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Nashville’s Cannery Row

George Petersen • InstallationsJuly 2019 • July 15, 2019

The four-venue complex is housed in a former flour mill. Thunder Audio has been upgrading the spaces with RCF speaker systems.

Performance spaces undergo transformations over the years, but few as dramatic as Nashville’s Cannery Row. Originally a flour mill built in 1883, the large, iconic brick building then became the historic Fletcher-Wilson Coffee Company. In the 1950s, it was the home of canning operations for Dale’s Fine Foods, hence its later name as “The Cannery.” In the 1970s, owner Perry Dale Jr. created a restaurant by the same name, and later added a country musical theater on the premises. By the 1980s and 1990s, The Cannery once again evolved, this time into a music venue. Today known as Cannery Row, the complex houses four spaces: the Cannery Ballroom, the Mercy Lounge, the High Watt and “ONE” — the latter a multipurpose facility.

Like all the venues in the facility, the Cannery Ballroom can be configured in various ways; this corner stage arrangement brings the capacity up to 1,100.

‡‡         A Hive of Activity

“There are three venues in the building and a special events space that we take care of on a per-use basis,” says Colin Cargile, a former touring engineer with the Allman Brothers Band and Drive-By Truckers, who currently runs Nashville Touring and Sales for Thunder Audio Inc. and has been the production manager for the Cannery Ballroom since 2015.

Now celebrating its 40th year in business with headquarters in Livonia, MI and local offices in Nashville and Bonita Springs, FL, Thunder Audio has been excited to support The Cannery, Mercy Lounge and the High Watt. The complex is busier than ever, not only with music shows, but a steady stream of special events. “The whole place is constantly in motion with a lot of moving parts. Everything moves and changes depending on the event, but thankfully, we have a very agile and nimble production team.”

Another factor that makes Cargile’s job easier these days was the recent decision to move away from what had been a hodgepodge of sound components from nearly a dozen suppliers and focus on RCF ( speaker systems.

The ONE event center can be set up for a variety of functions, ranging from weddings to intimate artist showcases.

‡‡         The Newcomer

The newest addition in the complex is a special events space called ONE, which comes from the address, which is #1 Cannery Row. “ONE is a made-to-order type situation,” Cargile explains. “We do everything from weddings to private and corporate events, concerts, church events and the Americana Music Fest — which is like a small concert. When we did that, I used the RCF HDL 6-A (dual-6” active line array), which was great. They’re super-light (25.6-pounds), but have plenty of headroom and volume. If there’s a DJ, I usually do some kind of ground-stack setup, depending on what the client wants, although as the building was a mill built nearly 150 years ago, I am limited in the number of hang points I can use.”

Cargile wears several hats on the job, but finds that to be an advantage. “I am the production manager for the venue, but I am also the Nashville touring and sales rep for Thunder Audio. We have a lot of gear stored onsite there, so I can bring up a really small P.A. like the RCF EVOX system [columns with subwoofers] for a wedding or quiet event, or pull some extra RCF HDL 20-A’s [dual-10” line arrays] for bigger shows. I have a really great team of guys who don’t complain too much if I say we need to build a stage up on the fourth floor with lots of P.A.,” adds Cargile with a chuckle.

‡‡         The High Watt

The newest dedicated music venue is the High Watt, which with a capacity of 350 people, is also the smallest space in the complex. “That used to be the room with a P.A. that was made of leftover stuff the owner had and we really drove that until the wheels fell off,” Cargile notes. “We decided to duplicate our Mercy Lounge rig in there for multiple reasons. For one, the owner liked the way the Mercy Lounge sounded. That RCF rig has tons of headroom.”

One key difference between the system in the High Watt and the Mercy Lounge comes down to subwoofers, with the smaller High Watt using single subs — instead of two subs — on each side. The mains are two RCF TTP 5-A point-source arrays on each side above an RCF SUB 8006-AS double-18 active sub on each side.

Regarding the High Watt’s setup, Cargile said, “The SUB 8006-AS sub is slightly shallower than the RCF TTS 36-A subs in the Mercy and were a better fit in that room. In High Watt, we could have gotten away with one [TTP 5-A] per side, but it is a rock club, people like it loud and we wanted to given them more so they could turn it down. And it’s kind of fun having a rig that no one can blow up!”

The single console in the High Watt is an M-32 in a small crow’s nest, so most engineers tend to do a lot of iPad mixing in the room. “If someone needs a monitor rig, we can bring one in,” says Cargile. “We also cater to a lot of touring sound engineers who more and more these days are carrying their own consoles. We’re ready for anything and we have a spot on the floor where a guest engineer can mix. They’re really excited when they find out they’re not in the crow’s nest!”

‡‡         Mercy, Mercy

As with all the other rooms, the 500-capacity Mercy Lounge also received the RCF upgrade.

“The Mercy Lounge used to have a different trap box system,” Cargile recalls. “Initially, I wanted to put a line array in there, but first I asked a really great engineer, Seth Lowe, who loved that room and had been working there for a long time about his thoughts. He liked trap boxes in the room and I went with the RCF TTP 5-A’s. It turned out really well.”

Supplementing the Mercy Lounge’s mains are RCF TTO 52-A’s used as front fills. “I have four of those; sometimes we stand them up on the subs in pairs and sometimes we spread all four across the stage. We let the guest engineers use them as they want.”

Mix-wise, there are separate M-32s for monitors and house in the Mercy Lounge and “we use the same festival patch throughout the building, with all the cabling is the same way we do it for Thunder Audio everywhere — all very similar to the rigs we send on tours,” says Cargile.

‡‡         Cannery Ballroom

“The Cannery Ballroom is the largest venue in the complex, with a capacity of 1,100, depending on how many guests the artist has, which in Nashville can get pretty heavy,” Cargile notes. “We can set it up as a completely empty room with no stage for a private event; and we have two configurations for shows. In a full-house setup, the stage is slightly in the corner, which can hold 1,100, and due to the low trim height, I hang five RCF HDL 20A’s on each side with four HDL 20A’s as front fills. There are two RCF HDL-10A’s as rear delays, as the room is kind of long. I usually have six RCF SUB 8006-AS subwoofers which is plenty, although I can add a couple more for something crazy, like hip hop or a DJ.”

From a console standpoint, “we have Avid Venue SC-48 and Midas PRO2 and M-32 consoles available in the Cannery Ballroom, but a lot of times with a national touring situation, most artists are bringing in their own control package, so we see a little bit of everything.”

‡‡         Thumbs Up and Kudos

So far, reaction to the RCF HDL 20 rig in the Cannery has been quite positive. “I’ve done everything from rock ‘n’ roll bands like the Rival Sons and Drive By Truckers to CMA events with Shooter Jennings and Duff McKagen and we had LANCO in here earlier in the year, along with DJs and EDM,” says Cargile. “That P.A. is really diverse and has a lot of horsepower and headroom. We haven’t had any issues with the rig at all, but if I did, Tarik Solangi from RCF USA is unbelievably responsive. So between the support of Thunder Audio, the help from RCF and my team, we really have a great thing going on.”

In closing, Cargile adds that “it’s been a really fun project. Owner Todd Ohlhauser and his talent buyer John Bruton are among the most band-friendly club owners in the country — they bend over backwards with the help of Thunder Audio to make this venue complex a special place.” Tony Villarreal, president of Thunder was excited to incorporate RCF products into the venue. “Tarik and the RCF family have supported Thunder with so many ventures,” adds Villareal, “and the success of the product and the relationship has always been a winner for Thunder Audio, our clients and artists.”

‡‡         Postscript

At presstime, we heard reports that a New York-based real estate developer had contracted to purchase the Cannery Row property. However, venue operator Ohlhauser is said to have a long-term lease on the building and hopefully, this historic facility should be with us for years to come. ed.

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