PACKING THE BOX

Written By: Josh Gray | Photography By: Kit Noble

How Packy Norton brings some of the biggest acts to The Chicken Box.

There’s a moment at the beginning of each concert at The Chicken Box when co-owner Packy Norton walks his visiting band to the stage doors, hears the crowd erupt, listens to the first few notes being played, and then lets out a giant sigh of relief. That moment is the culmination of months, sometimes years, of the pleading and planning required to bring world-renowned musical acts to play this tiny dive bar thirty miles out to sea.

This year alone, Packy and his co-owners John Jordin and Rocky Fox have managed to bring nearly a dozen national acts — ranging from reggae icon Ziggy Marley to rock legend Blues Traveler – to perform sold-out shows at The Chicken Box. While it’s a team effort to pull off, convincing these bands to play on Nantucket has become Packy Norton’s specialty.

A Cape Cod native, Packy — whose given name is a closely held secret that he jokes can be used as a password to get into the Box’s sold-out shows — served in the Marine Corps prior to discovering Nantucket. “At the time, the Marines was a better option for me than college and I ended up with a logistics job in the Corps,” says Packy, who was stationed at Paris Island and Cherry Point before serving in Desert Storm in both Iraq and Saudi Arabia. “I’m glad and proud I did it,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”

When he finished his tour of duty in 1992, Packy took a job bartending at the Nantucket Inn as a way to spend a summer on the island. Shortly thereafter, he began working the door at The Chicken Box, then owned by Robert “Cap’n Seaweed” Reed. “Seaweed got to a point where he wanted to sell the Box, and there was a lot of interest from all sorts of people,” Packy says. “But Rocky, John Jordin, and I worked together to buy it. Seaweed was very gracious in the way he structured our deal, and Nantucket Bank helped out a lot, too.”

For the first half dozen years, the owners ran the office during the day and tended the bar at night, with John Jordin handling the musical bookings, Rocky Fox running the office and community outreach, and Packy managing the front-of-house bar operations. In 2007, Jordin was looking to take a break from the booking game and handed off the mantle to Packy. Ten years later, Packy has turned the Box into Nantucket’s version of the House of Blues, offering concertgoers a chance to see big acts in a small, intimate venue.

“I just picked up where John left off, and my lifestyle made it possible for me to see a lot of bands,” Packy says. “I began traveling to Jazz Fest in New Orleans every year. I became good friends with one of the owners of the House of Blues and the Paradise in Boston, where I have an apartment — so I go to a lot of shows.” But Packy doesn’t just go to the shows. He has a magical ability to become genuine friends with the musicians he meets, who often lead him backstage where he becomes part of their inner circle. Whether he’s backstage with Meghan Trainor at the Grammys, linking up with The Revivalists on tour, or motoring Grace Potter and the Nocturnals over from the Vineyard for an impromptu show at the Box, Packy has forged friendships with top musical talents by going the extra mile. He often finds himself mingling with some of the big wheelers and dealers in the music industry, observing their craft and continuing to make connections that benefit Nantucket’s music fans.

“A big part of what we do is because of the friendships that Packy has built over the past few years,” says co-owner Rocky Fox. Packy’s phone is a treasure trove of musical contacts, each of which have helped open doors for him to connect with the next big act. “Packy is a loyal, consistent, and fair friend, willing to listen and drop whatever he’s doing to help someone out,” Rocky says. “He’s always just a phone call away and these bands recognize that.”

“A lot of these bands don’t play venues this small anymore, and it really takes the hospitality of the whole island to convince them to come year after year,” Packy says. “From The Steamship Authority, to Beachside hotel, to the transportation, it would be impossible to do what we do without the help of so many people.” From the moment they arrive, Packy plans every detail of the bands’ visits to offer the most enjoyable experience possible, in hopes that they’ll return the following year to play.

Of course, business often remains the bottom line when band negotiations get underway. Packy says there’s a lot of back and forth before the final offer is proffered and accepted. Given The Chicken Box’s capacity and the limit to how high they can reasonably charge per ticket, Packy’s offer differs in comparison to some of the other venues these bands are playing. For instance, shortly after Ziggy Marley performed at the Box, he went on to play a sold-out show at a London venue that had a capacity of twenty thousand.

The Revivalists sold out multiple nights at the Box this past August in less than forty-five minutes, raising the question of how much longer this small island venue will be able to book the band. Without their positive Nantucket experiences and the friendships formed along the way, business would have dictated long ago that they move on to larger venues and greener pastures.

Packy keeps a mental wish list of the bands he would love to see hit their small, well-worn stage, and his business partners trust him completely to strike the right balance and take appropriate risks. All this might sound tiring or stressful to the uninitiated, but Packy says he’s driven by his love of music and the satisfaction he gets in that moment he hears his bands play those first few notes. As he lingers there just outside the stage doors, listening contentedly, Packy thinks to himself, “Maybe we could get Snoop Dogg next.”