When more than 400 people piled into his backyard for a Hawaiian party in the early 1980s, David Carver discovered he had a knack for packing a place for social gatherings.
“I was promoting the party while at (Memorial) University, but I thought only people who knew where I lived would show up,” said Carver, who lived in his family’s home on a private lane off Thorburn Road in St. John’s at the time, when he was around 19 years old.
“But when hundreds of people showed up, the line of parked cars was like neon light — ‘Party this Way.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Neither could his father, who upon returning home that morning from vacation in Prince Edward Island, suggested at 2 a.m. that his son hold his parties in bigger venues next time.
“At 3:30 a.m., my dad said to me, ‘If you’re going to do this again, have it at someone else’s house — or, better yet, rent out a place,’” Carver recalls.
And he did, renting facilities like the St. John’s Curling Club for his annual bashes, attracting thousands of people at $10 a head, along with sponsors who offered cash and travel giveaways.
“They got pretty big,” Carver said last week, sitting in the lobby at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s for an interview.
“It taught me a lot — booking sound systems, printing tickets, securing sponsors, building relationships.”
Three decades later, Carver has made a name for himself promoting more than just house parties.
And the houses he’s packing are much bigger than the one off Thorburn Road.
The 56-year-old became known as one of the country’s most prominent music promoters, attracting some of the world’s biggest musical artists to this province — including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Van Morrison, Heart, Blake Shelton, Tom Cochrane at the height of his career and, recently, Richard Marx.
He’s brought several others to the East Coast, too — Bob Seger, Sheryl Crow, Matchbox Twenty, the Goo Goo Dolls and others.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years,” said Carver, who, instead of attending convocation at MUN to receive his arts degree with a business minor in 1987, was downtown getting his promotions business incorporated.
“It’s been a lot of fun.”
Carver officially retired as a music promoter recently after the Richard Marx show at the Delta n St. John’s. It seemed a fitting last act, as the American pop star — who had such hits as, “Right Here Waiting” and “Endless Summer Nights” — was the first big-name act Carver brought to the East Coast in 1988, when Marx played in Halifax and Fredericton.
Marx didn’t come to Newfoundland then, but it wasn’t from Carver’s lack of trying. He said there were “some local roadblocks that got in the way.”
“I’m not sure what persistence is — if it’s a trait or a skill or something you learn. I’m not sure how you acquire it, but I have it. I know that when doors get slammed in my face, it just makes me more persistent and more determined.”
Why The Boss hasn’t come to town
Those “local roadblocks” were the reason Carver couldn’t get Bruce Springsteen to come to this province, he said.
“Newfoundland has been on Bruce Springsteen’s agent’s radar for the 30 years I’ve been in business. His agent knows about the market and has heard great things about Newfoundland. The reason it never happened not David Carver or Bruce Springsteen,’ Carver said leaning forward in his seat.
He chose not to elaborate.
“Some of those behind-the-scenes elements and dynamics of producing a tour are really fascinating,” he said. “And I think if people really knew the logistical component and risk component, they would be shocked. People would be (a little more) sympathetic when things go wrong, too.”
However, those disappointments were few during his career.
Carver has many great memories of the shows he brought to this province to entertain local crowds; he has so many stories, they could fill a book.
Dylan would have a chapter of his own.
Carver spent three years in the 1990s with the Toronto-based promotions company CPI/Donald K. Donald Productions, but he said the company wouldn’t entertain his idea of asking Dylan to come to Atlantic Canada. When Carver opted to go back on his own in 1997, the first thing he did was to pursue the folk music icon, who agreed to perform in St. John’s.
Turns out, after Dylan’s performance at Memorial Stadium that year, a snowstorm delayed his other shows in the Maritimes and the U.S. The changes also forced a few Maritime hockey tournaments to be reset and moved to other venues.
“On the very last date of the tour in Saint John, N.B., Dylan’s manager says to me, ‘Bob wants to see you on the side of the stage.’ I’m thinking, do I even want to be here for this?’ ” he said laughing.
“Dylan walks off with his fedora on, dripping with sweat. He looks at me and says, ‘You know, David,’” Carver said imitating Dylan’s distinctive drawl, “‘I just want to let you know, I didn’t mean to come up to Canada and f--k up your national pastime.’
“I didn’t get to hang out with him, but hearing that was better than any conversation I could’ve had with him.”
Proud of Petty
Bringing Tom Petty to St. John’s in 2012 was also a proud moment for Carver.
He recalls when Petty stepped off the stage at Mile One Centre and said, “Wow!” in reaction to the crowd’s rousing applause and appreciative response to his performance.
Carver said Petty wanted to come back, but they couldn’t iron out dates with local venues.
“No other promoter was able to convince Tom Petty to come to Newfoundland except me,” said Carver, who admits it’s tougher to attract artists to small markets that are miles out of their way. “It’s very self-satisfying to know I made the impossible possible …
“I’m persistent, and persistence is a key part. I’m not one to give up asking.”
But it’s a competitive, stressful and risky business, he said.
“Everyone thinks this is a glamourous jobn and we get to hang out with rock stars,” said Carver, who wasn’t one to ask musicians for their time or even a photo.
“The public doesn’t realize that (promoters) risk a lot of money to make (shows) happen and risk our reputation. It can be a tough business.”
A proud son
Born in Corner Brook to Orin and Jill Carver, Carver was a boy when the family moved to St. John’s. He credits his father for passing on his business skills and knowledge to him.
Orin Carver was a successful businessman in the oil industry and the real estate business. A native of Charlottetown, P.E.I., Orin was also a well-known hockey player. During the 1950s and 1960s, he helped win a Memorial Cup — with Don Cherry as a teammate. He was also invited to American Hockey League camps and made a name for himself in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, leading Grand Falls and Corner Brook to Herder Memorial Cup titles. He went on to coach senior and junior teams and, in 2001, was awarded the Order of Canada.
“My father was a great man and incredible entrepreneur,” Carver said. “I’ll never be the man he was. I could spend all day telling you about my father.”
But Carver has a few impressive accomplishments under his own belt as well and he hopes to add to them.
He’s not retiring from the entertainment business. Instead, he’s venturing into the film industry.
Carver is developing a full-length feature film on Canadian golf legend Moe Norman, after more than a dozen years pursuing the project and finally getting the rights.
“I knew I was destined to produce this movie. I had a vision for it,” said Carver, who hired writers to help with the script.
“It’s an incredible (true) story about a man who was a golf genius, but it’s a movie that will resonate beyond sports. There’s a family dynamic, between a father and son, a mother and son. It’s a movie about friendship, about being true to yourself, never giving up and being tolerant and accepting of other people. It’s got it all.”
It’s a life lesson learned a long time ago.
Carver admits he has no experience in making films, but is quick to point out, “I had 30 years’ experience in being persistent.”
He’s is in the process of finding a director and has pitched it to many A-listers — “I swing for the fence,” he said.
Carver said a few have told him they were impressed with the script.
“Everyone we’ve sent it to in the industry loves it,” said Carver, who hopes things can start rolling by the winter of 2019.
He said the script has drawn the attention of talent agencies, one of which has offered to help him develop a TV drama and TV comedy in the future.
He’s hoping once word gets out that he’s producing movies, Hollywood will come knocking and he’ll be there to open the door.
“I’m not sure what persistence is — if it’s a trait or a skill or something you learn. I’m not sure how you acquire it, but I have it,” he said. “I know that when doors get slammed in my face, it just makes me more persistent and more determined.”