On February 28, 2016, more than a dozen musicians came to The National in Richmond, Va., to salute The RVA’s beloved troubadour Robbin Thompson, who passed away after a battle with cancer last fall. “Robbin Thompson’s Real Fine Day” was a benefit for his favorite charities, the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community and JAM Inc. The show at The National occurred during a $150,000 sound upgrade of the former classic-era movie theater by AEG Live, which bought the venue in fall 2014.
“We’ve already spent $60,000,” says Carrol Miller, lead audio engineer for The National and other AEG properties in the region, including the NorVa, Norfolk, Va.; and Rams Head Live!, Baltimore. Upgrades include two new Avid VENUE SD48 consoles; five L-Acoustics dV-DOSC boxes in the center cluster, above the balcony; and four V-DOSCs each on the left and right of the stage; and two sets of L-Acoustics SB218 subs, three per side, at the front of the stage.
AEG will add to the array, with four more V-DOSC speakers, more amps, and the Dolby Lake Processor. “That’s the next upgrade. We’re hoping for approval shortly,” says Miller, who also works with Backstage LLC, also of Richmond, and tours with The Pretty Reckless.
The upgrades have brought the sound and beauty of the venue more in sync. “The National, with its artwork, can be very inspiring,” Miller says, “and the P.A. system is wonderful, due to the sound treatment that we’ve added to the walls, the proscenium, and the ceiling and dome. Some of the 20 4-foot by 8-foot sections of acoustic treatment aren’t usually recognized.”
Another console, a rackmount Behringer X32, is used for a percussion submix, says Jan Williams, Thompson’s longtime soundman, of FCP Sound, Lancaster, Va.
“The National is a great venue, especially with the enhancements,” Williams says. “It used to be that whenever fans were in the balcony, the bottom fell out of the sound. Since AEG took over, that’s the main improvement.”
“I think it’s a wonderful room,” adds Velpo Robertson, RTB’s guitarist and the show’s musical director. “It holds about 1,500 people, but it’s surprisingly intimate. Acoustically, it’s great as long as you don’t get too loud. If that happens, you can’t stay in the room.”
“I feel the room is really magical,” Miller says, “and when the artists walk in, our team makes it easy for them. I think The National is one of the best venues in America.”