File photo by Ashley Rose Stanol

 Live Music is Back

Chances are that Charleston music lovers and musicians won’t look at a packed-out show the same anymore — especially now that we have the chance to be at one again. 

With ample access to vaccines and social-distancing mandates phasing out, local venues are ready to offer more options for live music both indoors and outdoors this summer and fall. 

Isle of Palms’ staple beach venue, The Windjammer, is working hard to catch back up from 2020, said talent buyer Scottie Frier. 

The Windjammer has struck a balance of local and regional acts on its roster of live shows this summer

“We are trying to make sure all the artists are taken care of well and make sure we are providing for both sides, so that the artists are able to financially recover as well as us.” 

The Windjammer’s outdoor stage has more than 30 shows planned this summer, including local acts like Doom Flamingo, Stop Light Observations and Little Stranger and regional acts like Columbia’s Five Way Friday and Nashville’s Moon Taxi and The Travelin’ McCourys.

Frier is looking forward to seeing steadier income for The Windjammer’s staff and production crew working behind the scenes and getting back to building relationships within the music community.

“It’s good to see people making friends, and we took that for granted before it was taken away from us.”

“We try to hold that reputation of being a venue that’s going to support the local scene and help build those [acts] up to where they’re playing bigger venues,” he said.

Carmody | Provided

After sitting dark until last November, Charleston Music Hall is ready to return to full capacity by the end of July. “It’s been a wild ride,” said venue director Charles Carmody, whose team pivoted to coordinating 25 outdoor pod-style concerts at The Bend in North Charleston, with two Tedeschi Trucks shows wrapping up the series this week.

To fill its summer and fall schedule, the Music Hall has worked closely with local acts on creative concepts tailored to social distancing, like the long-running Women & Series with local singer-songwriters such as Zandrina Dunning, Jordan Igoe, Lindsay Holler, Danielle Howle and Grace Joyner. 

Following the cancellation of over 100 events last year, the shutdown silver lining for the Music Hall has been the opportunity to get some long-desired renovations done. The orchestra seating at the front of the historic performance hall is now removable to allow standing room for 600 people, expanding its usual 965 seats to now hold 1,200 concertgoers. 

“It’s going to open up the doors to not only larger acts, but also more diverse acts. I’m excited to get the room filled again — just that feeling of having all these people gathered in the same room to celebrate life and have fun,” Carmody said.

An ’80s vs. ’90s hits dance party August 6 and a salsa night led by Gino Castillo and the Cuban Cowboys August 13 will be the first to utilize the new standing space. In October, Dashboard Confessional fans will be able to christen the pit as well.

Outdoor and partial-capacity shows have been a saving grace in 2021 for a handful of local venues after a haunting silence last spring was followed by the scramble to navigate shutdown mandates and change up business models.

Husband-wife duo Alex and Vanessa Harris organized the fourth Everyone Orchestra Weekend gathering to celebrate Pour House’s 19th anniversary | File photo by Ruta Smith

With gratitude for that in mind, Pour House owners Vanessa and Alex Harris are aiming to book music on the indoor stage just as regularly as the deck stage by the time fall arrives. 

“We are happy to give back and be fully open to offer more options for musicians, people who want to see shows, and staff who want to work lots of shifts,” said Alex Harris. “We’ve built our life around Pour House, and [Vanessa] and I have been working on it since 2002. We won’t take for granted having bands to book.” 

Pandemic operations have reaffirmed for the Pour House that it’s a group effort for the entire creative community. 

“All the local musicians we work with really showed up and kept things interesting around here,” he said. 

Pour House is bringing back Everyone Orchestra Weekend Gathering September 3 and 4 to celebrate its 19th anniversary.  

The pandemic hasn’t kept dive bar venue Tin Roof from being a haven for under-the-radar punk and solo acts, but owner Erin Tyler has also carved out a new normal: fewer shows and more space to recuperate. 

“There was no constant during this time — if anything, the constant was that things are constantly changing and you have to adapt to what comes your way,” she said. 

Tin Roof will pace itself this summer with a few shows a week, including Lost Cosmonauts, The Shem Creeps, Dog Bite, Blue Ricky, and Jared Petteys and The Headliners. 

Susto frontman Justin Osborne just kicked off his Rogue Acoustic tour with a sold-out show at The Royal American, and while it’s still too early to know how things will go, he said the crowd showed promise of good things on the horizon.  

The Royal American is welcoming back musicians to its indoor stage as gigs ramp up at local venues

“I’m hopeful for not just people like me doing tours but for those working musicians who make our city such a vibrant musical landscape — that those revenue sources are coming back. It all seems to be thawing out. People are able to do what they love for a living again.”

Kenney | File photo by Ruta Smith

The Royal American co-owner John Kenney also crossed out months of shows last year, including Royal’s second Cultura Fest, a local-focused hip-hop and rhythm and blues curation. Thankfully, Kenney said, the neighborhood bar could still operate at limited capacity when everything was at a standstill musically. 

Royal is now booked most weekends throughout the summer with an array of locals-only lineups, including Majic Dust, Fox Hunt, Persona La Ave, Whitehall, Cole Collins, Dead Swells and more. 

“It just feels good to have music back in the building, and the response from our patrons has been amazing. There is a smile on every face in the room,” Kenney said. 

Experimental outfit Sexbruise? is also basking in the glow of a sold-out show at Charleston’s newest venue, Tobin’s Market.

“I feel like the venues have done everything they can to stay open and keep musicians playing,” said frontwoman Julie Slonecki. “Tobin’s Market has kept a lot of musicians afloat.” 

The compact outdoor restaurant and bar gives local musicians consistent performance opportunities that didn’t exist most of last year, with daily shows spanning psychedelic rock, folk, funk and jazz. 

“You didn’t ever think of a time where gigs would just disappear,” Slonecki said. “Every show that we get now, it’s making us that much more grateful — not having those fears or anxieties weighing on you that everybody has been dealing with for the last year.”

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