Downtown Bristol Blog
Source: Zach Irby, Bristol Herald-Courier
A downtown Bristol building that once housed the historic marquee Cameo Theatre has been sold, and its new owner has big plans to bring the space back to life.
Brent Buchanan, manager of Oakley-Cook Funeral Home, purchased the building in October. The Bristol, Tennessee, native admitted Tuesday that he never thought he’d own a piece of downtown Bristol history.
“The idea started a few years back when a good friend approached me and told me that I should buy the Cameo,” Buchanan said. “I laughed about it at first and probably a week or so later, I was sitting at home and thought long and hard about what I could do with the space.”
The sale was finalized in mid-October, and Buchanan has started meeting with contractors and others who are interested.
“The history of the Cameo is really special, and I felt like it needed to be preserved for years to come,” Buchanan said. “I want to bring it back to the proud times that it had. The building has fallen into some bad cosmetic issues and needs to be updated to 21st century standards.”
The 550-seat theater at 703 State St. was built in 1925 and ranks among the 15 oldest in Virginia, according to the League of Historic American Theatres.
The 9,725-square-foot theater predated the 1927 Bristol Sessions country music recordings by two years and the nearby Paramount Center for the Arts by six. Established as a vaudeville theater, it primarily attracted audiences and performers from passenger trains that once stopped nearby.
“You automatically feel that energy even though it’s run down right now when you walk into the theater,” Buchanan said. “I respect what everyone has done in downtown Bristol, but I have felt like there is that one little aspect missing, and that’s entertainment in downtown.”
He hopes to have a mix of live entertainment and movies.
Maggie Bishop, executive director of Believe in Bristol, which promotes downtown business growth, praised Buchanan and his efforts to revitalize the once booming venue.
“Believe in Bristol is excited for the revitalization of the Cameo,” Bishop said. “The Cameo was a staple to Bristol for so many years and there are a lot of people in the Bristol community that still have fond memories. Arts and entertainment opportunities, like those planned for the Cameo, are so important for rural communities to adopt because they spark meaningful experiences in both locals and visitors.”
Buchanan told the Bristol Herald Courier that he feelsentertainment for many people in the Twin City is lacking and he wants to change that.
“The Cameo will be that destination place where people want to come and buy a ticket to see quality entertainment,” Buchanan said. “From personal experience, I know that when I want to see great entertainment, you have to leave Bristol and go somewhere else. There’s no reason why performers should not come to Bristol and be a part of who we are as a community.”
Buchanan has an opening date in mind but declined to say when. Extensive renovations will begin within three to four months, he said.
“I am in the process now of getting estimates and fine-tuning some things,” Buchanan said. “It has been slow going because of the holidays, but after the first of the year we will ramp things up.”
An overall facelift of the exterior and interior, including fresh paint and renovations to the facade out front, will take place, he said.
“We will be keeping the Cameo sign, but the marquee will be updated,” Buchanan said. “The grand atrium needs a lot of paint and lighting work done.”
The royal blue seats are in good shape and will stay. The most extensive work will involve getting the bathrooms back in working order.
“When we open our doors and people buy a ticket, I want them to be greeted by a great facility and entertainment,” Buchanan said. “I don’t want people saying that the music was great, but the restrooms were not. From top to bottom, we want to do it perfect and do it right.”
Since publicly announcing he is the new owner on social media Monday night, Buchanan said he’s been overwhelmed.
“The amount of private messages I have received with people sharing their memories of the Cameo has been amazing,” Buchanan said. “I personally don’t have any memories of going to the theater, but my dad remembers going there as a kid."
Having worked in the funeral service business for years, Buchanan knows that you have to provide quality customer service, and he hopes Twin City residents will feel the same way when the Cameo makes its debut.
“When you buy a ticket, you may not know who is playing or what is going on — but you will know when you walk through the doors that you’ll be entertained,” Buchanan said. “We want to have that reputation, and we will have it. I have high expectations and don’t want to let anyone down.”
Downtown Bristol Events
December 28 | Bristol Public Library
Doris Walker (played by Maureen O'Hara) is the special event director for Macy's Department Store and the Thanksgiving Day parade. When she discovers the actor playing Santa Claus is out of commission, Doris drafts Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to play the part. But Doris and her daughter, Susan, are about to find out there's more to Kris than meets the eye.
Kegley Meeting Room. Popcorn and water will be provided to all movie attendees.
Not rated. 96 minutes.
December 30 | Breathe Bristol Yoga
The holidays can leave us feeling like we are running on empty. This workshop is a great opportunity to re-fill your cup with some self-love and compassion. In this workshop, students will move on their yoga mats to remove tension from the places we tend to hold it the most, using essential oils and mudras as a catalyst to support us in releasing the old so we can bring our best selves into the new year.
December 30 | Elder Brew
Join the Casual Word and Elderbrew on Saturday, December 30th for an evening of Pints and Prose! Ten Pre-War typewriters will be on hand for you to empty your minds, and fill your glass!
December 31 | Whiskey Rebellion
Join Whiskey Rebellion for a roaring 20s New Year's Eve celebration! WR will open the doors on Sunday, December 31st at 6pm to serve a limited menu, offer passed hors d'oeuvres, and a midnight champagne toast! Just $15 per person and $25 per couple. Get your tickets while you can, put on your 1920s best, and come ring in 2018 downtown. It's sure to be the cat's meow!
Tickets for sale at Whiskey Rebellion. Reservations will be required for ticket holders who would like to purchase dinner as seating is limited.
December 31 | Quaker Steak and Lube
Join Quaker Steak and Lube for a New Year's Masquerade Party. Featuring the music of Syren, and no cover charge! The fun begins at 9pm.
January 2 | Bristol Public Library
As part of its "New Year, New You" series, Bristol Public Library will offer a free workshop on financial planning on January 2, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. in the J. Henry Kegley Meeting Room.
With the assistance of Michael Bird and Secure Money Masters, visitors will have the opportunity to understand the basics of building a budget and learn more about creating a solid financial plan. No registration is required.
January 4 | Bristol Public Library
The Bristol Public Library will offer a free showing of the first four episodes of the hit anime series The Big O (1999) on January 4, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. As part of BPL Anime Theater, the library will provide snacks, drinks, and popcorn for all attendees!
Roger Smith is a negotiator; in fact, he's Paradigm City's best. He solves problems for all sorts of people — and when things get dangerous, he has back up in the form of a giant named the Big O. With his faithful servant Norman and the android, R. Dorothy, Roger defends Paradigm City, a city of lost memories with a past no one really knows. A mixture of film noir and post-apocalyptic drama, The Big O is a fascinating series of action, adventure, and city-smashing giant robots.
Rated TV-PG. 4 episodes (approximately 2 hours).
January 5 | Paramount Center for the Arts
TICKETS. Recognized by the Guinness World Records as “The World’s Youngest Solo Musician to Head-line His Own Concert Tour,” 15-year-old Ethan Bortnick has been performing around the world, raising over $40,000,000 for charities across the globe.
When he was just three years old, the Hollywood, Florida native asked his parents for piano lessons and discovered an uncanny ability to hear a song once and play it back note for note – the musical equivalent of a photographic memory. He soaked up the music of such diverse artists and composers as Beethoven, Mozart, jazz pianist Bill Evans, Little Richard, Billy Joel and Elton John, and began creating original compositions at age five. A few years later, Ethan began making television appearances and touring, connecting with audiences in countries such as Japan, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and Australia.
Ethan has not only moved audiences throughout the world as a captivating musician, but he is also a driven humanitarian, dedicated to combining his musical pursuits with his charity work. When Ethan was five, his younger brother had three heart surgeries and that emotional time inspired him to use his musical talents to benefit charity.
I remember going to the Children’s Hospital and seeing a lot of sick children. I learned that some of these kids could not afford surgery so the hospital raised money for them. It made me want to help these kids,” Ethan explained.
Since then, Ethan has helped raise over $30,000,000 for nonprofits around the world. At these charity events, he’s shared the stage with artists such as Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Beyoncé, Josh Groban and Reba McEntire, among many others. In 2010, he joined some of music’s big-gest names – including Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Carlos Santana, etc.., as the youngest of the all-star lineup that recorded We Are The World 25 For Haiti.
His highly successful nationally televised TV show, The Power of Music, has been the number one concert pledge show on Public Television for 2014/2015 pledge drives, and is still running nationwide continuously, winning multiple awards. Ethan recently graced Esquire magazine's 80th anniversary cover, was featured in Gap's global celebrity ad campaign, and continues to share the stage with music legends.
Ethan has also been featured on countless national television shows, including multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and Oprah, where he was named one of Oprah’s All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids.
Ethan completed shooting a full-length feature film called Anything Is Possible which was released in September 2013 to rave reviews. He starred in the film, co-wrote all of the songs in the film and scored all the background music.
Billy Joel's Musical Director, Dave Rosenthal, renowned globally for his work with Billy for over twenty years is also Ethan's Musical Director.
Ethan has performed at venues around the globe, charity functions, performing arts centers, large arenas with over 70,000 people and for Ethan, the most fulfilling aspect of success is bringing people joy. “When I perform at someone’s home or in a huge arena, I just love every moment of it! When I see the audience enjoying the music, having fun, smiling and dancing, there’s just nothing better that that!” he says.