Emo Night Tampa celebrates eight years of scene building with two nights of free concerts

The gigs happen on Friday and Saturday in Seminole Heights and Ybor City.

click to enlarge Without the support of the scene, Emo Night Tampa—founded by Theo Severson (L) and Chris Wood—would’ve died after COVID. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
Without the support of the scene, Emo Night Tampa—founded by Theo Severson (L) and Chris Wood—would’ve died after COVID.
Soon after the eight-year anniversary weekend for Emo Night Tampa, Theo Severson and Chris Wood are taking a break.

“July 1 will be our last show,” Severson, 45, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

The plan is to come back on Halloween at Crowbar, the same place where, on Saturday, he and Wood—collectively known as the Crate Brothers—welcome an entire scene to sing along to songs that represent the very best of Florida’s punk-rock palette.

There's no cover for the Emo Night Tampa eight-year anniversary party at Crowbar in Ybor City on Saturday, June 3. But after the last beers and tears following two nights of anniversary getdowns (there’s a free Emo Night Tampa pre-anniversary show on Friday, June 2 at American Legion Seminole Post 111, five miles from Crowbar), a vacation is in order.

“It’s just a lot; eight years doing this, on top of full-time jobs. Chris has ‘Rock and Soul’ (a monthly at The Hub in downtown Tampa), and we have the radio show,” he added. “It’ll be nice to have a summer break.”

The hiatus is well-deserved.

Founded in 2015 as a DJ night built around the Crate Brothers’ affection for the rock subgenre’s many generations (emo is in a fifth wave now, after being born from the mid-’80s primordial ooze of bands like Jawbreaker and Cap’n Jazz), Emo Night Tampa very quickly grew in popularity attracting guest DJs (Tanner Jones of fourth-wave emo band, Orlando’s You Blew It!, played selector at the first anniversary) and tattoo-on-your-body levels of devotion. National bands quickly started joining in (Connor Murphy of Foxing spun in 2017), and Emo Night Tampa first incorporated live performances into the night with a second anniversary party featuring Gainesville fourth-wave heavyweight Dikembe.
The good times kept rolling with more nationals coming to not only play their own music live, but DJ and hangout, too (during a two-month span in 2018, Polyvinyl icon Caithlin De Marrais of Rainer Maria and godfather emo band American Football hit the stage). Then the pandemic arrived, and Emo Night Tampa fans had to heed advice from American Football’s 1999 debut LP and “Stay Home.”

In the absence of their regular communion, Emo Night Tampa and its disciples went online (“Streamo Night Tampa,” said one flyer) and staged t-shirt fundraisers for the bartenders who kept the party going in pre-COVID times.

Severson and Wood found another place to play new and local music by picking up a late-night show on community radio station WMNF Tampa 88.5-FM, then returned to throwing in-person events in September 2021. Live performances sandwiched between DJs played heavily into each post-pandemic show, and Emo Night Tampa developed into a tastemaking incubator for the local scene’s brightest new bands—all backed by some of the most loyal, and liveliest, crowds in Tampa Bay.
Citing the audience’s energy, CL photographer Dave Decker—whose bands have toured the country and been signed to national labels like No Idea—said that the Emo Night Tampa his band Big Sad played at the American Legion in Seminole Heights was the best gig he’s ever played. Newish outfit My Cat Umi said there’s no other party that brings the local scene together in the same way; its members have felt the support from friends old and new, then given right back as spectators.

Pet Lizard—which has gone on to play local alt-rock Cox Media station 97X’s Next Big Thing Festival alongside Jack White—told CL that there’s a cathartic energy to every Emo Night Tampa.

“It’s a safe space to go let loose and get lost in the crowd and the people that go are the type of people you wanna be around… As a band, it’s a special gift to play shows like these,” the band, which plays the Emo Night Tampa pre-anniversary party on Friday added.
The Crate Brothers—almost icons in themselves during the mid-to-late 2000s at since-shuttered legendary clubs like Czar—concur that in all their years, they’ve never seen audiences like the ones that come to Emo Night Tampa.

“They are definitely better behaved than the crowds were at Czar,” Wood, 47, said with a laugh, adding that the purity kind of caught him off guard. “It’s kind of an unexpected phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s generational, and this sounds corny, but they’re really just there for the music. No one’s really looking at their phones, they’re just wiling out, they’re not drunk or anything else—they’re just popping and rocking.”

“It’s kind of an unexpected phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s generational, and this sounds corny, but they’re really just there for the music."

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Venues across Tampa have taken notice, trusting Wood and Severson to stage no-cover shows, and listening to them when they say that a 19-year-old shouldn’t have to pay a cover to see their friend’s band just because they’re not gonna buy a beer. “I was straight edge for 10 years, but I was still at shows,” Severson said.

As a result, a new crop of live music lovers get to grow comfortable in venues and hopefully continues to support the rooms as they start to make a life for themselves in Tampa. And as artist Cory Robinson, told Wood at one of the first post-pandemic shows, many of the kids that walk through the doors are experiencing their first unchaperoned club shows ever.

“They don’t seem that young, but it makes sense. Maybe this is their first actual show,” Wood added. “I think the venues recognize that.”

Like the Czar regulars before them, the Emo Night Tampa faithful follow the Crate Brothers everywhere from the night’s acoustic “Emo Lite” events, to old-school DJ nights, and even movie screenings (last February they presented “High Fidelity” at Ybor’s Screen Door microcinema).

“They could be doing a million other things. And they chose to spend their time with us. So it’s very cool and very humbling,” Severson said. “If it wasn’t for them, the night would have probably fallen off after COVID.”
click to enlarge Crowds have followed the Crate Brothers—aka Theo Severson (L) and Chris Wood—since their early days at Czar. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
Crowds have followed the Crate Brothers—aka Theo Severson (L) and Chris Wood—since their early days at Czar.
And when they come back from summer break, Emo Night Tampa fans can rest assured that the Crate Brothers will keep working to give fans a place to let loose.

Like so many others, Wood and Severson travel and have felt the cyclical urge to skip town forever—but the rooms, and the people inside, keep them coming back.

Wood said that whenever he starts to get serious about leaving, Tampa reminds him of why he loves the city in the first place. Even a drive down the blight-iest stretches of Nebraska Avenue ends up looking beautiful. “There was a mural of three guys in cars and one was the ‘Back To the Future’ car—and the other one’s Stan Lee. I was like, ‘Man, what a great city,” Wood said, sending Severson into a laugh.

“It’s like fighting for something. We’re a little like the underdog. Everyone puts us down, sometimes for good reason, but they also don’t know because they’re not here,” Wood, who's in his own bands, added. “So you want to stay and represent.”

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UPDATED 05/31/22 9:31 p.m. Updated because Dikembe was a Gainesville band with a record called Chicago Bowls, not a band from the Windy City.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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