Vintage music relics hang on the walls and decorate the surfaces throughout Rob Lamble’s Mount Pleasant home, a fitting introduction to the man who founded the Lowcountry entertainment agency Ear For Music in 1997.
Old guitar picks, concert photos, show posters and reverb pedals are displayed with great care. Book spines and weathered albums reveal an affinity for audio art from all over the genre map in line with Lamble’s passion for live entertainment that he’s carried since childhood.
“I was always a music nut,” Lamble said with a smile. He sat on a well-worn leather sofa in a den that spills off the living room in a charming Mount Pleasant home that he shares with his wife Erika Lamble, who books events for Ear For Music and represents various local music acts.
“I bought this house during the bottom of the recession in 2009 from a gentleman who was a contractor,” Lamble said. “He was renovating this house for his father to move into. He had gutted it and almost finished [renovating] it — and I just walked in and fell in love with it.”
The cozy den is a time capsule and a tribute: His dad’s 1982 turntable and old record collection take residence across the room from an early 1970s Hammond organ, which sits next to his grandfather’s record player bought in 1968. It still works.
Lamble and Ear For Music have booked talent and promoted concerts for Charleston music venues and festivals for 26 years, contributing to the success of 96 Wave Fest, Trondossa Music and Arts Festival, Party at the Point, High Water and, most recently, Riverfront Revival, to name a few.
How he got started
The Charleston native first caught what he calls “the bug” for the music business when his dad opened the Tunes Discs & Tapes record store in 1988 in Mount Pleasant. He worked in the store on and off when he traveled down from Salisbury, North Carolina, where he attended high school and later college after he relocated with his mom.
His dad also managed ticketing for the old music venue Myskyns Tavern on Market Street and later Faber Street downtown. When Myskyns sold, it reopened as Acme Bar.
“They were getting ready to sell, and they did a New Year’s Eve show in 1993 with Hootie & the Blowfish right before they blew up,” Lamble said. “When they reopened [as Acme Bar], I mentored under my dad’s friend Larry Walker, and he turned over the reins. I started booking the club, and we opened with The Band in 1994. Everybody was there but Robbie Robertson. That was the beginning. The live component was what really spoke to me.”
When he launched Ear For Music in 1997, he became head booker for Wild Wing Café, handling the band schedules and gig details for the company’s 18 locations from Virginia down to Florida.
“It was a cool circuit for regional bands to cruise and gain a following and get paid well and be taken care of,” Lamble said. “That was a long run we had with those guys.”
Lamble recalled some highlights, such as working with 96 Wave Fest in Brittlebank Park and booking now five-time Grammy Award winning musician Keb’ Mo’ at Charleston Music Hall in 1997. Another major moment was watching the BBC follow legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock as part of a documentary project when Ear For Music booked Hancock at Charleston Music Hall in 2002.
Rewinding even further, Lamble said some of the first inklings of his love for live music surfaced when he was around 12 and got into classic rock, playing guitar and a bit of drums. Then he started exploring the origins of hip-hop music and became immersed in the breakdance movement in junior high and high school in Salisbury.
“I dove in head first and spent countless hours practicing from 1983 to 1987,” he said. “I was in several crews during that time span and landed paying gigs at local clubs and bars in North Carolina. The last group I was in was the Empire Crew and we ended up on a popular Saturday morning TV dance show called Let’s Dance! It was stellar.”
How it’s going now
Lamble said 2022 was a really good year for the Charleston music circuit, reflecting a larger shift in the local scene as a whole. Not only are venues lending themselves to better opportunities, he said, but now there are more major marquee venues.
“I think the venue landscape changed,” he said. “We have more options that are attractive to bands. I think the growth in our area has lent itself to more of a buyer’s market where we’re able to do 30 to 50 shows a year and not have to worry about ticket sales. Whereas back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, you didn’t know if you could do 2,000 to 4,000 people on a headliner-name artist. All of that is starting to shift.”
It’s all about making sure that when touring bands come through town, they want to come back.
“Artist relations, to me, are just as important as ticket sales,” he said. “When the bands come in, we want them to have a great experience. We urge them to take a day on the front or the back end [of the show], and we try to curate an experience for them to enjoy.”
Ear for Music’s Safe Sounds concept, which incorporated social distancing and outdoor settings, was a major propeller for Charleston music as it hung on in the pandemic and hosted 72 shows from June 2020 through October 2021. It was one of the first pod show concert concepts in the country, Lamble said.
“Even though the pandemic was so scary, I felt like we needed to unify everybody again and make people feel comfortable,” he said. “And that was a format and platform we could do it with. And then also, [it was] putting all of our industry back to work — all the way from photographers to sound engineers to stage [technicians].”
Now it feels like it’s all full-speed ahead, he said.
“I am looking forward to just having a year where everyone’s ready to get back to coming out and enjoying it and not having to worry about all of the things that are going on in the world — taking the time to enjoy life and enjoy music and enjoy the outdoors.”
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