Jun 22, 2011 3:43 PM,
with Bennett Liles
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The Texas Music Theater in San Marcos, Texas has seen glory and hard times over the years, but when Gray Gregson and friends decided to make the place a major performance venue they really got into it from the ground up. Gray is here to tell us how they gave the place a new life coming up on the SVC podcast.
Gray, it's great to have you with me here on the SVC podcast all the way from the Texas Music Theater.
That's right, San Marcos, Texas.
All right, tell me a little about the Texas Music Theater. You've got lots of different acts in there. It looks like you're doing a lot of stuff.
Oh, we're doing all kinds of stuff. We designed this to really be very musician friendly. It was built actually by musicians and to be partners for the music…live music. We put in all-new digital sound and lighting with acoustics on the place and we just wanted to make sure we provided the highest quality experience for the music makers as well as the audience. We have all kinds of bands—we have the local and regional and national touring acts and we can do small shows, large shows, and we're open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, mainly, but we can be open any given night of the week. We do Americana, Texas country, rock, indie rock, mainstream rock, blues, Latin salsa—all kinds. We have a college here. We have like 35,000 college students and about 200-seat large venue. [Timestamp: 1:49]
Oh, well that's going to be a big audience, and I know that theater has gone through its share of ups and downs over the years. How did this big renovation come about? This is one of several cycles that venue has gone through, isn't it?
Yeah, this…I think—if I'm not mistaken this theater was built in 1941 and then they re-renovated it back in the 1950s and it was called the Holiday Theater, and then later on it went through a bunch of different things and a couple of clubs, restaurants—different things, but when we got it we just gutted the whole place. [Timestamp: 2:23]
So you sort of re-did the whole thing and I guess you did, what—new flooring, new audio system—very extensive renovation?
Oh yeah, the renovations were a collaboration between my brother Scott and our other partner, Allen Shot, and Scott actually bought the building first and he had this bright idea that me being…getting older and in the music business, he wanted to give me something to do, and plus get me down here where he lived. I was living in Austin and then in San Antonio so I was…north and south and he wanted to get me close to the family. Scott, my little brother, he got a Master's in Science from Harvard and my partner Allen is a operator here in town, so that's how the project started. We totally ripped it apart—tore everything down, we excavated the floor because it had a slanted floor and we wanted a flat surface down below, so we could have a big dance floor if we wanted it. So we carved out the whole floor, hauled out about 20 dump trucks full of concrete and dirt and poured a whole new slab, and at that point in time I put pull pipes underneath the slab to the FOH to the stage. I have one left and right—so I have two of them. [Timestamp: 3:31]
OK, so you put in a completely new sound system in there. What kind of speakers was that new system based around?
We're using all Renkus Heinz—the line arrays are Renkus Heinz, the rear line arrays are Renkus Heinz, the subs are Renkus Heinz. I had some other stuff that I use on stage for monitor—I have some JBL stuff but mainly all the wedges are all Renkus Heinz also. [Timestamp: 3:55]
And with as many iterations as the place had been through, I would figure that it's probably not the best for sound when you started the project. What was the biggest problem you faced with this? Was it acoustics?
That was the main thing I discussed this with them—a couple of good friends of mine…mainly Rocky Gianetta, Fault Line, he is a systems design guy out in California—we've been friends a long time and then another good friend of mine who's named Steve Emler, he's the FOH guy for Tesla, but they're both friends of mine and we discussed this whole system and the acoustics and we decided to spend a lot of time on getting the acoustics of the room correct and that makes the PA work a lot better so we did a…quite a extensive amount of acoustic treatment to the room. [Timestamp: 4:36]
What all did you have to do for that? It sounds like it was quite a project in itself.
First of all, around the stage, I used basically three products. I used some MBI—they make these things called Cloud Lite Acoustic Baffles. We hung those from the ceiling down all the way around the stage, on the sides of the stage and out about 20ft. out from the stage to about 10ft. from the floor. We've got like 40ft. ceilings. Then on the back of the stage I used a product by Hunter Douglas which is a honeycomb textile product and what we did is on the back wall of the stage it was all brick, and we thirded out about…with 2x4's and put loose insulation behind it and this Hunter Douglas product was mounted on there on rails and its…1 inch of it has about the same acoustic absorption of four inches normally so it would be three inches we had…we got about seven inches with only having to put out about four inches and that really dampened the sound down back there…it had a cloth finish on it because I didn't want the guys around the…front stage being up here against anything that would be fiberglass or anything like that. The ceiling was the big catch. What I did is MBI also makes a Lapendary product which you'll see in big arenas, and over the stage area—it was fairly easy compared to the rest of the venue—up in the ceiling we hung that between the bar joists. It's probably hanging about almost 2ft. below the ceiling and it stretches like big banners and what happens it's perforated on one side and the sound goes through it, hits the ceiling then it traps it but over the main part of the ceiling, the whole big bulk of it, we had to build a grid system out of a unistripe and we stretched that stuff across the whole ceiling all the way to the back of the room and then in the back of the room I had hollow spot mannings and back in those corners built those traps. I also treated the back wall and then on the side wall to take care of any flutter between the electric light side walls because it basically gets to going square on the side, I used some of the MBI wall Lapendary and I put it in the big square panels and I put decorative clothes on it—some of them I put big Texas flags on them, some of them I put logos and stuff and put that stuff all up and down the side walls—took all the flutter out and it really quieted the room down. We can be running 100dB and you can still talk in there. It took care of all the stand in ways out which is like…we had probably roughly a 4.5 second A time in there. [Timestamp: 7:08]
Well, it sounds as though that would be one aspect of it that would have a lot to do with how performer friendly the place is and whether visiting musicians would want to come back again.
Well we've been having really good…all the musicians that come in there are just really…just can't believe how it sounds. We're real proud of the acoustics in there. It came out better than I expected to be honest. [Timestamp: 7:28]
So what other sorts of things have you done to make the place performer friendly?
Well the one thing that I thought of…I've looked at all the venues that I played in my life and I thought, "Man, let's make this easy," so as you load in through the back of the building we have an alley that goes down the side, we have a big fenced in back patio right off the back of the venue that's just for the cuing area for the bands and you come through the gate there and you literally…it's only 10 ft. to the stairs that have a ramp, a 38 in. ramp, that comes out…all the way out the back doors right into that back stage area, that patio and you can load your stuff right up on the stage. It's literally out of your truck to end up on the stage less than 20ft. [Timestamp: 8:09]
Well that makes a big difference in making it friendly for the bands and their road people. If they even have roadies. A lot of times now even the bigger acts don't…it's just the musicians themselves loading everything in and out.
We also built a real nice green room back there. I have a real nice washer and dryer for the bands, a frigerator back there, a microwave. I have a big flat screen TV and out in the…out in the audience area I mounted a remote control camera for the bands so they can pan, tilt, and zoom around the room and look at all the audience. [Timestamp: 8:39]
All right well that sure gives them a good preview of what sort of crowd they're playing for.
They all get a kick out of that. Yeah we've got a full bath and shower back there also. [Timestamp: 8:48]
So with all the changes that building has gone through I would think that one other thing that might have been a challenge would be the power. Did you have any issues with having enough power and grounding problems and things?
Well we went round and round with the city because we were running out of space on our property and we had to put in a huge transformer for that, so once we finally got that issue worked out we already had it in the plans. I already have a isolation transformer for the sound system. We got the power transformer from Limtech and we also got a Limtech panel with motorized breakers for the sound system so the sound system's totally isolated from anything in the building. I put a 400 amp three face disconnect over on the lighting side. The lights are on the other side of the stage on the sound power, and so the lights have separate power for themselves, the sound system has a isolation transformer separate for itself, and then the rest of the building, the air conditioners and all are all on their own power. [Timestamp: 9:44]