Cities like Philadelphia, Nashville, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles are known for their music scenes, and especially their rock scenes. “Norfolk has a weird scene,” said Cameron Smith of Bonne Chere. “It’s not necessarily a popular scene, but definitely not vacant,” he says.While it is small, Smith said it is very creative, with musicians who are deeply devoted to their music and driven to create and perform.
Bonne Chere is one of today’s more well-known Norfolk groups. Cameron Smith, singer and guitarist, originally started the group as Latin for Beginners.
Smith said he has always been surrounded by music. As a child, his parents played music from groups like The Clash, The Stranglers, The English Beat, The Strokes, Peter Bjorn and John and Elvis Presley.
Since his middle school years, Smith has been in many different groups. He had a rock band in middle school; in high school, he played in a ska band called The Historians. Eventually, he, and what was then Latin for Beginners, decided to take their music to another level. This led to the creation of what is now Bonne Chere.
On guitar, Smith looks up to musicians like Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Sam Halliday of Two Door Cinema Club, and The Edge of U2. With Bonne Chere, Smith credits groups like The Police, The Cure, The 1975, and other bands that are known for using effects such as delay, chorus, and reverberation as his big influences.
Bonne Chere also features a horn section, always including a trombone and some type of saxophone, and usually a trumpet. Smith started playing music as a saxophone player, and looks up to players like John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Joshua Redman, and James Carter, and will occasionally trade out his guitar for a saxophone on stage.
Smith says he’s always found music as a way of making sense of things.
“Music is my way of making sense of things,” he said. “I try to write songs about what is happening in my life and when I’m working on music with other people it helps me to understand them or at least my relationship to them.”
Bonne Chere’s local audience has grown substantially in the past year or so, and fans seem to be drawn to the jazzy, glam, pastel pink and white aesthetic.
Smith now attends Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and is focusing on saxophone under the jazz department. Through this, he has met musicians who also share his passion, and have collaborated with Smith on musical projects, and sometimes have played in the horn section. Because of his time in Richmond, he also has been able to tap into the music scene there.
Starcoast is another group that is turning heads in Hampton Roads. Frontman Tom Reichart said the name comes from a surreal, unexpected meteor shower that he witnessed during a late night walk on the beach.
The group features Reichart, the main songwriter, singer, and guitarist; his brother, Jim, on bass and backing vocals; Ethan Simerson on keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals; Parker Lipke on guitar and backing vocals; and Ben Alvarado on drums and backing vocals. Occasionally, Reichart and Lipke will switch roles between rhythm and lead guitar, depending on the song.
According to Tom Reichart and Simerson, Starcoast has a unique mix of surf rock, indie rock, indie pop, shoegaze, psychedelic rock, and everything else.
“We all seem to pull from the same pool of music, but it will differ depending on how we feel that day, as our tastes in music are so vast and music is so easily accessible,” Reichart said.
Compared to other bands, and based on the gear they use, Starcoast is an indie rock band, but the members would disagree. According to the band, they are “genreless” because of their vast list of influences. When they practice and write, they say that they never do so with the intention of making indie rock.
“There are so many bands that influence me and have helped me to bring Starcoast to where it is today,” Reichart said.
Because the band considers its music to be “genreless,” Starcoast has a very unique sound. They have two very distinct styles of songs, which Reichart has jokingly categorized as either “star” or “coast.” The prior being ambient, dreamy, ethereal songs, and the latter being more aggressive, harder songs.
“The most important thing to me is being happy with the music and making music that people can really feel,” Reichart said. “Even if they ― I don’t know ― really feel and relate to. I’m not trying to make music that’s solely for the people, because it’s for us and what we love, but I really want to express that love and that, like — What’s the word? I don’t know. — like people can really vibe to it. You know what I mean? I want people to really feel the music.”
The Norfolk music scene is not just about indie bands playing at indie clubs. A lot of bands also play the “brewery scene,” as Nate Sacks likes to call it.
Sacks plays guitar and sings in his band, The Lifehacks. The Lifehacks take influence from groups like The Beatles, Radiohead, Dr. Dog, Phish and Umphrey’s McGee. The Lifehacks are a jam band, but also would fall under the rock-revival genre.
Sacks said he enjoys writing songs that people will have fun listening to, that he can have fun playing, and that he can jam to while people dance. He started Local Cheers, an event at local breweries, with the idea of connecting the music scene to the breweries, by utilizing them as venues.
“Music is about comradery. If you can make a group of friends and have a group of friends gather around your music then you’re doing something right,” Sacks said.
That was his reason for starting Local Cheers, he said. He wanted people to have a good time around good music. He wanted to bring people together through music, and he created a totally new event for bands to play at, and for people to have fun at. Sacks also said that, from a performer’s point of view, that makes it a lot more special than seeing the same people at every gig.
“It makes me happy when everyone’s happy,” said Sacks.
Smith, Reichart and Sacks all described the Norfolk music scene as a very supportive community, where everyone respects everyone’s work and music, and everyone goes to everyone’s shows.
Though the scene is small, it is growing. Many new bands are emerging, like Mirador, a band of high school musicians who just played Shaggfest. Some upcoming bands are becoming increasingly creative with their music, using different sounds like horns, pianos, and synthesizers, and creating a lot of new and original musical arrangements.