When a colleague pointed out a large advertisement in the Times-Dispatch announcing that Chris Bopst was going to be writing a weekly music column, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Those are some strange bedfellows — the city's paper of record and the always opinionated, occasionally inflammatory musician, club booker and DJ.Turns out that Bopst is similarly surprised at the turn his career's taken. "I never would have thought it possible that Ross Mackenzie and I would write for the same newspaper," he says. "I can't say how much that appeals to me."
A champion of local, independent and obscure music, Bopst replaces Melissa Ruggieri, who devoted way more column inches to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi than she did to local acts. She even went to Las Vegas to see Cher.
Bopst plans to correct that. In a March column, he rails against ticket prices for major concerts like U2 and Neil Young, while noting that he's seen plenty of great shows around town without paying an arm and a leg. In the future, we can look forward to columns about local vinyl stores, guitar makers and clubs — the world Bopst has occupied for decades.
After playing in GWAR and the Alter Natives, two of Richmond's legendary rock bands, Bopst booked shows at Millie's for 15 years, leaving last August after taking over scheduling duties at Balliceaux, which offers a mix of DJs spinning records, pop bands and world music three or four nights a week. Bopst hosted a free-form radio show on WCLM and now has a weekly music podcast on RVA News; he also wrote for Brick and RVA magazine.
Despite his extensive local-media exposure, Bopst calls all of that "preaching to the converted" — to people who like the same music as he does, in other words. At the T-D, he hopes to turn people on to music that they might not have heard, whether it's by Druglord (which Bopst calls a "Richmond-based sludge practitioner"), Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, or Malaysian pop bands.
He's enthused by his mission. When he used to read stories by his predecessor, Bopst says he often became "thoroughly enraged."
"I wanted her job," he says of Ruggieri. "They were flying her to the Grammys; they sent her to shows. I always loved that job."
And yet, unless a local musician died or was Elliott Yamin, they received little attention from Ruggieri. After she left last year for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bopst applied for her old job and was told the full-time position was "put on hold." However, the paper did offer him the weekly column in the Thursday weekend section, which he accepted with alacrity.
Writing for the free weekly Brick, which also was owned by Media General, was a little different, especially in terms of language. "I was sort of compelled to be as profane as possible," Bopst says, "to see if they'd run it. It was a runaway ship."
Despite his unorthodox path to weekly columnist, Bopst says he finds value in all local media: "We need them all," he says of the region's media outlets — the T-D, Style Weekly, Richmond magazine, RVA magazine, RVA News and more. "I love newspapers."