A range of entertainment professionals from Calaveras and Tuolumne counties was recognized at the Metropolitan in San Andreas on the evening of Jan. 11 for the inaugural CAMMIES Calaveras Arts and Music Awards.
Although most weren’t dressed for what was promoted as a black tie (optional) gala, which cost $11 at the door, a crowd of roughly 35 people turned out.
Photographers with Event City Online (ECO), a digital media marketing company from Valley Springs, roamed the room and snapped pictures of guests in front of a backdrop near the entrance to emulate a Grammys-style red carpet experience.
The event was hosted by the Copperopolis-based Creative Community Cooperative (CCC), a digital chamber of commerce focused on the gig economy, according to event promoter Richard Varrasso.
The name, “The CAMMIES,” is a nod to the BAMMIES, a Bay Area award show during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that Varrasso said he was involved with. Beyond recognizing and awarding professional area entertainers, the event was meant to spur networking opportunities for tri-county artists, promoters, venues and others, he said.
“Every year from now on, we will take time in January to recognize the talent contributions to our show and cultural events of the recent past year,” read a program for the event placed on dining tables under the venue’s large arched ceiling. “As time goes on, the production and gala activities will escalate. But for the first one, we are issuing Recognition Awards based on findings and experience of our local industry professionals.”
The Blonde Tells, an Americana band based in Sonora, was one of numerous award recipients, along with a sound production assistant, a venue manager, a music schoolteacher and other musicians.
Lita Hope, frontwoman of the Blonde Tells, shared some of the struggles original acts face in growing their audiences.
“It’s very hard when you’re an original act, because (most) bars want a cover band or tribute band, because people want to hear the same stuff they heard on the radio,” Hope said. “It’s a love of the music and trying to get your songs out there ... So if we get a theater or coffeehouse, that’s really cool for us, where people just sit down and listen. It takes the right kind of person that can open their ears and hear something they’ve never heard before, because usually it takes somebody three or four times to listen to an album before it’s starting growing on you. So it’s a little tough.”
The four-piece band that features Hope on lead vocals, Josh Weeks on guitar, Kelly Flynn on keyboard and Giuseppe Ricapito on bass is working on getting an album recorded, Hope said.
Metropolitan Manager Cyndie Klorer was also recognized for her efforts to bring theatrical opportunities to San Andreas. Klorer has experience working for theaters throughout the Mother Lode, and is the founder of Fourth Wall Entertainment Troupe, a company that combines music, dancing, food and original theater into an interactive murder mystery experience, among other productions.
“One of our goals was to bring some culture to this podunk town of ours,” said Klorer, who has co-managed the venue with her husband, Benjamin, for about a year. “And so far so good, our community has really embraced us and supported us with theater and murder mysteries and things that we like to do here.”
The Metropolitan is geared up to host 15 live theater performances this year. Proceeds generated from some of the productions will be donated to an area nonprofit, Klorer said.
Awards were also given to Johnny Gunn, a retired guitarist from Groveland who used to play with the late Eddie Money; Steve Brown, a promoter who works with Varrasso; Foothill Printing and Graphics of Angels Camp, which designed the logo for the awards show; Clan Dyken, a band that features two “old-timers” in the Calaveras County music scene, according to Varrasso; Ras Beeken Dan, a teacher at the Murphys School of Music; Charlie Brechtel, a blues artist, film producer and regular performer in Calaveras County associated with motorcycle culture; Don Potter, an actor in a movie directed by Brechtel in Calaveras County called “Rebel on the Highway”; and John Mork, or “Captain Cow,” a local sound technician who Varrasso works with regularly.
After receiving awards, each musical guest performed a short set. Between acts, Varrasso informally interviewed and joked around with the performers.
“The networking was phenomenal,” Varrasso said, reflecting on the night. “I alone met many new faces. I got business cards. And I know folks exchanged information.”
The event was sponsored by Copper Valley, the partnership of developers seeking to revamp the Copperopolis Town Square – now called the Square – into a destination point and build up to 800 new homes within Saddle Creek, among other projects in its queue.
Varrasso said he has booked shows in the Square on Copper Valley’s dime as part of its new community initiative, “Where they are reaching outside of Copperopolis to let folks get to know them.” He plans to host gigs at the Square, the Metropolitan and other venues with stages throughout the year.
Other notable sponsors included Amazon, the United States Census 2020, Pepsi and the Lake Tulloch Quilters Guild, among others.
“It’s all about community. We’ve got people like Johnny Gunn, Charlie Brechtel, musicians, performers that have been playing in this community for a long time,” said Nolan Apostle, owner of ECO. “What’s important to us is bringing people together like this, not just for the county or anything else. You live here, I live here. Let’s make this happen over and over and over again.”