By Gilbert Garcia
Robb Chavez is a master of networking. You get the feeling that if all metalheads were as dogged and resourceful as this local TV personality, Usher and Norah Jones would be brutally trampled on their way up the Billboard charts by the likes of Thornspawn and God Forbid.
Chavez, host of the public-access television show Robb's Metal Works, is as much a missionary as a music fan, earnestly spreading the good word about loud, bombastic music and converting metal agnostics the old-fashioned way: one pair of eardrums at a time.
While his show has made him an underground celebrity, it's only one component of his strategy to expand the local and regional grassroots scene. That's why Chavez will host the 2nd annual Robb's Metal Work's Showcase on May 1 at Sam's Burger Joint, and attempt to crack the Houston market with a showcase there on May 29.
The 33-year-old Chavez leaves little to accident, and his organizational skills are hard-earned. He has a master's degree in business, formerly served as assistant director of admissions at Our Lady of the Lake University, and currently markets enrollment-solution software for the College Board, "helping admission and financial-aid offices better streamline their operations."
Streamlining his own heavy-metal operations is also a constant preoccupation for Chavez. With that in mind, he's attempted to improve upon last year's showcase, which he views with mixed feelings. "With the showcase last year, I was moderately happy with it on a personal level," Chavez says. "We had a little more than 200 people come out and support the event. It was a great mix of bands, something that I've always wanted to do and will continue to do. Unfortunately, there was a conflict with another big metal show featuring the band Seven Witches. It took some of our crowd.
"Seven Witches was a fairly new band on the scene with some veteran musicians, so I could understand. I was a little disappointed, but there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. But I was very proud that among the people who did show up, there was this awesome sense of community with the event. A lot of people from a variety of different parts of the metal scene were there, sharing what's going on with their music. That's what I wanted the showcase to be: a place for all different types of metalheads to get together and build relationships with people that they probably wouldn't normally see."
For this year's showcase, Chavez has upper the ante on two fronts. For one thing, he's booked a headliner that should incite headbanging in the streets amongst '80s underground metal freaks. The Austin band WatchTower, which includes much-admired San Antonio guitarist Ron Jarzombek, will perform in SA for the first time in four years. (Earlier this month, the group traveled to Amstelveen, Holland to headline the Headway Festival.)
"They've always been very popular in San Antonio," Chavez says. "They're one of the very few bands from that era that's still doing what they did back then. WatchTower has fans all over the country and that's why we've sold tickets to people in Chicago and various other places. So I was very happy to secure them. It wasn't easy, both financially and in terms of getting them together."
The cost of booking WatchTower led to Chavez's other newly adopted strategy: to find sponsors for the event. He consciously limited his sponsorship group to 10 businesses and organizations ("I wanted them to feel they were a special group"). One of those businesses, Sam Goody, even features a Robb's Metal Works display section at its Ingram Park Mall location, with selectively chosen metal albums on discount.
Chavez, ever a believer that the goblet of rock is half-full, sees great growth potential for the local metal scene.
"It's been developing quite well, and I think that's an extension of what's happening across the country," he says. "Recently there's been this tremendous resurgence in heavy metal again. It's great to see the return of metal on national programs like Headbanger's Ball and Uranium. That fuels all these other musicians to come back to the scene. A lot of young people are seeing now that there's a future for musicians who want to play heavy music." •