Charlestonians can now see Walterboro native Chris Roberts Acoustic around town almost every day of the week. But it wasn’t until he grabbed some sushi one night in Charleston in 2011 that he had any idea he could make his living as a musician.
“I went out to Tsunami for some sushi and some sake,” Roberts said. “And here’s this guy playing in the corner. He’s doing ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman, and Duncan Sheik, and all those, like, one-hit-wonder kind of ’90s pop stuff. This guy’s cool.”
So Roberts came back the next Monday to see the singer, Michael Duff, again. And again. And again.
“For a few months in a row, I would come back,” Roberts said. “And this guy is like, ‘Hey, man, that’s really cool. You keep coming out to see me.’ And I was like, ‘So is this all you do?’”
Duff told Roberts that he had only been doing music full time for a few months. He shared his experience of being able to live as a freelance musician and told Roberts about all the venues he was booking on his own.
“He kind of inspired me to be a freelance musician,” Roberts said.
A few years later, at age 27, Roberts got tired of working as a cook in the kitchen at the Daniel Island Country Club. He decided to start lining up venues, first sending out amateurish emails and then finally finding the right way to get places to respond to him.
“I didn’t know how to approach people,” he laughed. “I would just be like, ‘Hey, I play live music. Do you guys want live music?’ Which is not how you send a business email.”
Roberts has been a professional musician for 12 years but didn’t make the jump to full time in 2017. He plays solo at Toast! All Day on King Street every week and can also be spotted at the Night Market and Port of Call, both on Market Street.
Roberts, who describes his music as a cross between Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top, also performs with his band, Sill Crow. (The band goes by the name Flipside when it wants to play party songs.)
Sill Crow released an album in 2020, during the quarantine. Roberts, who writes all of its songs and is also lead vocalist, said writing music helps him deal with a lot of personal issues.
“I was recording the album, and at the time that I was writing it, I was going through a lot of tough, tough changes,” Roberts said. “I was in a relationship where we had kids, but we weren’t married and we were splitting, and it’s my first time with that kind of thing. Some people seem to take that really easily, but someone like me, growing up in more of a country-style family … It’s really hard to wrap your mind around, you know, not being with a woman they have kids with.”
Sill Crow’s first album talks a lot about the devil, a metaphor that Roberts uses to speak of his real-life problems. “There’s a song called ‘Smile at the Devil’ on the album,” he said. “And it’s not literally about smiling at the actual devil. It’s kind of about being positive in the face of adversity.”
The band will cut a new album soon, and Roberts wants to record it live in their rehearsal space.
“We’re not going to the studio this time,” he said, “because we want the next album to have some of that life-in-the-moment kind of mojo, you know. And the last album didn’t really have that because we overdub everything.”
In the meantime, Sill Crow will release a new song July 15 called “New Way.”
Watch for Chris Roberts Acoustic around town. No matter what time of day you hear him, the singer will be the rock musician with sunglasses on.
“Whenever I was younger, I used to watch a bunch of live videos, and my favorite musician was Tom Petty,” Roberts said. “He would wear his aviators all the time. And I thought that was really cool.”
Gabriel Veiga is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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