The Reno Sessions leapt from online videos to documentaries for public TV
There are a few things that might come to mind when people talk about our Biggest Little City. To some, Reno is an outdated knock-off of Las Vegas. To others, the terms “Reno” and “seedy underbelly” are interchangeable. But to a growing population of musicians, artists and filmmakers, Reno is a hub for new cultural creation. That’s the narrative that the Reno Sessions team seeks to expand.
Co-founders Ford Corl and David Ware, along with Shawn Sariti, their resident recording studio guru on wheels, create intimate videos of some of Reno’s best-known musical acts, filmed in some of the city’s most significant cultural landmarks.
The project came together as a way to fulfill a creative void for Corl and Ware. They each felt that they were in a place in their lives that they did not want to be in, in jobs they did not want. The Reno Sessions became their outlet for artistic exploration.
The team has undergone minor changes since the project’s inception, but the main trio—with Corl and Ware handling the visual and production aspects and Sariti heading up the audio engineering—has been together for a few years now.
Though the operation is small, that has not lessened the quality of the product.
“We’re kind of like a garage band in terms of the kind of equipment,” said Ware. “It’s kind of a chewing gum and duct tape operation at times, and we have stubbed our toes a few times in the dark along the way. But it’s independent filmmaking.”They've got the look
The Reno Sessions crew uses the pared-down production to their advantage. Each performance video has a level of intimacy that one simply cannot achieve by listening to an album or watching a big show at a club or bar. The end result feels like sneaking into a private jam session with your favorite local artists, experiencing their musical identities and their performance personae up-close.
“In many ways, the videos that we put out can sometimes be better representations of the bands than their own album,” said Corl. “Sometimes it is difficult to see the vibe they put off, without seeing them play a live show. But with this visual aspect, you can see the energy that these bands bring to their performances.”
From well-established bands, such as Moondog Matinee and Jelly Bread, to newer bands that have made a name for themselves, such as Up is the Down is The and Nico’s Mystery, the Reno Sessions has filmed some of the biggest staples of the local music scene.
In addition to writing and performing music, each of these bands has developed its own character and stage presence.
“The Reno Sessions give the band an outlet for their visual identity too,” said Ware. “Sometimes bands take a lot of time crafting their visual aesthetic, and this gives them a chance to document that. It’s kind of like the variant, alternate version of that song, which has what we hope is a studio-quality recording with a visual element as well.”
Another key aspect of the project is the venue for each video. While early sessions took place in a local recording studio, the addition of Sariti to the team allowed Ware and Corl to branch out and film in bars and art spaces. The online content has gained recognition outsside of Reno, most notably in 2014, when the Reno Sessions won an Emmy in the category of Arts/Entertainment in the San Francisco and Northern California region, as the only web content entered in that category.
“It was really cool to come up with this idea in our living room, and then fast forward to going up on stage and accepting that Emmy,” said Corl. “It was the most surreal, intense thing I’ve ever done. It didn’t take very long for this to move from idea to fruition to accolades, and I’m proud of that.”
Yet even with such a prestigious award, The Reno Sessions garnered next to no praise from the Reno area.Home disadvantage
“It was awesome because it was unprecedented for web content to get an award like that on a fairly big stage,” said Ware. “We kind of stole the show from these big Bay Area acts. … Then we came back to Reno, and it was crickets.”
The radio silence the team received was both unfortunate and pointed to a bigger issue with the Reno arts and culture scene. The city has a wealth of talent, yet not enough homegrown appreciation for for artists to live off of their work. It’s a phenomenon that contributes to an exodus of Reno’s creative minds.
“We can talk about the cool things that are being done in Reno, but we also need to be really critical of the situation here,” said Ware. “I don’t think people should have to leave this town that they love so that they can do cool shit.”
What started out as a simple idea thrown around in a living room one day has grown to become not only a staple of Reno culture and an Emmy winner—but now a local television series.
The Reno Sessions began as strictly web content, with the team intermittently releasing performance videos of local artists on its website. As time went on, the project grew in popularity until it caught the eye of KNPB, a public broadcasting channel for Northern Nevada.
After they heard from the television station, the Reno Sessions team began working on a bigger concept—blending the original performance videos with interviews. The television show, titled The Reno Sessions, just finished airing its first season of 13 episodes. It offered an in-depth look at local music, notable Reno venues and the city’s cultural identity.
While the show is currently on hiatus, a second run in a new Friday-night time spot is in the works. In the meantime, the Reno Sessions crew is working on adding the episodes to the website. As of now, all of the episodes from season 1 are available for viewing on KNPB’s website, and Ware and Corl hope to one day shoot a second season.
Although so much content is consumed via online streaming, the men behind the project are quick to make the distinction between their online presence on the Reno Sessions website and their televisions series. It is as though the Reno Sessions exists with two distinct identities, developed with a conscientious understanding of how their audiences digest entertainment. While the television audience can enjoy musical performances within the greater context of Reno culture and history, the website offers viewers the chance to check out local music “à la carte,” according to Corl.