Andy Tennille and Brian Doub stood on the balcony inside The Ramkat, looked down at the big stage with its sound and light capabilities, and had an aha moment.
“We said, ‘Let’s just use what we’ve got.’ Why wouldn’t we do it here?” Tennille said.
Tennille is a co-owner of The Ramkat, Winston-Salem’s 1,000-plus capacity popular-music venue. Doub is the sound technician. “It” is “Home Sweet Home: Live From The Ramkat,” a series of concerts that aim to fulfill the venue’s mission of providing entertainment to the community and be a gathering social-gathering place. It’s a challenge during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Music is way more than just the people on the stage playing instruments and singing. The musicians are essential and the catalyst for everything else, but they are supported by bartenders, audio and lighting technicians, and more.
All of these are being effected by the lockdown. No singer on the stage means no audience to sell drinks to, no lights to shine, no amplifiers to monitor.
Co-owners Richard Emmett and Tennille on camera, Doub on sound and Michael Schmid, lighting, have prerecorded five concerts and posted them on social media: The Pharaoh Sisters, Big Ron Hunter, DJ SK, Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk, and most recently Cashavelly Morrison.
Next on the bill are Emily Stewart, followed by Crenshaw Pentecostal, a rock band.
When they started brainstorming about how they could fulfill The Ramkat’s mission, despite the lockdown, the big question became whether they would livestream or prerecord.
“Our decision to pre-produce was based on how we could maintain quality,” Tennille said. “We take seriously the musicians and the music, so mixing the sound and doing video production work meets our standards more than livestreaming.
“Nothing wrong with livestreaming. But considering the resources that we had in the building, we decided that pre-producing was the way to go for us.
“We have sound, lights and all the gear we use when we do concerts. ... We just looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do this.’” Extra tech is provided by Special Event Services, a partner since they opened in 2018.
The other decision that had to be made was whether they would use The Ramkat’s big downstairs stage or the smaller, more intimate upstairs venue, the Gas Hill Drinking Room.
“Jump, Little Children put out a performance of their song ‘Cathedrals’ in an empty Charleston music hall, and it was moving to see it performed in a completely empty room,” Tennille said.
Inspired by that video and their own view from the balcony, they chose the big room
“It quickly became apparent that we’d made the right choice,” Tennille said. “We are proud of what we are able to deliver using these technologies and these products.”
And they are mindful of keeping performers safe.
“We’re all masked up,” Tennille said. “We clean all the mics and gear between sessions.”
Cashavelly Morrison, is led by singer-songwriter Melissa MacLeod, a UNC School of the Arts alumna, and her husband, Ryan. MacLeod said that performing in the empty Ramkat was strangely comforting.
“It felt like performing in outer space,” she said. “Sweet and cozy outer space with just a few of my favorite people.
“I love it there. Brian Doub does glorious sound. Michael Schmid, who does lighting, makes us feel like rock stars. And Andy and Richard are so warm, upbeat, and supportive. We were so happy to be there. We’ve missed everyone and performing regularly.”
MacLeod said that her life during the quarantine has been different but, in some ways, better. She and her children, 3 and 7, have found a rhythm and structure that works for them.
“I feel like I know my kids so much better now than before quarantine. We aren’t rushing around anymore,” she said. “They know I’m going to play music and work every day at some point.
“They seem to be realizing I’m a person too and not just their mom. And I’m seeing them more as individuals, and learning more about what interests them. It’s awesome.”
MacLeod, who was a ballet dancer before becoming a singer-songwriter, has finished writing their third album and recording demos. Rolling Stone called Cashavelly Morrison “an Artist to Watch” when their most recent album, “Hunger,” came out in 2018.
“Our plan is to experiment and collaborate with our band members — Luke Payne, John Daniel Ray, Kevin Beck and Chaisara — before heading into the studio,” she said.
“We are discussing when we might be able to do that safely. I’m hoping we can everything recorded over the summer.
“Writing this album has been the most intense, personal, and vibrant experience of my life, so I’m super excited to see it realized.”