Seaside Savior

From sold-out punk rock shows to dogs’ birthdays to wedding receptions, Lauren Boquette, general manager of Surfer the Bar, is constantly connecting with creative locals to make his establishment the live music venue and event space at the beach.

Lauren Boquette grew up in Southern California and immersed himself in its famous music scene. From 1987 to 2013, he played in various underground bands and opened for more mainstream ones like Slipknot and Buckcherry.

But underground bands don’t usually land regular gigs. Like most touring musicians, he and his bandmates held odd jobs when they weren’t on the road. That’s when he became involved with bars, nightclubs and their management. In 2013, Boquette decided to step off the stage and help other bands and businesses thrive.

One thing led to another, and by 2017, he was helping turn around a waterfront bar and restaurant on the U.S. Virgin Island of Saint John. Boquette’s connections helped bring in bands; investors made it possible for the owners to buy more property and expand. Then Hurricane Irma destroyed those dreams.

“I’m the same person who was boarding up the windows and the doors to the bar [and I] was the first person in the bar once the hurricane ripped everything apart. It was a weird paradox, you know,” Boquette said. “It was a trip, man. And life got really sideways.”

Once Irma passed, locals gathered what food they could and stuck together. A few days passed with no interaction from the rest of the world, until strangers from Puerto Rico arrived with food, diapers and various other necessities.

According to Boquette, it was the end of their world. Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the island, and the bar’s landlords shelved their plans. Some locals stayed; others returned home, planning to resume their former lives. Along with his wife and young daughter, Boquette headed back to Cali.

“A friend of ours loaned us a car—our friends really came, you know, people really helped us out—and we’re driving around in a car that our friend gave us to use as we’re figuring out what we’re gonna do with our lives … in the middle of traffic, it was, like, ‘What are we doing?’” Boquette said. “We just lived in paradise, and we just overcame, you know, the biggest storm in recorded history. Like, we don’t need to be sitting in traffic in Southern California. Like, no way, no, we’re not doing this.”

And off went the Boquettes to Palm Harbor, Florida, to reconnect with old friends. On the way, the family made a pit stop in Jacksonville. Boquette instantly fell in love with the community that would become his East Coast version of Huntington Beach.

After a few months in Palm Harbor, Boquette received a call from one of his Northeast Florida friends: Megan Ramsey. Ramsey had lived on Saint John before moving back home to the Sunshine State and becoming event coordinator of a new Jax Beach watering hole called Surfer the Bar. It opened in January 2017, on the site once occupied by well-loved music venue Freebird Live.

“Not to get too hippie, but there was this weird pull that said, ‘You’re supposed to be in Florida, but you’re supposed to be over here,’” Boquette said. “And then learning the history—I’m gonna get chills—learning the history of Freebird and knowing how that spirit was already in the soil here and there was already this magic that happened on this corner, I really felt once I got into it that, like, I was kinda here to make all of that come to life.”

According to Boquette, the bar’s owners wanted to have a music series: one or two shows each month, but nothing too lofty. When he came on board as general manager in September 2018, Boquette was ready for more, and he had a competent staff to help him realize his vision.

“Here, it was already this great group of people that were thrilled to be a part of Surfer the Bar. They were all talented people. They just sort of needed a leader who knew where we were going, who knew how to navigate,” Boquette said. “They had some live music; I put on real concerts. They had some DJs; now we have the best DJs at the beach. You know, they had little pockets that were cool, but I knew they could be great.”

Boquette’s background in music and his SoCal connections enabled him to launch Surfer the Bar’s punk rock programming in style last February. The evening’s headliner was a legend: T.S.O.L. From Boquette’s own hometown of Huntington Beach, the pioneering goth-punk band has always occupied a special place in the entrepreneur’s heart.

“It’s awesome that life comes full circle and a band that’s a dominant force on the West Coast surf/skate/punk scene was the first punk show I put on at Surfer the Bar in Florida,” Boquette said.

It was a solid start but, according to the general manager, Surfer the Bar has big shoes to fill. Freebird Live was a place where music legends connected with locals on an intimate level for 16 years. Boquette doesn’t expect the community to have the same level of respect for Surfer the Bar, at least not yet. He’s working toward making the bar a space where locals with all kinds of interests want to go.

“It’s Surfer the Bar, it’s the iconic Surfer magazine, and we’re a bar. This is supposed to be fun,” Boquette said.

Locals can look for the 6-foot-5-inch Boquette rocking out to Agent Orange, another West Coast punk band, at Surfer the Bar on June 18. Black Stone Cherry and Otis are on June 19, and Drake Bell performs June 20. Check the website for information on shows by local and national bands at Surfer the Bar.