Ground Control Touring’s John Chavez is an internationally ranked pinball player. The Los Angeles-based vp is pretty high on the International Flipper Pinball Association’s list, but it’s a skill he picked up waiting around with bands in bars.
“It is a fun distraction, especially when you are wasting time in a bar waiting for bands to go on. There is usually a machine around,” Chavez tells Amplify.
Chavez gained the skill when he was booking tours for Knitting Factory and other agencies in the New York area throughout his career.
“I was pretty serious about that stuff when I lived in New York,” adds Chavez. “I was a captain of a team and in a New York City league. We won the city championship one year and got some silly trophies.”
Chavez had moved to New York in order to move further in his career as a talent booker after developing relationships with several agents when he was the concerts chair of Grinnell College in Iowa. In love with the live experience, Chavez moved into a small venue that he ran with fellow roommates called Silent House.
“There were four of us who lived there and we each had bedrooms and the kitchen space and shared space was also the show space. We’d have bands play probably five nights a week and put on some pretty crazy shows,” says Chavez who helped put on shows for Deerhunter and Dirty Projectors in the space that would see many incarnations over the years.
The four roommates would run the door, figure out the sound and even man the bar. Prior to shows they would run down to the local distributor and purchase whatever beer was on sale to sell the concertgoers that evening.
“It was super fun. It was super exciting. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. It’s just not the sort of thing that is sustainable for a long time, both spiritually and legally,” says Chavez. “By the time I was done, I got arrested a few times and I’m operating on the edge of legality.”
Chavez eventually met the co-founder and president of Ground Control Touring Eric Dimenstein at a David Dondero show in April 2008 and hopped on board as its fourth employee.
“The end of my time living in Silent Bar overlapped with the beginning of my time working at Ground Control,” says Chavez. “Eric at Ground Control was like ‘How many days a week are you going to take off work to go to court?'”
Chavez has worked in many capacities in the music industry throughout the years, but booking shows and being on the live side has remained his favorite facet of the industry for years.
“I have always been drawn to the live side. The live performance I think is by far and away the most interesting thing about the whole entire process. I can get excited about seeing just about anything live,” says Chavez.
He adds: “I sit in front of a computer and send emails all day, but at the end of the day I get to see a show. I came up with this crazy idea and we executed it. Now there is a room full of people watching this show. That is super meaningful to me.”
Chavez recently moved out to Los Angeles from New York and along the road trip snapped the above image in front of a bonfire with his baby boy, Gus. Amplify caught up with the LA-based Chavez to find out about five live experiences that were especially meaningful to him.
Sleater-Kinney at the Roxy in Hollywood, California
March 5, 1999
Sleater-Kinney are my “forever” band… if they played in Southern California when I was growing up, I was there. This show was the first night of a two night stand on The Hot Rock tour. I was so excited about it that I spent like $200 buying tickets for friends so they could go, oblivious to the fact that none of them liked the band remotely as much as I did. I got to the venue at like noon, tried to go to the Rainbow Room because I heard that bands eat there before shows, and during soundcheck walked in an open door and saw like 10 minutes of it before being escorted out. It ruled. Great show. Bratmobile reunited and opened which was especially exciting.
This Ain’t No Picnic Festival at Oak Canyon Ranch in Irvine, California
July 4, 1999
Besides Sleater-Kinney playing, this fest had such a killer lineup that I talked my dad into taking me and a buddy on the 4th of July which I feel like is a kinda sacred Dad “sit around and do nothing” holiday. Sonic Youth’s gear had been stolen a few days before and they played on all borrowed equipment. Eye from the Boredoms climbed the staging and hung over the crowd and my little mind was blown. At some point, we saw Beck walking through the crowd… I ran over with a disposable camera and asked if I could take a photo with him. He replied “I don’t want to be your friend today” and turned and walked away. I threw a rock at him. Missed.
Atari Teenage Riot, Ec8or, Shizuo at Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood, California
Dec. 13, 1997
Another one that my dad drove me to. This was my first show in a club. I was 14 years old and I think heard about Atari Teenage Riot in a Grand Royal magazine advertisement. I fancied myself a super serious punk rocker and my buddy was into what they were calling “electronica” at the time… ATR and the Digital Hardcore Recordings scene was like the one thing we really agreed on. I think that seeing such wild music in a full room at a young age really opened my eyes early on that you don’t necessarily have to be making pop music or headlining arenas to be successful, and that the community that orbits art can be as important as the art itself.
Rainer Maria at Grinnell College in Iowa
Multiple times over 2001-2004
I was never much into the more midwestern “emo” scene growing up in California… just didn’t resonate there for whatever reason, at least in my orbit of friends. Rainer Maria changed that. From their reputation on campus, you’d think that they were straight up the biggest band ever. Every show they played was an event.
Ground Control Touring 15 at Webster Hall in New York
Dec. 2, 2015
In honor of Ground Control Touring’s 15th anniversary, we staged a mini festival on all three stages at Webster Hall. Superchunk, Kurt Vile, Woods, Waxahatchee, Steve Gunn, Parquet Courts, The Felice Brothers, Rainer Maria, Torres, Deer Tick, Titus Andronicus, Beach Fossils, Speedy Ortiz, Hop Along, Porches, Frankie Cosmos and more all played. A bunch of our artists collaborated on unique sets for the show like Lee Ranaldo playing Sonic Youth songs backed by Parquet Courts, and a super jam with Kim Gordon. Kurt Vile and a bunch more folks did some Velvet Underground songs. Bob Lawton was holding court in the green room. It was a truly unique night and it made me proud to work for such an amazing collection of artists at a great independent agency. No one else could’ve pulled that off.