The Post & Courier published a piece this week suggesting that without King Dusko, King Street would cease to be a musical “hub.” The response from myself, along with many in the music community, was: Say what?
King Street has never been a musical hub. A shopping district? Yes. Bar central? Sure. But not since Cumberland’s left the building one sad day about a decade ago has King been anything close to live music destination. At that same time, you could get your jazz fix at King Street’s Mezzane (now the Mezz), a popular, hip hangout. And I fondly remember spending Sunday nights listening to Cary Ann Hearst and Danny Cassidy at Fluids (the name still makes me cringe) over a dozen years ago.
But was King Street ever a music hub? Not at all — just as King Dusko, a lone venue attracting a healthy music crowd, has not made an entire street a musical hub, even with the help of a couple of neighboring bars featuring a bit of live music.
King Street may have never been this musical oasis, but that doesn’t mean downtown is totally void of our city’s great music. Not that far from where King Dusko will leave its mark, you can catch great local and traveling acts at Recovery Room. Redux has been increasingly popular for hosting gigs, like last spring’s successful Hearts & Plugs residency, while Woolfe Street Playhouse has also made itself known of late as a cool place to catch a show. And lest we forget Charleston Music Hall, a place where, yes, Shovels & Rope had to work their way up to playing, but these days the Hall isn’t so untouchable for local acts. Rachel Kate released her debut album there two years ago, while Michael Flynn did so last year. And Brave Baby recently launched Electric Friends at the local music-friendly venue. Heck, the Music Farm also shows local love to from time to time. Remember when SUSTO and Brave Baby played to a sold-out crowd at the Farm last year? I do.
But beyond the places that are walking distance from one another downtown, there’s a beautifully rich scene thriving in various, diverse neighborhoods around Charleston and North Charleston. And that’s far more important than pinning the scene to a part of town that’ll impress the tourists. So rather than getting bent out of shape about the death of a hub that never existed on one specific street, I’m thankful for what we do have: a scene that’s nurtured by the people who live here, past the unaffordable confines on the peninsula.
How about heading to the grittier outskirts to places like the Royal American, Tattooed Moose, and Local 616? Even the North Chuck and upper-peninsula breweries are great venues nowadays — like Huger Street’s Palmetto Brewing, which has hosted some incredible live acts weekly over the past couple of years.
Park Circle proudly boasts great spots to catch rock ‘n’ roll, punk, and more, like the Sparrow and the Mill. What West Ashley would do without the Tin Roof, I don’t even wanna know. And where would we be without the dedication of the Pour House, who serves the James Island community and beyond with its bevy of national acts? Johns Island is lucky to have Seanachai and, now, a Tattooed Moose of its own. And Folly Beach’s Surf Bar, the Drop In Deli, and Chico Feo are just three establishments who make worthwhile music available on the beach to locals and tourists alike.
When I took a Charleston hiatus a little over a decade ago, Cumberland’s was about all we had. I was amazed to return in 2011 to a city where I could not only catch my friends opening up for legendary national acts at my neighborhood West of the Ashley dive bar, but one that also nurtures local artists beyond a weekly Metal Monday slot. What we have now is a place where I can see Lily Slay in a speakeasy on Market Street or Dumb Doctors at Rec Room or FALINE at Tattooed Moose — in the middle of the week — for free, people. What we have now is also a place where I can venue-hop several days a week, because there’s that much going on — and that’s pretty amazing.
King Dusko served up a haven for young bands and music fans, and for that they will be missed. But let’s not put the weight of an entire scene on its poor shoulders. Dusko was never any sort of singular savior for King Street, and I’m not so sure it needs one. I’m not saying the city has reached its potential and that there’s no room for growth. I’m simply saying I know where we’ve been, and that I’m proud of where we are now.
UPDATE: I’m referring to the lack of venues, not the lack of bars. There are plenty of bars where musicians play acoustic covers to an audience that doesn’t care that they’re there. Though those bars are essential in helping the livelihood of many musicians, they aren’t music venues. There is certainly not a music row of venues on King Street that cater specifically to original music from local, up-and-coming, and traveling acts. Interesting, diverse, original music is the livelihood of venues like Pour House and Tin Roof, which is a great thing to have spread out around Charleston.
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