As The Werks prepare for their upcoming Winter Werk Out festival at The Bluestone in Columbus, OH on February 7th and 8th, Live For Live Music got a chance to interview drummer Rob Chafin about the event, its summertime forebearer, The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival, and what he’s been up to since they last stepped off stage August 3rd, 2019 at their summer fest and began a six-month hiatus.
Along the way, we spoke about the bands from Ohio and beyond that helped The Werks break out, Chafin’s latest venture, The Summit Music Hall in Columbus, OH, and other exciting opportunities on the horizon. Read a transcript of the conversation below, edited for length and clarity.
Live For Live Music: First off, what have you been up to since the 10th annual Werk Out last August?
Rob Chafin: Well, I’ve been really enjoying some much-needed R & R from the road. We’ve been touring for over a decade really strong across the country, and it’s just been nice to kind of sleep in my own bed and recharge my batteries. I know all the other guys feel the same way. It’s just nice to get some rest in after working so hard for so long.
Live For Live Music: When was the last time that you were able to stay put like that and be in Columbus for six continuous months?
Rob Chafin: We have never done this before, yet.
Live For Live Music: How does that feel?
Rob Chafin: It feels good. I mean, it was definitely needed and definitely rejuvenating and [we’re] super looking forward to, now more than ever, to get back on stage and play our hearts out.
Live For Live Music: Hell yeah, that’s great to hear. You’ve had another big project while on hiatus, The Summit.
Rob Chafin: Yeah, The Summit Music Hall. Really lucky to have Chris Salvato and Trey Burris, who used to run the Scarlet & Gray Cafe, as my partners. And we’re really looking forward to not “making” but bringing Columbus and the Columbus music scene up. We want to make Columbus a premier music city in the United States. Not that it already isn’t, but we want to put it on the map even more than it already is. We just want to expand on the live music element in Columbus. And the venue is located right by Ohio State campus, which is the largest college campus in the United States. We really wanted to not only give Columbus another room but also give Ohio State campus somewhere they can walk to and kind of fill the void where the Scarlet & Gray left off.
Live For Live Music: And this isn’t your first foray into more of the business side of live music. I know you’ve been the talent buyer for The Werk Out and Winter Werk Out, but what kind of perspective has running The Summit given you on that other side?
Rob Chafin: Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a lot that goes into running a music venue and booking the calendar for sure. I always have so much respect for the agents and managers of all the acts that play. They are working behind the scenes helping make people’s dreams a reality and we get to work with a lot of incredible people in the music industry. What I love the most is being able to give my friends a platform to showcase their talent and creativity. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them crushing it on stage and smiles on their faces and knowing that I had a part in helping bring the joy to them and the joy to the crowd. That’s what it’s all about.
Live For Live Music: It sounds like it’s not even about just playing music, but also bringing music, whether it’s bringing friends together to play or bringing awareness to the Columbus music scene. Music is something very communal to you.
Rob Chafin: Oh, absolutely. Just like The Werk Out Festival has always been a community—not just the music festival, but a community. I love bringing that community aspect to The Summit as well. In the short time we’ve been around, we’ve already established a wonderful community here and it’s cool to see people get so excited as we keep making improvements to the venue … It feels like there’s a good energy in the air as we continue to progress here.
Live For Live Music: I’m glad you’re already feeling that good kind of energy. At the same time, what kinds of challenges have you run into with both headlining a festival and putting it all together simultaneously? Would you ever see yourself taking a step back on either production or, God forbid, the performance end of it?
Rob Chafin: Yeah, well, throughout the years I have been lucky and fortunate to have an amazing team and partners around me for the Werk Out Festival, and that really helps. At first I tried to do it all myself, but that obviously didn’t work! There are so many people that have helped over the years to help produce the events and help me be a musician when it’s time to go on stage. I’ve also been throwing a lot of other events at The Bluestone in Columbus and other venues as well. So I mean, I definitely enjoy curating events in general. Whether it’s a big production of The Werk Out or as small as The Summit, I definitely feel like I’m doing my part to help bring up the music community here in central Ohio.
Live For Live Music: With Winter Werk Out entering in its fourth year, it’s really kind of taking its own definitive shape. Are there any elements that you’re still working on with that festival?
Rob Chafin: There’s definitely challenges of bringing the same vibes that an outdoor music festival has to an indoor music festival, for many reasons. We definitely are expanding on the arts side of it. We want the arts side to be really well-represented this year more than ever. And I think what makes The Werk Out so special is the collaboration and sit-ins with all the music and visual. There is definitely a feeling of family and community you don’t really get anywhere else, and that’s what makes The Werk Out unique. And we want to bring those vibes even more to The Winter Werk Out.
Live For Live Music: So, having been without The Werks for six months, what can fans expect at Winter Werk Out next month?
Rob Chafin: We’re going to pick up right where we left off when we took our first steps off the stage at Legend Valley. I mean, we’re coming ready to play and more than ever than before, we’re reinvigorated and refreshed and recharged and ready to throw down super hard. Looking forward to bringing some newer stuff, throwing down the older stuff, and just super excited to get back on the stage.
Live For Live Music: For sure. You guys had celebrated the 10th annual Werk Out this past summer. Other than its size, how have you seen it evolve since those first Werk Outs at Zanes Caverns while still keeping true to that original vision?
Rob Chafin: No matter how big or small the festival got, we’ve always kept that quote-unquote “homie” vibe and that community vibe. Since day one, and it’s always been there, but it’s just evolved to the community and the family of fans, bands, and artists who are involved. It’s an incredible experience to see it blossom into what it is from such a humble beginning … I’m just honored and lucky to have that experience and to watch my “baby” grow into what it is today.
Live For Live Music: That “homie vibe” seems to come up again and again whether you’re talking about The Werk Out, Winter Werk Out, The Summit, or just Columbus in general.
Rob Chafin: Yeah, it all comes back around. Like The Winter Werk Out lineup with Ekoostik Hookah and EOTO. EOTO has been a huge part of The Werks and The Werk Out for a lot of different reasons. They were the first headliner at the Werk Out in 2010 and they’ve played almost every Werk Out since we’ve had it, in various forms. [Michael] Travis and Jason [Hann] have just been huge advocates of the band and we can’t thank them enough for all their connections and support over the years. So we’re really looking forward to having them back for the fourth annual Winter Werk Out. And then, same goes for Ekoostik Hookah. We got our first real big start when we opened for them at the Newport [Music Hall] for New Year’s Eve in 2007 and they took us under their wing back then. We’re super stoked to have them play The Winter Werk Out for the first time. We respect those guys so much and are super honored that they’re a part of the event this year.
Live For Live Music: You’ve also begun managing a local band, Barefuzz.
Rob Chafin: Yeah. I’m super stoked for them. I just recently picked them up and they’re going to have a killer set The Winter Werk Out. They’re super talented, young, and hungry, and ready to take on the world, so super happy to help take them to the next level. It’s nice to take a lot of lessons I’ve learned from stuff that I’ve done within the management world as well as learning from the great managers that we’ve had over the years and applying it these guys. I’m definitely looking forward to stepping into the management world more.
Live For Live Music: It sounds like it comes full circle to what you were saying at the beginning of keeping it very homie. Hookah helped give you guys your start and now you’re bringing them into The Winter Werk Out. Then you’re taking what you learned and bringing it to Barefuzz. It all comes back around, and that’s the way you bring up the whole Columbus scene.
Rob Chafin: Oh yeah. I’m just looking forward to, in all of my endeavors, just putting Ohio on the map more than it already is. It’s an incredible place here with an incredible music scene. It’s going to be the next Nashville, in my opinion.
The fourth-annual Winter Werk Out will feature two nights of The Werks in their first time on stage in six months, as well as EOTO, Ekoostik Hookah, Thriftworks, lespecial, Litz, Alejo, Mike Perkins, Dizgo, Barefuzz, Zoo Trippin‘, Dustin Smith and The Daydreamers, and more. Tickets are available here.