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How Emo Nite went from L.A. clubs to festival stages and a Vegas residency

Eight years ago, T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed invited a few friends to hang out at The Short Stop bar in Echo Park. They convinced the owners to let them take over the venue playlist and curated the first Emo Nite with a selection of the duo’s favorite emo and pop-punk songs.

“We didn’t think anybody was going to come,” Freed said during a recent video chat, ahead of Emo Nite hitting The Glass House in Pomona on Jan. 14 and The Casbah in San Diego on Jan. 20. “We thought it would be a couple of our friends – and it was way, way bigger than we expected. And we were just DJing off an iPad.”

Since then, Emo Nite has grown into a touring phenomenon that hits clubs and theaters in major cities throughout the United States and pops up for special sets at large-scale music festivals like the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Insomniac Events’ EDC. In 2022, Petracca and Freed landed their first Emo Nite residency at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World Las Vegas, where big-name EDM artists like Zedd, Tiësto, Deadmau5 and Kaskade all regularly perform.

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed (left) and T.J. Petracca, of Los Angeles, landed a residency at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World in Las Vegas that ran for three months in 2022. (Photo by ZoukGroup)

Los Angeles duo T.J. Petracca (left) and Morgan Freed are the creators of Emo Nite, an event that now travels around the country and celebrates emo music and brings out some of the biggest emo and pop-punk artists to the parties. (Photo by Beth Saravo)

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed and T.J. Petracca (pictured performing on the Sahara Stage at the 2022 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio) will host Emo Night at The Glass House in Pomona on Jan. 14. (Photo by Rodrigo Pena, Contributing Photographer)

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed and T.J. Petracca (pictured performing on the Sahara Stage with Tom Higgenson of The Plain White T’s at the 2022 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio) will host Emo Night at The Glass House in Pomona on Jan. 14. (Photo by Rodrigo Pena, Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles duo T.J. Petracca (left) and Morgan Freed are the creators of Emo Nite, an event that now travels around the country and celebrates emo music and brings out some of the biggest emo and pop-punk artists to the parties. (Photo by Beth Saravo)

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed (left) and T.J. Petracca, of Los Angeles, landed a residency at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World in Las Vegas that ran for three months in 2022. (Photo by ZoukGroup)

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed (left) and T.J. Petracca, of Los Angeles, landed a residency at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World in Las Vegas that ran for three months in 2022. (Photo by ZoukGroup)

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These evenings, which unironically and unapologetically celebrate all things emo – a more emotionally complex style of punk – also attracted several of the actual emo and pop-punk artists to the events, including acts like Hellogoodbye and 3OH!3. As well, famous fans of the style, including Post Malone and Machine Gun Kelly, who made appearances. In December, Emo Nite celebrated its 8th anniversary with a party at Avalon in Los Angeles that included sets from Landon Barker (son of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker), pop-rock band Glimmers and special guests Demi Lovato, Mod Sun and Avril Lavigne and members of Waterparks and Underoath.

“If you would have told ninth grade me that I’d be organizing a show that Underoath would be performing at and I’d be texting (drummer-singer) Aaron Gillespie to finalize details, I’d freak out,” Petracca said during the same video chat. “I’d be like ‘That’s insane’ and ‘How would that ever happen?’ It’s just really cool and we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of the artists and I think that comes from the passion and authenticity that we bring to Emo Nite. What we create at these events, you just can’t fake that and the artists see that we’re doing it for the right reasons and they want to support it, too.”

Petracca and Freed agree that they aren’t DJs and they aren’t a band. They’re just two guys who met while working in an office in Los Angeles who share a passion for emo music and who had grown tired of hearing Top 40 music on their nights out.

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“We’d hang out before going somewhere in L.A. and we found ourselves listening to emo and pop-punk before we went out for the night and then when we’d go out, it would always be that Top 40 or hip-hop or music we just weren’t really into,” Petracca said. “We were like, ‘Why can’t we listen to the music we want to listen to when we’re just hanging out at a bar?’ And that’s where the original idea for Emo Nite came from.”

After filling The Short Stop, the guys moved the event down the street to the Echoplex. It quickly expanded within that space, too. It eventually took over several of the performance spaces and morphed from the duo leading the party with a curated playlist to including themed rooms with live bands.

“We started doing things upstairs and on the patios and programming all of these different spaces so you could walk around the whole venue and have four different rooms with four different experiences,” Freed explained.

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From there, they decided to take the show on the road and try out Emo Nite in different cities after getting requests from emo fans from across the country who heard about the parties on social media. The first events were scheduled closer to home, including evenings that quickly sold out in San Diego, before they started booking gigs in cities like Seattle and Portland.

“We definitely didn’t expect it to grow like that,” Freed said. “We certainly didn’t sit down eight years ago and say, ‘This is our plan.’ It was really just us going, ‘OK, how do we make the next decision or step.’ Then opportunities would come and we’d work really, really hard and we’d have to just rise to the occasion.”

One of those opportunities was an offer to play at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair were given extra time to work on their back-to-back weekend sets as the event didn’t return until 2022.

“That was an interesting challenge for us to be like, ‘All right, how do we take our party, which is us picking music from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. at a club, and boil it down to a 45-minute stage show that’s intriguing enough not just to the people who are fans of emo music, but people just walking by at the festival,’” Freed said. “The challenge was how to make it an inclusive thing. We worked with some really talented music producers and our team really rose to the occasion by creating a bunch of visuals and we worked with lighting designers and learned how to navigate a festival setting. They put us in the Sahara tent, which is traditionally for EDM music, and it has some of the best production in the world.”

During its Coachella debut, Emo Nite brought out Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, 3OH!3, Forrest Kline of Hellogoodbye and Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s. Learning how to perform at a festival with full production is what led to Emo Nite’s residency at Zouk Nightclub in Las Vegas as the team responsible for booking the venue were in the crowd. The residency included three dates in 2022 and there will be additional evenings announced this year, Petracca said.

“It’s quite a bit different from the typical Emo Nite when we’re DJing because it’s us creating a couple hours of a set and it’s more of a cross between emo and EDM,” he continued. “It’s an expansion of what we learned at Coachella, so we’re basically taking what we did there and extending that to two hours with a full production with visuals, lights, lasers and a mix of EDM and emo music.”

“What’s really important is that there’s a crossover between those two communities,” Freed added. “They have very similar fans. They’re all diehards for all of this stuff and we found a way to kind of meld these two things and it’s almost a new genre of music in the way we entertain and how we do our job. When we went to EDC we were like ‘Wow, these people care about this (stuff) and care about this music.’ It’s the same with the emo fans that come to our events; they are just music fans and it’s about being a music lover. Both communities take care of each other and they share the same sentiments, the scene just looks a bit different.”

“I do see it changing, like with anything, it will change, but,” he says. “I don’t see this going anywhere any time soon.”

Emo Nite

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 14

Where: The Glass House, 200 W. 2nd Street, Pomona

Tickets: $19 for all-ages at Eventbrite.com

Also: 9 p.m. Jan. 20 at Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., San Diego. $16 for those 21-and-older only at seetickets.us.

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