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Mix Live Blog: The Cameo Theater Reborn

FOH engineer Steve La Cerra shares his experience mixing opening night at Bristol, VA's Cameo Theater, a restored 500-cap venue from the 1920s.

The view from the stage inside Bristol's Cameo Theater.
The view from the stage inside Bristol’s Cameo Theater.

I worked the opening night show at the Cameo Theater last week, and it was a treat.

Located in Bristol, Virginia, the Cameo Theater is one of the 15 oldest theaters in the state. When it opened on March 30, 1925, it was a cutting-edge facility that offered films, plays and live music. The Cameo operated until the 1970s, when—like many theaters of its era—the doors closed. Three theaters in the city of Bristol were torn down during that time, and many local residents felt that the Cameo should go away as well. It sat vacant and neglected for more than 40 years, with a faded ‘For Sale’ sign hanging in front.

Until 2014, Brent Buchanan, a local businessman, had never previously ventured inside the Cameo when he met with a realtor to tour the building. Fortunately, Buchanan saw past the theater’s state of disrepair. “I fell in love as soon as I walked through the doors,” he recalls. “I began to see a future here.”

That tour started a three-year process to purchase the building, and on October 12, 2017, Buchanan took possession of the keys—but it was just the first step in an ongoing adventure. Buchanan’s passion to save the theater has resulted in a painstaking renovation, and most of the work has been done by himself and his family.

The theater has a capacity of around 500, so it’s an intimate venue with the layout of a classic vaudeville-era room. The balcony is quite long and the mix position is at the rear of the room, so the high end is attenuated there—but other than that, it’s a very good representation of what people hear throughout the rest of the room (including the balcony). Systems tech RT Baxter plans on adding some under-balcony fills to restore presence to the seating areas underneath the balcony.

The view from FOH
The view from FOH.

The house system, soon to be installed, includes eight EAW KF852s, four per side, along with Bag End Quartz 4×18 subs, all powered by Crown amplifiers. We used in-ear monitors, but the in-house monitor package includes five total mixes based around four EAW SM200s and a SM500, again powered by Crown. The mic inventory carries a lot of the usual suspects as well—Shure SM57s, 58s and KSM137s; Sennheiser e609s; Audix drum mics; Radial and Samson DIs; and more.

As you’d expect on opening night at any venue, there were some speed bumps, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome to give the audience a great show. The room was all but sold out, the audience was extremely enthusiastic and there were plenty of smiling faces after the show—which is always a good thing. Hopefully it will be the first of many such nights for the revived Cameo Theater in Bristol, VA.