MERCH MAGIC: For the holidays, the Ramkat invites local bands to use the 1,000-capacity club to help sell merch and raise money to support the music. (Wendy Pearl/Staff)
Club’s Effort Benefits Local Bands, Music Organizations
The Ramkat was serving the music community and Emily Stewart was serving a slice of homemade lemon box pie with every T-shirt she sold during the annual Merry Merch Madness in early December.
Since 2021, the club in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has opened its doors to local bands and music organizations to provide a platform to raise money to support album launches, tours and community initiatives that aid musicians.
“The idea came to us that everybody does these art fairs and holiday shopping events around town, but there was nothing for local musicians,” said Ramkat co-owner Andy Tennille. “What better way to support our local community and regional bands than to give them the opportunity to sell merch at no expense? We don’t charge a dime, they come in, set up and sell.”
The Ramkat sent email invitations to regional groups who have performed at the 1,000-capacity club and its smaller sidekick, the Gas Hill Drinking Room. A dozen bands and organizations manned tables lining the balcony level of the club to hand out stickers and sell T-shirts, hoodies, downloads, vinyl and CDs. The participants covered a wide spectrum of music, from rock to rockabilly.
“It means everything,” said guitarist Dezzy Foxx of the band Pageant, which is based in nearby High Point, North Carolina. “With the way streaming is going there is no money in music, so bands have turned into T-shirt companies. Selling merch means bands can fund albums and tours; we can fund anything it takes to be a band.”
“It works well with the season,” said lead singer/rhythm guitar player Richard Boyd of The Bo-Stevens. “It’s about the music and helping local musicians. It’s a beautiful way to give back to local music.”
The merch fair was also a good opportunity to engage with potential fans.
“We’ve had people come by that know us and have seen us and we get to chat a little bit with them,” said Boyd, who produced a special T-shirt for the event. “Other people come by that say, ‘What do y’all do?’ That’s nice because you get to open up about the thing that we all love doing.”
In addition to T-shirts and her grandma’s recipe pie, Stewart was selling bracelets, custom earrings and scarves to promote her upcoming album Moth To The Moon, which will be released this spring.
“We don’t always get to see each other,” said Stewart, a songwriter who plays guitar, banjo and harmonica in multiple groups. We are gigging on the same nights of the week. It’s nice to have everyone in one place to connect, check out each other’s stuff and catch up.”
In conjunction with the merch fair, the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society hosted Their Spirit of Giving Fundraiser with entertainment and a toy drive in the Gas Hill Drinking Room. The group, which has a strong educational and community outreach mission, was established in 1985 and presents the annual Carolina Blues Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“It’s been great having the cross collaboration,” said Atiba Berkley, president of the board of trustees for the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society. “There are fans who came to check out The Bo-Stevens or Emily and they’re coming over and finding out we have this mission that involves music and culture and community giving in ways they didn’t know.”
Local musicians Rob Slater and Ed Bumgardner were handing out guitar-shaped stickers and taking donations for copies of Be Good To Yourself and other recordings to aid uninsured musicians dealing with mental health and substance abuse.
“It’s organized grass roots, which is nice,” said Bumgardner. “It allows consumers and bands to have a one-on-one relationship with what they have to offer. The great thing is, [The Ramkat] doesn’t have their hand in anybody’s pocket. We don’t have to pay to set up. Where do you see that?”
“Ed and I have been around the block, two maybe three times now and [they] are one of the few venue owners that we’ve run into who get it from our point of view,” added Slater. “It’s a magical thing.”
Tennille, who owns the club with partners Bryan Ledbetter and Richard Emmett, stood outside in an elf hat and a Support Live Music T-shirt with a bullhorn to attract attention. The partners were focused on pumping life back into the local music community coming out of COVID, but the event has become a regular fixture.
“This is our opportunity to open our doors to our local and regional artists and give them a place to sell merch and it gives local music fans a place to support local artists,” Tennille said. “It makes sense.”