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Cameo Theatre owner plans to complete renovations in time for Rhythm & Roots

June 20, 2018

SOURCE: David McGee, Bristol Herald Courier — New owner Brent Buchanan never attended an event at the Cameo Theatre, but he hopes to create some new memories for many by transforming the 1925-era facility into a live entertainment venue.

Buchanan, who manages Oakley-Cook Funeral Home, acquired the art deco theater at 703 State St. last year and has been working to finalize plans for the 550-seat, 10,000-square-foot facility. He appeared before the city’s Industrial Development Authority last week to discuss his plans and provided a private tour to the Bristol Herald Courier on Tuesday morning.

“The first memory I have of the Cameo was the day me and Wally Boyd, the realtor, walked through here,” Buchanan said. “The first day I walked in, I got chills. Every day I walk in, I get chills. It’s got a spirit and a feel you can’t get everywhere.”

Buchanan’s plans focus primarily on hosting regular live performances from musicians, bands and comedians.

“I grew up constantly listening to music. I had a little transistor radio that went with me everywhere. It was strapped to my bicycle; I had it in bed at night. I still have it. To be honest, the Cameo is an extension of that —my modern-day transistor radio,” Buchanan said.

Despite operating in the “birthplace of country music,” plans call for offering a wide variety of acts.

“I think when it comes to entertainment, we’re not going to be a one-trick pony. It’s not going to be just country or this or that. We’ll have pop, alternative, country, rock, we’ll have all those things,” he said. “I want the reputation of the Cameo to be, if you’ve got a ticket, you may not know who the artist or comedian is, but when you walk through that door you’re going to be entertained.”

Buchanan said he is working with a couple of concert promoters to assemble a lineup of performers.

“It’s all about connections with the artists and these promoters have those connections. I’ve given them a list of about 250 people I’d like to see here— some big artists, some small artists, but those are the people I want to see at the Cameo. So they’re reaching out to find out what it will take to get them to the Cameo,” he said, adding that he hopes to one day bring that booking function in-house.

There is a separate list of comedians and other performers.

Renovations are expected to begin soon inside and out, with most of the work expected to be done by mid-September, as the Cameo has a full roster of acts for the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.

Work planned inside the theater includes painting, new lighting, new carpet and some repairs to damaged crown molding. The lobby and restrooms will be totally redone as will the two green room spaces behind the stage. Upstairs, the current banister will be replaced with tempered glass so patrons can better see the stage.

The seats are already in excellent condition and a just-completed survey revealed very little asbestos will have to be mitigated. The lighting design is also expected to be done this week.

Burwil Construction and Blevins Construction are set to perform the work once Buchanan has secured all the proper city permits. All of the interior work is expected to be completed in about six weeks. Work on the outside may take longer.

“We should be done with everything inside by Rhythm & Roots. We’re not looking to book anything before Nov. 1,” Buchanan said. “I wanted to be ready for Rhythm & Roots, see how the building handles it, then are there things we didn’t think about?”

Being new to the entertainment industry, Buchanan said he wants to see how things work with different sized crowds, to assess staffing levels and identify any issues that might arise during the three-day downtown music festival.

He said they’ve already turned down some shows to give them time to complete all the work and make the dry run during the music festival, which runs Sept. 20-22.

“If there are some issues at Rhythm & Roots, it gives us some time to work on those instead of having issues and Def Leppard’s going to be on stage at the Cameo the next week and what are we going to do? I want it to be as right as it possibly can be,” he said.

Buchanan said he’s visited other music venues across the region and other promoters have come to Bristol and they leave envious of the facility and its acoustics.

“I feel like sitting in the balcony will be the place to be. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and if your favorite artist is playing here it’s going to be like they’re playing in your living room.”

All of this comprises what Buchanan terms his “healthy phase one plans.” What he isn’t yet ready to discuss is what may lie ahead and future phases, which he said could “revolutionize” downtown entertainment.