Initial Lineup Announced for Restored Cameo Theater

A funeral home manager has resuscitated Bristol, Virginia’s Cameo Theater. (Courtesy of Brent Buchanan)

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the historical Cameo Theater in Bristol, Virginia, escaped the wrecking ball, but not the undertaker, so to speak.

In the case of the 1,600-seat Art Deco venue, which opened in 1925, that’s a good thing. The Cameo was purchased and restored by Brent Buchanan, who runs a local funeral home in the Virginia-Tennessee border community that calls itself the birthplace of country music.

The theater officially opens on August 26 with a performance by The Secret Sisters. Blue Öyster Cult will follow on September 3. Other highlights from the first dozen shows announced this week include Sawyer Brown (September 23), Lee Rocker (September 24), Robert Earl Keen (November 3) and Lilly Hiatt (December 3). 10).

According to Jack Forman, president of the New York-based booking agency, more 2021 shows are expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months, with several booked for 2022. BiCoastal Productions.

Buchanan, who lives in Bristol but on the Tennessee side (the middle of State Street — where the Cameo sits — forms the state line), tells VenuesNow that he bought the theater, which once housed a radio station and then a church, in 2017 after four years of difficult negotiations with the previous owners. Now the Cameo is ready for a starring role.

Restoring and running a nearly 100-year-old theater isn’t Buchanan’s regular business, he admits. A sort of break from his life after a snow-skiing accident in the mountains of North Carolina left him with little to do but work and ponder a friend’s unexpected suggestion to buy the Cameo.

“I like live music. I wondered if I could turn it into a live music venue,” Buchanan recalls.

He met a real estate agent and looked inside, where he saw the ceiling falling in and brown streaks of faulty plumbing on the walls.

“It was just left for dead, really,” he said.

For Buchanan, it had the makings of a dream.

“I looked at the (agent) and I said, ‘I’m in love. I love this place,'” he said. “I didn’t do myself any favors in the negotiations, but that’s how the process started.”

With the help of his father, Stanley, a 72-year veteran of the Vietnam War, and the local firm of Burwil Construction, Buchanan has brought the theater back to life and poured hundreds of thousands of his own dollars into the project. There are no outside investors.

“To me it’s a game of poker,” he said. “I feel like I definitely have the winning hand and I’m willing to push all my chips to the center of the table.”

Between the late 1970s, when Buchanan was born, and the time he bought the Cameo, “it was a revolving door of people buying it, throwing a little paint here and a little paint there and saying, ‘Oh, the Cameos reopened. ‘, he said.

“But they didn’t do anything to make a cameo that can survive another 100, 200, 300 years,” he said. “If I’m going to redo the building, we’ll do everything we do for the long term. Certain projects we can finish in a week, (but) we take three months to make sure we get quality (work). Hopefully in 200 years someone will be interviewed about the Cameo Theater.”

Buchanan said it was particularly satisfying to have worked with his father on the restoration, who went on to work for Reynolds Metals and later Ball Corp., where he raised three sons after serving in Southeast Asia.

“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life, and to have him on this project it’s nice that I can always look into the Cameo and see my dad’s work and say that’s something me and my father did,” he said.

A large part of the renovation involved the replacement of sanitary facilities.

“We literally ripped out every bit of pipework in the building,” said Buchanan, explaining that many of the pipes were encased in concrete poured around it. “They had to jackhamme”r it out, probably for three months.”

Saving nearly 100-year-old cladding in the auditorium was arduous, and making new electrical connections presented another challenge, “but I can honestly say there was never a day when I said I wish I’d never done this.” said Buchanan.

Having community connections helped overcome difficulties in getting preferred contractors to work, he said.

The colorful facade of the building was created by Burwill with a company from the Bristol area called Snyder boards.

Big surprises?

“Maybe I was a little naive going into it,” Buchanan said, in terms of how long different things would last, but most of the original materials and finish are rock solid, despite the later work, and that was a bit of an eye-catcher. opener, he said.

The building has no heritage status, which Buchanan sees as a positive. “We’ll put up our own plaque,” he said. “When we first bought it, there were deed restrictions, such as no alcohol. We had to file a lawsuit to get it off the ground.”

Bristol is the site of the annual Rhythm and Roots Reunion, but it’s unclear if the Cameo will be part of this year’s festival, Buchanan said.

The line-up of acts will be varied, he promises.

“On Thursday nights you might have a country band. On Friday you might have bluegrass or alternative and then Saturday you might have blues,” Buchanan said. “I’m a music guy and I don’t want to split myself into one genre, and I think that’s one of the things that will stand out.”


Cameo Theater 2021 Bookings

the secret sisters, 26 Aug
Blue Oyster Cult, September 3rd
Jill Andries, Sept 16
Will High, September 18th
sawyer brown, Sept 23
Lee Rocker, Sept 24
sister Hazel, September 30th
The front men of the country, October 2nd
Ben Sollee, October 7
Robert Earl Keen, Nov 3
gaelic storm, Nov 5
Christmas with the Nelsons, November 27
The wizards of winter, December 3
The Fab Four, December 7
Lilly Hiatt, Dec 10

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