Live show

Cargo Live at Whitney Peak Hotel

Production manager Dan Bishop in the sound booth at Cargo.

Production manager Dan Bishop in the sound booth at Cargo.

Photo/Brad Bynum

Austin City Limits has been a flagship show on public television for 40 years, a showcase of Western swing, country, blues and just about every other genre of music to ever pass through Austin, Texas. The show is also, along with the annual South by Southwest festival, a big factor in Austin’s national reputation as a musical mecca.

Reno’s own PBS affiliate, in collaboration with a local music venue, hopes to recreate that success. On April 4, Reno’s KNPB began airing Cargo Live at Whitney Peak Hotel, a weekly concert showcase that airs every Saturday at 10:30 p.m., just before Austin City Limits. The show is also freely available for use by other public television stations in the region.

“This is how Austin City Limits started, as a local music show produced by KLRU in Austin, Texas, and fast forward 40 years, and it’s a huge, huge show with all the biggest acts, and it’s a fixture on public television,” said Kurt Mische, KNPB president and CEO. “We wanted to draw attention to the live music scene that’s really growing and developing here. It’s one of Reno’s calling cards. We also saw it as a way to promote tourism and economic redevelopment, because as this show gets seen around the area on other PBS stations, then folks may want to drive in and sample the music scene and all the other great things we have going on in the city.”

A featured aspect of the show is the venue: Cargo, the thousand-person concert hall, which reopened last year in the Whitney Peak Hotel after an extensive remodel that included moving the venue from the hotel’s third floor to its first.

“Our job, for bands that come though here, is to make the rest of their tour suck in comparison, and I think we do a really good job of that,” said Dan Bishop, Cargo’s production manager. “There have been so many bands that have come through and they give us really good feedback, saying it’s one of the best rooms of its size that they’ve played anywhere in the United States.”

Bishop designed many of the audio and visual systems of the venue. He’s a live sound engineer and does the post-production audio mixing of the concerts for the TV series.

“We don’t have to bring in a supplementary lighting package to make stuff look good,” he said. “What we have here looks great. The sound system is top of the line. This is the kind of place that’s inherently good for doing this type of program.”

That’s partly because the venue was partly designed to be a location for the show, according to Nicole Gross, managing director of Whitney Peak.

“One stipulation was that if we’re going to do this, we have to make the production better than anything else that’s on the market, nationally or otherwise,” she said. “It was great timing when [Mische] came to me, because we hadn’t finished purchasing and specking out all of the gear for the room, so we were able to purchase gear that lent itself to live recording that we could then go back and use for the television program.”

Bands recorded for the show’s first season include Los Angeles indie pop band Kitten, Detroit soul outfit Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, and locals rockers Moondog Matinee, who were featured in the premiere.

“We try to find artists who haven’t broke, but have a good chance to break, and bring that to Reno first,” said Gross.

“These bands are like the Reno Aces,” said Mische. “They’re one step below really hitting it big, so this gives people an opportunity to come to the venue or tune in on TV and see Moondog Matinee right before they really broke big.”