Brian Schaefer is best known for running Skatepark of Tampa, but he may earn a second name as someone bringing down the bands that fans bemoan never (or rarely) visit Florida. • For parties celebrating their Pro and Am contests, the park has gotten groups like Dinosaur Jr., De La Soul and Superchunk. Their lineups have featured pairings such as indie rockers Band of Horses and Kimya Dawson, and Outkast member Big Boi with Canadian noisemakers Metz. • Last December, the Skatepark partnered with Converse Rubber Tracks, meaning shows are now free. This year's Pro Party with rappers Action Bronson and Riff Raff, scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday (March 21) at the Orpheum, is sold out, but the Skatepark has been giving away tickets. • In an interview with Times staff writer Jimmy Geurts, Schaefer discussed the parties' origins, changes and his favorite shows.
How do you pick the musicians for the Pro and Am parties?
The way it usually works, we do a giant wish list of the Skatepark of Tampa's wants and desires, plus with the market. We used to work with Nike for most of the other parties and they would throw their names in the hat. Then we kind of see what's available based on timing, cost, trying to get everybody to understand it's not just a show, to stop by the park. We try to work with artists that are willing to be at the park the whole weekend when possible — it very rarely works out like we would like it to. Now it's Converse that has been assisting because they're a sister company of Nike, so they have their wish list as well.
What was the first of these concerts you put on?
We've been doing anniversary parties to tie in with the Tampa Pro and Am, which started in the same year. This marks the 20th year of the contest, 21 years of being in business. So back in '94, we used to do the contest and our party at the Skatepark. … The contest would end at 6, then we'd shut down the park to bring in the stage, sound system and mics. Then have people come back at 9 and 10 at night and then we'd have a party, have a beer garden, kind of real DIY show.
Our 10-year was the first one that we took outside the park, and that's when Andrew W.K., the Bouncing Souls, One Man Army and the Soviettes (played). Our 10-year was at the old Masquerade, which is now the Ritz. That was the beginning of doing it off-site because we're just so consumed with the contest, the elements of the party were getting a little too big (for) the Skatepark.
Do you remember the first show where you were like, "Oh man, I can't believe I got this band to play our party"?
I think our 10-year was awesome because we were able to get the Bouncing Souls. Our 10-year was 2003 and we did that ourselves pretty much on the phone with booking agents. It was a bit difficult, but at the time, bands were two or three grand and some plane tickets. Nowadays, artists' availability for one-offs, even for the smallest bands, are $10,000 to 15,000 plus travel.
Do bands' appreciation of the Skatepark of Tampa ever factor into getting them to play one of these shows?
Sometimes it factors in, sometimes it doesn't. Some bands are familiar with the Skatepark, some bands aren't. But the bands that do, they make the effort to come by, to see the contest, and that's an awesome feeling. They're like, "My guitarist skated here on a tour with his first band 10 years ago," so those are nostalgic comments or moments for us.
How did you end up working with Converse Rubber Tracks?
They're a sister company, or they're owned by Nike. Nike decided that Converse, they're more of a lifestyle brand that has the Rubber Tracks studio, a little bit deeper roots within music. So although it may seem awkward that it's Nike and Converse, they brought Converse in to handle the nighttime so they can focus on the skateboarding aspect of it because that's what they want to focus on.
What's your favorite show you've done?
Well, there's a couple that come to mind — some at the Skatepark, some in Ybor City, and for different reasons. Avail was one of our bigger shows earlier on. The show was $5 and it was the first time we ever got to fully pack the entire warehouse with music, audio, lights and a different crowd that mixed with the crowd that was there for skateboarding. That was one of the first ones that was like, "Wow man, look at this, there's 1,500-plus people within the Skatepark listening to one of my favorite bands at the time." Dinosaur Jr. was an amazing experience because that was the first year at the Cuban Club and that's an all-time favorite band of mine. Then Band of Horses was great because we had the vert ramp down there; we brought skateboarding down into Ybor City.
Then one that ultimately stands out is our 20-year (anniversary of the Skatepark) we did with Souls of Mischief. Our tagline is "'93 'til infinity" and one of their songs is '93 ’til Infinity, and to have Souls of Mischief align with our 20 years and for them to be celebrating their 20 years. Not to mention they came and they hung out at the Skatepark for four days. So the elements of the intimacy and knowing the park and getting them there for four days, they won everybody over before they even hit the stage. So everybody was so engaged with the band that it just made for the ultimate 20-year experience.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.