A new live-music venture is opening in the former Ziggy’s site on West Ninth Street, and it involves Richard Emmett, a longtime booster of Winston-Salem’s music scene.
The Ramkat is an 11,670-square-foot concert hall, with a grand opening set for mid-March. Over the past few weeks, work has taken place on the outside of the venue, feeding the rumor mill on social media.
Ziggy’s, the former occupant of the building at 170 W. Ninth St., closed in 2016. Ziggy’s was one of Winston-Salem’s pre-eminent live music venues, with roots stretching back to the 1970s.
Emmett is a co-owner and the managing partner of The Ramkat, along with Andy Tennille, a local music promoter, music journalist and photographer.
Bryan Ledbetter, the owner of Airtype Studios and Camel City Goods, a design agency and apparel company in Winston-Salem, will also be involved as a partner and investor but not in the day-to-day management of the venue.
“It’s a team with a lot of experience on what it’s going to take to make a venue successful,” Emmett said. “The team aspect is really important.”
The Ramkat will focus on live music but expand its programming to include theater, film and dance, with the goal of partnering with community organizations to promote the arts, Emmett said.
“I’m excited for this opportunity that will hopefully bring something good to the community,” said Emmett, who will scale back his hours as music director of the Blue Ridge Music Center to work at The Ramkat.
“Obviously, since Ziggy’s has been closed, Winston-Salem has been missing a larger performance venue. When we talked about it, it just felt like the right thing to do, not just for us but for the community.”
The venue has a capacity of 1,000, but Emmett said the interior of the building could include a few different configurations that might make for smaller spaces.
It was built in 2011 and is structurally in good shape, he said. But the interior will get extensive renovations.
“We are hoping to make it a whole different experience when people come in, so that it will be fresh and new and very user-friendly,” Emmett said.
“We are doing a bunch of work to create an atmosphere that will be crucial to the success of the venue.”
Tennille sees the venue as a much-needed piece in the city’s arts landscape — a place that can draw national touring acts, such as the kind that once played at Ziggy’s when it was on Baity Street. That club attracted such acts as David Byrne, the Dave Matthews Band and Robert Earl Keen.
The second incarnation of Ziggy’s, which was in the Ninth Street space and was open from 2011 to 2016, also attracted some national acts but on a much less consistent basis.
As a result, lots of local music fans had to drive to Asheville, Chapel Hill or Charlotte to see shows, something Tennille said is unacceptable for an arts-oriented city such as Winston-Salem.
The Garage, which Emmett opened in 1999 and sold to Tucker Tharpe in 2012, was a much smaller venue with a capacity of about 100, making it more suitable for local bands with smaller followings.
While lots of local musicians are lamenting the recent closure of The Garage, a home base of the Winston-Salem music scene, Tennille said that they should take heart that The Ramkat aims to provide them a place to play.
“The Ramkat will champion local musicians here in Winston-Salem and the Piedmont,” he said.
“I see it as a two-headed beast. You’ve got to bring in the national artists, but at the same time, you’ve got to support what’s around us, and hold them up and give them the opportunity to play.
“That’s just as important as bringing in the national touring artists.”
That was good news to Doug Davis, a veteran musician who plays in several bands and is one of the leaders of the popular Vagabond Saints Society.
“It’s absolutely critical for a lot of us to have something downtown that really connects with the musicians and the music community and the music fans in this community. There’s a gaping hole right now, and we’re all dreaming that this is going to be the answer to that,” Davis said.
He said he’s interested to see how The Ramkat can be modified to make it a more suitable space for local bands.
“For better or worse, the venue as it existed, just wasn’t a feasible facility to be able to handle the large-scale shows and the more intimate shows, and that made it difficult for the proprietors to stay connected to the local scene,” Davis said.
Tennille, a history fan, came up with the venue’s name, which refers to the area that sprung up around the tobacco warehouses around Ninth and Tenth streets in the late 19th century. Saloons, bordellos and other businesses of that ilk surrounded the warehouses to serve the workers who were paid in cash, Tennille said.
“When I read that word, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’ We thought another name would come along and we’d switch gears, but we fell in love with it,” he said.
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