Peter “Sad Boy” Spearman is far from sad about leaving the Holy City for grad school in Durham, England. After all, he leaves his handiwork, Pop-Up Charleston, in the very capable hands of its co-founders.
Pop-Up Charleston sprung to life only a year and a half ago when Spearman, Addi Green, and Matt Navey decided to book a Nashville friend’s gig in an unconventional venue: at the former home of Spearman and Navey. That “venue” in Kevsko Alley, a graffiti-covered outdoor space behind Fire Street Foods on King Street, sparked a storm of interest when they realized how many folks wanted to hear and support up-and-coming bands.
“We started doing tester shows to gauge how many people would show up,” Green says. “And they ended up being really successful. Everything about that place was beautiful.”
She’s right. We caught a couple of shows there, including a jam-packed release show for She Returns from War’s Coyote Soda and an equally exciting performance from Michael Flynn during the final Kevsko gig. Hearing some of the city’s best acts in such an eccentric setting felt like we’d been let in on Charleston’s coolest secret. This was a quiet nook, far removed from the nightlife of Upper King Street, yet even the neighbors were supportive of a little noise.
“The restaurant in the front, Fire — the manager used to be a sound engineer and would come back and say, ‘Hey you guys might want to turn the speaker this way, you can get this sound from the space,'” Spearman says.
The realization that these friends were on to something special was immediate. The day after Kevsko’s first big show, Spearman received a message from a well-known local artist who wanted in on the Kevsko magic.
“Steven Fiore sent me a message on Facebook, and I called Addi and said, ‘Addi, I don’t know how to tell you what just happened, but Steven Fiore, creator of my Myspace song from seventh grade, wants to play at my house,'” Spearman says.
Spearman and Navey eventually had to move, but they took with them the knowledge that there was a community out there that craved that kind of engagement. Traveling and local acts needed an audience, and these CofC students had discovered one.
“We didn’t want to stop,” says Green, a rising senior. “And we had this idea of having more community involvement than just the people coming, so that’s why we decided that having the shows all over the peninsula would be really fun.”
The house show culture has been around in Charleston for a while, but lately it’s really thrived for the hardcore, metal crowd, and Spearman, Green, and Navey saw a need for other genres. So after countless middle-of-the-night phone calls and brainstorms, they (Spearman as director, Green as art coordinator, and Navey as hospitality coordinator) decided to call their all-volunteer effort Pop-Up Charleston. They soon found a fourth crew member, Katie Jones, who would help organize photography for the events.
Pop-Up Charleston has since turned into a movement, in which everyone from CofC students to young professionals gather in the name of music in random living rooms and actual venues, like the newly defunct King Dusko. Not only has the music community grown, but the organization of Pop-Up Charleston has, too.
And even though they’re losing a limb when Spearman leaves for the U.K. in October, a plan is in place to ensure they can keep up with the goal of holding at least two Pop-Up Charleston events per month. Green will be the new director, while Jones steps up to share more responsibilities in preparation to take over when Green graduates in May. “And we’re looking for more college students who are interested and ready to help and are willing to understand that it’s really not about us but about Charleston and the community,” Green says. “You’re not going to make any money, but you’re going to be giving hours of your life away.”
Before the end of the month, Green says they’ll release an application for first-, second-, and third-year college students, while the founders ponder the long-term future of Pop-Up Charleston. “We’re also discussing if we want to keep the same model when Peter gets back or if we want it to develop and change it slightly so it could be something that could be our livelihood,” Green says.
The notion that organizing music and art events could be their calling is a surprise to them all. “It’s surreal for us, because we’re not arts management majors or anything like that,” Green says. “[Spearman] is English and theatre, and I’m English and art history. So we enjoy art, but we never thought we’d be in this position. Katie studies biology and Matt is English, so it all just fell into our laps.
“And I kind of like that, too,” she adds. “It’s not like we prepared for this at all, but that kind of makes it a good thing. It’s funny, because now, for all of us, this is something we want to do for the rest of our lives.”
To follow what Pop-Up Charleston is doing around town, visit their Facebook page.