Beautifying Napa's Uptown TheatreSOME CHANGES YOU SEE, SOME YOU JUST HEAR 3/01/2012 4:00 AM Eastern
A couple of years ago, a new venue quietly began appearing in the San Francisco Bay Area concert listings: the Uptown Theatre. Not to be confused with Oakland, Calif.’s beloved sweaty shoebox, the Uptown Nightclub, the renovated art-deco Uptown Theatre is now the centerpiece of nightlife in the Northern California wine country destination of Napa.
Since it opened in May 2010, Napa’s Uptown has hosted 130-plus shows. Recent performances have included top acts Willie Nelson, The Pixies, BB King, Brian Wilson, Rufus Wainwright, Beck, Ryan Adams and others. “We’ve got sold-out show after sold-out show up here,” says the Uptown’s chief engineer, John Breglia.
Breglia, a veteran studio owner and former touring engineer with Clair Bros. (Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, Ministry, etc.) became part of the Uptown Theatre family after plans for the venue were well under way. The extensive redesign was created by a team at Meyer Sound; Brian Long and his colleagues Will Lewis, John Monitto, Steve Bush and Bob McCarthy, along with John and Helen Meyer, were all instrumental in putting a package together for Uptown co-owner George Altamura, a real estate developer and music lover who Breglia says comes to almost every show.
“George had owned the building for about 10 years before renovation happened,” Breglia says. “He was dedicated to restoring the building to its original art deco glory, but he was also totally dedicated to making it a real music venue. So the aesthetic is pristine, but there’s a lot of changes you will never see.”
Delicate Productions San Francisco was contracted to execute Brian Long’s plan. Breglia says the company was favored in particular because the owners and designers wanted to involve Phil Burke, who expertly handles Delicate L.A.’s rigging.
“Phil did a lot of the structural steel work up in the ceiling so that we could run all our tow motors,” Breglia says. “And this was no small thing, because this could have been an architectural nightmare; it’s an old theater. We had to totally reinforce the ceiling.
“On the electrical side,” Breglia continues, “we have totally isolated systems for our audio through stand-alone transformers, so I’ve got a 400-amp disconnect for my main. I’ve got a 200-amp disconnect onstage for monitors—all isolated. That’s unheard of. Our lighting is isolated, too. We’re coming off a separate transformer from the city power.”
Acoustically, numerous treatments and traps have been employed to control low end in the 863-seat space, including eight 10x14-foot rigid Fiberglas panels (four per side), varying in thickness from 6 to 20 inches, that are hidden behind acoustically transparent curtains.
“Those aren’t tuning panels as much as they are traps,” Breglia explains. “Also, there was a proscenium built. That wasn’t in the original space, of course, because it was a movie theater. But we added a proscenium so that we have side wings now, and there’s a transition walkway behind the stage. And behind the proscenium, there’s sound baffling up into the ceiling—a combination of loose and rigid Fiberglas paneling installed in the ceiling area.
“And one of our big benefits is we’ve got dirt under our floors,” Breglia adds. “No rock, no concrete, just good old Napa dirt, and it actually does a lot to reinforce the low end. Our subs sit underneath the thrust of the stage as well, and those are completely isolated in their own boxes with isolating pucks underneath. A lot of the stuff that went into this is like a recording studio.”
Breglia says that when he came into the Uptown fold, he made a few specific requests in the interest of making the venue as engineer-friendly as possible. “We have only 863 soft seats in here, and it’s a two-tier progressive rake,” he says. “There’s no traditional balcony, and it’s only 120 feet or so from the stage to the back of the hall. Well, my front-of-house is dead-center at 47 feet from the front of stage. Those would be money seats. It’s almost unheard of to get that.”
Breglia’s FOH position is equipped with an Avid VENUE board, but the space was spec’d to accommodate a full-size analog desk if needed. “I’d say 65 percent of the acts bring their own production, but less stacks and racks,” Breglia says. “Our hang never comes down. The Meyer MICA system [8 speakers flown per side] is always up there.”
In monitor world, the speakers are also all from Meyer: five MJF-212A dual 12-inch wedges, five UM1-P wedges, and a USW1-P subwoofer. The monitor console is an Avid SC48.
“I spec’d the Avid boards partly because they are universally known. I also like them because, in 15 or 20 minutes, I can clear FOH and monitor world and then touring guys can pop their own stuff in. I have multiple tielines into my [Meyer Galileo] speaker management. I have dedicated runs for our snakes from stage to FOH that are not shared by anything in the house. So we can get an artist up and running in an hour.
“Touring acts usually have 8 or 9 a.m. calls, and our call time is rarely before 2 p.m. in most situations, even with a big board, but that’s also a nod to my amazing crew. Most of our production crew are grads of Ex’pression College [www.expression.edu] and came to us with the help of Shiloh Hobel, their career placement director. All of us are just trying to make our house as user-friendly as possible for the touring guys. I want them to come in and say, ‘This is great, we’re going for a drink.’ And what better place than Napa to do that?”