Last summer, Robyn Long McCammon found herself in the unenviable position of rebuilding everything from the ground up.
Her marriage had come to an end, COVID-19 shuttered her business and the students of what was then known as Maryville Rock Academy found themselves adrift. McCammon was in the same boat, she told The Daily Times recently, but as a multitasking rock ‘n’ roll mama, she did what she’s done since the foundation of the school in September 2010: She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
First up was a name change, and this weekend, the Rock and Metal Academy will show the public just what it does at a two-night summer showcase, which takes place Friday and Saturday at The Bird and the Book in Maryville.
“I’ve been kicking around the idea to change the name for a while, because we have such an emphasis on metal, and we wanted to reflect that,” McCammon said. “We do pop, rock and metal, but metal is such a niche thing, and I wanted people to know, ‘Hey, if you’re looking for metal, we’re the place to go.’”
For more than 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, swagger and sing like a front man (or woman), then McCammon’s school has a spot.
“We’re not the School of Rock,” McCammon said. “I like the movie, but the brand is much different, and that’s not us. I like to joke that we’re the ‘F Word Friday School.’”
As Maryville Rock Academy, the institution was first located on West Broadway Avenue, and McCammon and her former husband taught guitar (acoustic and electric), bass, drums and vocals. They sponsored the Blount-based band Divided We Stand, hosted concerts and quickly outgrew their space, moving to a spot off of Foothills Plaza Drive and finally to New Midland Shopping Center in Alcoa, where the school currently resides.
Last summer, McCammon had to navigate turbulent waters as COVID-19 upended educational endeavors of all kinds.
“We had 30 to 40 students, and we had a huge drop-off. At first, we tried doing Zoom lessons, and when we thought we were only going to be shut down for a month, I told everyone, ‘Here’s your homework, and when we come back, we’re going to do a big concert!’” she said. “Needless to say, that didn’t happen. We gave people a couple of months of free tuition, and thankfully, (the students) has started to come back, because our students are more like family.”
In the meantime, she used her stimulus money to make some changes, all of with the help of her team: sound engineer Preston Watts, a former student; manager/beginner vocal coach and primary guitar instructor Rebecca Branton; metal guitar/advanced metal technique vocal instructor Zack Carter; Skylar Loveday, one of McCammon’s administrative assistants; and 16-year-old Alexys Nunley, the school’s assistant manager and social media guru.
“Once things settled during quarantine, I told them, ‘We’re going to redo this whole place,’” McCammon said. “Preston went through all of our equipment and helped us figure out what we needed and what we could let go of, and that helped put us at the top of our industry. We updated all of our equipment and repainted almost every room, even on Alexys’ birthday: That’s all she wanted, sushi, ice cream and a paint party.”
Once COVID restrictions eased and classes resumed, the school had to limit audience participation for its semi-regular showcase performances. This weekend the shows at The Bird and the Book will be a coming-out party, of sorts, for an entrepreneur, her team and the students who have stuck by her side through a tumultuous year.
“At The Bird and the Book, we’re going to have rock, pop and metal,” she said. “We’ve got some really creative arrangements of songs I’m so excited about. For example, there’s a song called ‘Running Up That Hill’ that Kate Bush wrote, but (the band) Placebo covered in the 2000s. It’s one of my favorite songs, and Sherri (Nakamoto), one of my students, came to me with it, and I said, ‘You’ve got to hear the Placebo version!’
“Well, she worked with other students, and they’ve come up with this freaking amazing cover that sounds completely separate of the two that I’m totally excited about. The students have this community where they inspire each other, help each other and explore other techniques and genres, and they’re really building their toolbox and doing things that have never been done before.”