The Ramkat comes to a boil in the Entertainment District

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Karon Click and Jeffrey Dean Foster's cover of Queen's "Under Pressure" on opening night at the Ramkat will be talked about for years. (photo by Eddie Huffman)

Four hours before the doors were to open, the room echoed with the sound of drills. Voices called down from the mezzanine directing workers as they adjusted lighting fixtures and fastened in the risers on the stage. In a tucked-away office, phones rang and fingers madly typed. Bartenders carried in boxes of liquor to hurriedly stock the wells. There were four hours to go before the show, before Winston-Salem’s newest music venue the Ramkat would open its doors to the world.

“I didn’t think I would ever be doing this again,” co-owner Richard Emmett said, looking down at the teams of workers from the high balcony. “I have a kid who wants to go to college. This isn’t the sort of thing you do to make sure of that. But when the idea came to open, it was just too good to pass up.”

Ramkat is located on Ninth Street in Winston-Salem’s downtown Entertainment District. The club sits in the former Ziggy’s location, which heard its last concert in February 2016. The building rests along the hillside, stretching down the block of Trade Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Ninth Street.

For patrons who went to Ziggy’s in the past, the building looks much the same from the exterior, but inside a new vision takes shape.

“Our first goal was to build a room that sounded great,” Emmett said. “As great as the old place was, we wanted to bring some life to Ramkat. We want to give patrons a comfortable place and just a great experience. It’s coming along, but still a lot of work to be done on the space. It’s a really big space.”

As Emmett watched a worker in a cherrypicker rising to adjust speakers hanging from the ceiling, a cheer, led by Emmett, shot through the club. Two men carried a massive poster of the Ramkat designed by Winston-Salem artist Kat Lamp. The cheering continued as they positioned it along the far wall, bringing the venue that much closer to their grand opening.

Throughout the venue other works of art decorate the walls: murals by local artists like Laura Lashley; a photo collage by Owen Daniels; abstract designs on the dressing room walls by Liz Folk; a floor-to-ceiling mural of guitars by Kendall Doub in the balcony; an entire hallway filled with a colorful mural by Hieronymus; even a 6-by-6-foot painting of Wynton Marsalis playing his trumpet awaited hanging on the walls for the grand opening.

“We really want to make the space beautiful,” Emmett said. “We have had so much support from the community and we wanted to show off some of the artists in town as well. It’s a team effort. We are just one small piece of the puzzle.

“It’s a really big puzzle,” he finished.

Emmett, along with fellow co-owner Andy Tennille, long-time music promoter and photographer, and partner and investor Bryan Ledbetter, founder of Airtype Studios, made the announcement that they would open Ramkat just two weeks after Winston-Salem’s music venue the Garage made the shocking decision to close its doors.

“I was really surprised when the Garage decided to close,” Emmett said. “This is a large space. It holds over a thousand people. We need that smaller room to support us, and for us to support them. We’re all sort of connected in that way and rely on every piece of the community to support local music.”

Just outside the club, workers bolted in the frame to the marquee. A few employees and bystanders watched as the official sign was lifted and placed on the side of the building.

In only a few short hours, Ramkat’s first show on March 9 would feature the Vagabond Saints Society, a loose collective of Triad musicians that gathers semi-regularly to pay tribute to the great artists of pop music. Led by Doug Davis, Jerry Chapman, Randall Johnson and Corky McClellan, along with various local artists who take the stage with the band, the March 9 performance featured the music of Queen. But as the last decorations were put in place and the bar was stocked, cars slowed-drove along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, eyeing the workers and teams of employees buzzing around in the final moments before the doors would open, and the line of ticketholders would stretch as far as a block away.

Shows are booked out until the end of spring and more are being added each week.

“The goal is to be as diverse in our schedule as possible,” Emmett said. “We want to cover all of it, but really, we want to bring the very best music to people, no matter what it is. I’m part of an incredible team, having Andy and Bryan with me. That’s what will make this successful. I couldn’t ask for better partners to do this with.”

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