Bonnaroo, Vegas Residency & Record Label: How Emo Nite Is Exploding

Morgan Freed (left) and T.J. Petracca are coming off their biggest year, expanding Emo Nite, a curated experience for alternative music fans, to more cities and beginning a residency at Zouk Nightclub in Las Vegas.
Courtesy of Zouk Group

The Avalon nightclub, located in the heart of Hollywood, is known to be a haven for EDM fans where they can dance the night away. In early December, the club had a slightly different crowd — mostly dressed in black.

It was Emo Nite at the Avalon with tombstones placed throughout the venue and attendees dressed in suits, lace dresses or simply in black T-shirts for a funeral-themed evening. The fans weren’t mourning, but celebrating a genre of music known as emo — which became popular in the early 2000s thanks to bands such as My Chemical Romance and Dashboard Confessional. The Emo Nite co-founders, Morgan Freed and T.J. Petracca, were also there to continue carrying the torch and combat the stigma and stereotypes of swoopy hair and eyeliner associated with the culture.

“This music didn’t really go anywhere. In fact, it’s even bigger and better than ever, and fans get introduced to new bands and new music,” Petracca told Pollstar in December. “What gets us excited is to see how far the scene has come since 2014 when we started the event. We’ve put a lot of heart into what we do and to make this scene cool and not something that is a joke.”

Not only is the scene very much alive, but it is thriving as Emo Nite sold out the 1,500-capacity Avalon last month and celebrated its eighth anniversary with special guests that included Avril Lavigne and Demi Lovato.

But what exactly is Emo Nite? The explanation can get murky, but it ultimately is a nightlife experience centered around emo music and culture — with the events sometimes including other artists inspired by the movement. It can be an evening of drinks with emo tunes spinning or a special guest performance from blink-182’s Mark Hoppus or an appearance from Machine Gun Kelly.

“We’ve done a bunch of weird stuff, [such as] mariachi bands learning blink-182 songs, a gospel choir and marching bands,” Petracca said on keeping their act fresh and unique. “We try to bring that into the parties and make it feel like anything can happen. But you’re only going to see it at Emo Nite.”

Having established musicians and elaborately designed stages is a far cry from their first event thrown in 2014. The idea first came to Freed and Petracca, friends who bonded over their love for the genre, when they lamented the fact that their favorite music was rarely heard in Los Angeles nightlife.

“It’s what we didn’t see, what we didn’t experience. And we wanted to give people the experience that we wanted, what these other shows were lacking,” Freed says. “How can we get everybody involved? How can we get that feeling of sitting in your kitchen and listening to songs with your friends? How do we do that in a bigger way that is fun and unique?”

An inspired Freed, Petracca and Barbara Szabo, a co-founder of the operation who stepped away two years ago, organized an emo-themed night at a popular dive bar, the Short Stop, in L.A.’s Echo Park and more than 100 people showed up.

Since then, they continuously challenged themselves to see how far they could take the venture, and it’s safe to say it’s gone far. Emo Nite has become somewhat of a phenomenon with shows in Mexico, Japan and Portugal. The two also started a residency at Resorts World Las Vegas’s Zouk Nightclub in November and their own record label, but the gig that solidified them as a musical act happened when performing in front of 40,000 people at Coachella last year.

“The Coachella thing was something really different. It felt like we did our part in culture,” Freed says.

Petracca adds, “Shifting the paradigm and moving culture in that way, it feels really good, and it validates all of the sleepless nights and hard work that we’ve put into this thing.”

Emo Nite continues to carry emo culture to new heights with additional shows in 2023 and an appearance set at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, this summer, allowing fans to express their inner anguish along with Freed and Petracca.

“There’s something about it,” Petracca said. “We always stuck together. We were the weirdos. We were the people who went to Warped Tour. We are the outcasts, and this music has a bonding effect, and when you walk into a room and every single person is singing, you just feel a connection. … There’s no better feeling than singing along to a song with a bunch of strangers.”