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Going to The Chapel

New Club Runs Smoothly With Networked System

Robert Earl Keen (pictured at right) sits in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at The Chapel

Photo: Ken Friedman

A new venue needs to offer something special to carve out a space in San Francisco’s crowded club scene. The Chapel should have no problem. This newcomer to the city’s Mission District is outstanding on every level: leadership, support staff, atmosphere, music, refreshments, sound.

Owned by restaurateur/real estate developer Jack Knowles, The Chapel is built in what was originally a mortuary that dates to 1914. The former chapel is now a uniquely beautiful performance space, while the rest of the building is divided into upstairs lounge and offices, full bar and, coming in the spring, a full-service restaurant and outdoor cafe featuring Knowles’ acclaimed cuisine.

The audio side of the ambitious build-out was handled by Delicate Productions, headed up by George Edwards and, initially, by project manager Coty Shipe.

“I got a call last summer from George saying they had this project in the works,” says Jon Graves of QSC Audio. “There were a couple of line arrays on his radar, but I think he felt our total-solution approach would not only sound great, but also make the installation run smoother. I went up, took a bunch of photos, talked to George and Coty, and got together a proposal with the help of QSC’s Application Engineering Team. After more conversations, we made some tweaks to the design, but of course everyone wanted to hear it first.”

In mid-September, Graves shipped the proposed rig for the main venue to San Francisco and came along to supervise a demo. “We pushed all the carpenters out of the way and ground-stacked the rig—the final rig would be flown, but we ground-stacked it—and George brought in a band that did a five-song demo to see how everyone felt about it.” On-site for the demo were Knowles, Edwards and Shipe, and Lee Brenkman, the head of audio for Slim’s Presents, which runs two popular San Francisco venues. Brenkman was brought in as an audio consultant to help choose the system and oversee ongoing audio operations. A few days later, Graves got the news that QSC’s proposal had been accepted, but the club had to be show-ready in just a couple of weeks.

“It was an extremely tight timeline,” says Nick Fletcher, who took over project management for Shipe as the installation began. “It became kind of a rolling install that was somewhat unconventional. They wanted to open so early that we supplemented with rental gear, and as parts came in, we gave the owners what they’d purchased. Getting it done combined concert production with more conventional installation.”

Completion dates were fixed because the venue had already booked several shows in association with the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Preservation Hall Jazz Band were slated to play over several nights with guest stars Justin Townes Earle, Steve Earle and Alison Moorer, Robert Earl Keen, and Elvis Costello, who played two charity shows on the second night of HSB. “It was, ‘Yes, and by the way, we have Elvis Costello coming in. Try to get this done for us,’” Graves says with a laugh. They got it done.

Head of audio for Slim’s Presents, Lee Brenkman, has consulted on sound for The Chapel since March 2012. “The extra effort made by the crew from Delicate, and especially Jon [Graves’] assistance in setting up and tuning the system made for one of the better new-install situations I’ve experienced,” Brenkman says.

Photo: Ken Friedman

The system in the performance space includes an Avid SC48 board, a mic package comprising mainly Shure and Sennheiser models, and QSC’s rig: 18 WL3082 boxes in WideLine-8 arrays, six GP212 subs, two PL340 and seven PL380 2-channel amps, and SC28 and Rave 522ua processors. Stage monitors include seven CSM 12s and one CSM 15, all powered by PL325 and PL380 amps. Audio in the main room, and in all other zones—also equipped by QSC—is controlled by Q-Sys.

“The entire system is networked so that any zone can select from multiple audio sources, as well as a balanced, aligned live feed from the venue. This is done via 3-inch touch panels located in each zone,” Graves explains.

“The install involved acoustical changes, as well,” Fletcher says. “The building touches the one next door, so we had to build up the wall between with extra sheet rock and tweak the system to avoid transmissive sound from the P.A. The WideLine-8 arrays are steerable, which was really key. We tweaked the steering and made some EQ changes, and now the neighbors are satisfied.”

Before the opening week, Knowles added another key staff member: After five years as assistant general manager at the Troubadour (L.A.), Angele Dayer became The Chapel’s manager. She says she’s happy about her move north and the opportunity to work in such a unique venue.

“I’ve been blown away by pretty much every act that has come into the room so far,” she says. “We had a show recently with Lavender Diamond, who’s very good, and John C. Reilly and Tom Brosseau were added at the last minute. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so impressed—they played beautiful duets with guitars and harmonies. This is no flavor of the week sort of thing. It’s all music that’s really substantial and has integrity, which goes along with the integrity of the room.”