as a musical venue had a hiccup at the beginning. Its inaugural show was shut down when the fire marshal wouldn’t allow headlining neo-blues group G. Love & Special Sauce to go onstage. It seems that the fire system hadn’t been installed properly.  G. Love instead played a little acoustic set in the rain out front for 400 fans.

The club officially opened April 17, 2000 with a performer that set the bar pretty high: the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. “He was a statement artist,” Mersel says. Word got around in the industry and, a year later, there was a phone call—it was Prince on line one. “Prince wanted to play and he gave us one week’s advance notice,” the promoter remembers. “He said, ‘What do you have the following week? I’m coming in there.’” The Purple One’s concert sold out in four and a half minutes. The staff was impressed by Prince’s extensive soundcheck, where he walked around to every point in the room while his band played to see how it sounded. “He cared enough to make sure everyone in the audience could hear perfectly,” Mersel says.

Somewhere, lodged in the memory-crevices of this 1,450-capacity hall, is the collective scream that burst out in 2001 when Billy Idol and his band started up “Rebel Yell.” The spiky-haired snarler isn’t the only idol to give inspired performances on this stage. Here’s just a short list of artists hosted by The NorVa: Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Kanye West, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, The Flaming Lips, Justin Timberlake, Blake Shelton, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Wilco, Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Young Jeezy and Willie Nelson.

Nelson, an avid golfer, enjoyed local tee times at the Virginia Beach National Golf Club while he was here. P-Funk’s George Clinton set the record for the most time spent in The NorVa’s hot tub, while other artists, like Dylan, bypassed the best backstage in America. “Bob Dylan came, did the show and he left,” Mersel laughs. Billy Corgan didn’t come for the amenities, either. He brought his Smashing Pumpkins to the stage because he wanted to visit regional Civil War sites.

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