Last summer, Robyn Long McCammon found himself in the unenviable position of rebuilding everything from scratch.
Her marriage had ended, COVID-19 shut down her business, and students at what was then known as Maryville Rock Academy were left adrift. McCammon was in the same boat, she recently told the Daily Times, but as a multitasking rock n roll mom, she’s done what she’s been doing since the school was founded in September 2010: she’s done rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
The first was a name change, and this weekend the Rock and Metal Academy will show the public what they do during a two-night summer showcase, which takes place Friday and Saturday at The Bird and the Book in Maryville.
I’ve had the idea of changing my name for a while, because we value metal a lot, and we wanted to reflect that, McCammon said. We do pop and rock and metal, but metal is such a niche stuff, and I wanted people to know, hey if your looking for metal this is the place to go.
For over a decade now, the school has been the place to go for young Blount Countians who harbor rock star dreams. There are no promises of fame and fortune, but for those who want to learn an instrument, or how to strut, brag and sing like a leader (or a woman), then the McCammons School has a place.
Were not school of rock, McCammon said. I love the movie, but the brand is very different, and it’s not us. I like to joke that it was F Word Friday School.
Under the name Maryville Rock Academy, the institution was initially located on West Broadway Avenue, and McCammon and her former husband taught guitar (acoustic and electric), bass, drums, and vocals. They sponsored the Blount Divided We Stand group, hosted concerts and quickly overtook their space, moving to a location near Foothills Plaza Drive and finally to the New Midland Shopping Center in Alcoa, where the school currently resides.
Last summer, McCammon had to navigate turbulent waters as COVID-19 upended educational efforts of all kinds.
We had 30 to 40 students, and we had a huge decline. At first we tried to do Zoom classes, and when we thought we were only going to be closed for a month, I said to everyone, Here is your homework, and when we got back we were going to do a big concert! she said. Needless to say, this did not happen. We gave people a few months of free classes, and luckily (the students) started to come back, because our students are more like family.
In the meantime, she used her raise money to make a few changes, all with the help of her team: sound engineer Preston Watts, a former student; junior vocal manager / coach and elementary guitar teacher Rebecca Branton; Zack Carter, vocal teacher for metal guitar / advanced metal technique; Skylar Loveday, one of McCammons administrative assistants; and Alexys Nunley, 16, the school’s deputy principal and social media guru.
After things were sorted out during quarantine, I told them, We were going to redo this whole place, McCammon said. Preston went through all of our gear and helped us figure out what we needed and what we could give up, and that helped us place ourselves at the top of our industry. We updated all of our gear and repainted almost every room, even on Alexy’s birthday – that’s all she wanted, sushi, ice cream and a paint party.
Once COVID restrictions were relaxed and classes resumed, the school had to limit audience participation for its semi-regular shows. This weekend, the performances of L’Oiseau et du Livre will be like a coming-out evening for an entrepreneur, her team and the students who have remained by her side during a tumultuous year.
At The Bird and the Book, we were going to have rock, pop and metal, she said. We have some really creative arrangements of songs that I’m so excited about. For example, there’s a song called Running Up That Hill that Kate Bush wrote, but that (the band) Placebo covered in the 2000s. It’s one of my favorite songs, and Sherri (Nakamoto), one of my students came to see me with it, and I said: You must hear the Placebo version!
Well, she’s worked with other students, and they’ve come up with this amazing blanket that sounds completely separate from the two and I’m totally excited about it. Students have this community where they inspire each other and help each other and explore other techniques and genres, and they really build their toolbox and do things that have never been done before.
Steve Wildsmith was editor and writer for the Daily Times for almost 17 years; A recovering drug addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at [email protected]
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