Charleston's Music Scenesters Weigh In 

A roundup of gripes from musicians and scenesters

The City Paper music department wanted to know if anyone else in the scene had particular beefs. They did. Listed here are some gripes from local musicians, club staffers, audio engineers, and scenesters who love music but have a beef with this or that.

click to enlarge Andy Lassiter - PROVIDED

Why No Killer Outdoor Venues?

In the wake of canceled performances and low turnouts for several highly anticipated performances this year, the need for a quality outdoor music venue in Charleston has never been more apparent. It's not that outdoor venues don't exist here; quite the contrary. However, the best spots in town are largely underused.

Locations like Patriots Point, Waterfront Park, Family Circle Cup Stadium, the Custom House, and even Marion Square are all possibilities. These venues, however, were not designed to accommodate live music, and they always seem to be reserved for high-profile cultural events that fall within the traditional conventions of what's deemed to be acceptable by the Charleston establishment. The prospect of utilizing these local gems is often buried under mountains of red tape, permits, exorbitant rental costs, unreasonable restrictions on usage, or pressure from local politicians to simply reject an artist or band based on personal paradigms.

Granted, we don't need a 20,000 capacity mega-venue like Walnut Creek, but consider modern concert parks like the new uptown amphitheater in downtown Charlotte or Encore Park near Atlanta. Both are modest capacity sheds that have been embraced by the surrounding communities. Even Savannah has long sponsored free public concerts in downtown Forsyth Park, recently boasting acts like the Allman Brothers, Michael Franti, George Clinton and Parliament, and Gov't Mule.

With all the recent talk of new development plans, hopefully, the city will address the need for a decent-sized outdoor venue that will actually attract national talent to the area. If Charleston wants to be known as the progressive art and culture hub of the Southeast, it would be beneficial to have a suitable outdoor venue. —Andy Lassiter, rock musician, photographer, freelance writer

click to enlarge Megan Jean and Byrne Klay - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

What Do You Do When your Music is Lost on the Clueless?

My gripe is with folks that only want to hear cover songs, specifically, "Me and Bobby McGee." Now I don't have a problem with Janis Joplin, but if you really want to hear a song, play it on the jukebox, folks. Now we will happily play the song, for a sliding fee of $25 to $50, depending on how douchey they are about it.

My favorite, however, goes out to a patron in an unnamed Charleston wing joint (who banned us for life from performing for using our tab on food, not alcohol). We were playing our regular stuff, with as much gusto as we could muster with Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity staring us down from the 46-inch plasma TVs hanging on the walls. We were desperately trying to win the crowd over. We pulled out all the stops — wailing, emoting, stomping. We were killing it, and they didn't seem to notice.

There was one dude at the bar, however, that seemed pretty into it, albeit compared to the near comatose patrons surrounding him. He would nod his head and periodically look over and yell, "You got the voice of a fuckin' angel, girl! Play 'Bobby McGee!' I know you know it!" I politely told him I didn't know it, which was partly true. I don't care to ever memorize the words, mostly in protest.

Finally, after we played "John Hardy" or some other old-time tune to appease him, he saunters over during the next song, writes something on a napkin, and begins to wave it in my face while I am in the middle of a song, seemingly unaware that I was too busy to take it. After two minutes of me furiously nod-pointing my head toward a table, he sets it down and goes back over to the bar. After the song, I picked up the napkin and it said, verbatim: "No more originals, please, stick to the old timeee." We then did a calypso-style cover of "Die Die My Darling" by the Misfits in response. It was completely lost on him. —Megan Jean, of Megan Jean and the KFB

click to enlarge Tina Withrow Graves - SYDNEY GRAVES
  • Sydney Graves
  • Tina Withrow Graves

Listen Up and Remember Your Manners

I am an enthusiastic appreciator and supporter of live music. I'm lucky enough to count among my friends many extraordinarily talented songwriters and musicians. I've hopped on my bike to catch a great act at my local pub, and I've hopped on a transatlantic flight to catch a great music festival. I know we have a fantastic music scene in Charleston, and I am grateful to live where I can enjoy any number of genres on any given night.

Because I've been to (and more importantly, paid close attention to) many hundreds of gigs here through the years, I feel I'm qualified to point out a few (OK, more than a few) situations that could benefit from some thoughtful attention and correction. I've run this list past some of my fellow music enthusiasts, and it seems these thoughts are shared by many. Bear in mind, I am a positive person by nature and not prone to rants and complaints. That being said, here are things that make a lover of live music unhappy:

Bands that start whenever the hell they feel like it instead of the published time. Your running late is making my babysitter rich and me mad.

Interminable breaks between sets. Again, we are spending time and money to be entertained by you, the live band — not the bar's satellite radio or the bartender's iPod.

Soundmen who don't visit their audiologists on a regular basis. You can develop significant hearing loss after years in this business. And we can tell.

Speaking of hearing loss, bars that feature loud bands should sell earplugs.

Poor venue sound quality. Bar owners: You must take into consideration your acoustics. Concrete floors and sheetrock may be inevitable, but you can and must offset the resulting cacophony. The talent and your patrons will notice and be grateful. And will be more likely to come back.

Finally, and most importantly: Noisy-talkative-rude-inconsiderate-obnoxious audience members who forget that a live band deserves attention and respect. There's a crowd of people who spent time, money, and energy to attend and are forcing back homicidal feelings toward you and your loud friends. Pretend your mother taught you better and keep it down. —Tina Withrow Graves, photographer, freelance music writer, health care pro.

click to enlarge Annie Boxell - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

No Lame Requests

We musicians do what we do because we love to play music. Here's a thought: try listening to it. If you simply must hear "Brown Eyed Girl" or "Freebird" again, great. Get a cab home and listen to them on repeat, as they are both classics. Let the current musicians fighting for their own legacy do so. We are professionals, people. Let us handle the music unless we invite you to help. Annie Boxell, songwriter, pianist, bandleader

click to enlarge Rachel Kate Gillon - PROVIDED

Nothing Happens?

I wish peeps would quit complaining about how nothing ever happens in this town. Everyone plays all the time, and our local music scene is ridiculously good. —Rachel Kate Gillon, the Shaniqua Brown

click to enlarge Devin Grant - PROVIDED

Rude, Dude

I have been attending shows in Charleston since I was 12, and while venues have come and gone, and artists have risen and fallen, one thing that has never changed here in the Lowcountry is that there are a certain percentage of you concert-goers who are incredibly, ridiculously, rudely oblivious to the fact that most of us have come to hear the music resonating from the stage. It doesn't matter if it is a club show featuring a local band, an international act headlining at the North Charleston Coliseum, or an invite-only house show; inevitably, there are at least two morons who feel that their conversation is more important than what is going on up on the stage. —Devin Grant, freelance music writer

click to enlarge Ben Fagan - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

High Voltage

I can't stand when a musician takes it upon themselves to run their own volume in the house with a volume pedal and can't tell when their instrument gets painfully loud. When you see ears bleeding, pull it back half a notch. —Ben Fagan, songwriter, the Plainfield Project

click to enlarge Tony McKie - T. BALLARD LESEMANN
Everyone's a Wise (Sound) Guy

Why does everyone think they're a sound tech? Hearing "Can I have more vocals?" from the girl next door or her jackass boyfriend is not attractive. —Tony McKie, talent buyer/co-owner of Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ

click to enlarge J.R. Getches - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

Bachelorettes and Buffoons

I have played thousands of rock shows from Laos to Russia. Yet only in Charleston do the audiences feel they have the right to just jump on stage and grab a microphone. When I first arrived here, six years ago, I was shocked at this behavior. Now, I find it mildly annoying and I've learned to deal with it. Gangs of women festooned with pornographic paraphernalia who are, hopefully, part of a bachelorette party get special treatment. Even though they stagger all over the cables and stomp boxes and generally wreck havoc, they usually ask for permission first. But males are more likely to get punished. I had an ugly incident last year when I pushed some guy off the stage. Now, I just change the polarity of my amplifier and touch them with the guitar strings, thus sending some significant voltage though the offender. —J.R. Getches, photographer, guitarist, Louie D Project

click to enlarge Skye Paige - JOSHUA CURRY

No Such Things as 'For Free'

I don't like playing for free. Period. I have put a lot of time, emotion, and money into my craft and equipment. I've played a lot of charity events, and I will continue to do so, but what most people don't realize is most of the time it costs me $35-$50 to even get out the door. I have to pay my babysitter. Sometimes, we may have to take off work from our regular-paying jobs to play gigs. Almost everyone in my band has a family to take care of. Our time is valuable. —Skye Paige, burlesque dancer, singer/songwriter, the Original Recipe

click to enlarge Davis Coen - PROVIDED

Blue Collar Man

Rushing equipment into a venue and sliding by (un)acknowledging weekend bargoers who won't move from their idle conversations to let you pass with a 50-pound speaker pushing your way through — it proves that playing live music in Charleston is more often than not a blue-collar job. —Davis Coen, blues songwriter, singer, guitarist

Shake It Up

I've been to many cities on this planet, but Charleston, for some reason, has a lack of crowd response or movement. I've had many major acts ask me, "Did they pay for us just to watch them stand there?" or "Are fans not allowed to dance or something?" I've seen this even at large venues. Get your dance and party on. Be safe and pick people up out of the pit when they go down. Go fill these bars and nightclubs with live music and shake your ass, Charleston. You deserve it. —Jason McFarland, sound man, roadie, drummer with FLK

click to enlarge Mark Bryan - PROVIDED

Beggars and Thieves

I take issue with the illegal downloading (or stealing) of music and driving under the speed limit. I'm at peace, however, with the knowledge that these are the ways of the universe and are beyond my control. Blessings to all, even the thieves and slowpokes. —Mark Bryan, songwriter, guitarist, Hootie and the Blowfish

click to enlarge Bobby Houck - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

Cleaning it Up

I have a beef with music clubs that don't think people want them to be clean. I never understood this logic. We've done our share of dives, and we generally dig 'em, but who created the apparent rule that there's no sweeping, mopping, or even cleaning the bathrooms every day? Eventually, the customer just won't come back. It makes our job of getting people there that much harder. —Bobby Houck singer/songwriter, the Blue Dogs

click to enlarge Jim Lundy - T. BALLARD LESEMANN

Phoning It In

In general, most concert audiences nowadays seem to be spending all their time on cell phones telling everybody they know they're at a concert or, "Hey, listen to this," and holding their phone up in the air. Not to mention taking videos with their phones. They don't seem to be able to be part of the moment enjoying it but are a lot more concerned that everybody else know what they're doing. Usually I wonder why the hell they're even there because the last thing they seem to be interested in is enjoying the music. —Jim Lundy, songwriter, host of the Monday Night Blues as East Bay Meeting House

click to enlarge Chris Moon - PROVIDED
Late Hate

My biggest beef is starting times for live music. The Generation Xers, like myself, still want to rock it out but have to go to work the next day. So, here is my challenge to at least some live music venues of Charleston: Let's start the music after dinner, and charge a cover — a substantial one, if you want. I know that many of my aging rockers out there would be happy to go see more music and financially support the clubs/bands that can promise us on-time first sets and get us all home by midnight. Geez, I sound like my dad.—Chris Moon, singer, multi-instrumentalist, Booty Call frontman

click to enlarge Mike Pelland - PROVIDED

The Six P's of Production: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performances

This is the reason shows fly or flop. Everyone on a show has a specialized job to do, that job also depends on other people doing their jobs respectively. Little things like guitar picks and cables left at home, can make for an arduous evening of scrambling and borrowing.

Use this time wisely, it will also help greatly if you give the audio personnel an input list and stage plot before the day of the show so they can be prepared. With more information, more preparation can be done, I don't think there is a sound engineer out there that likes a surprise. Band's that are organized love me, band's that don't have their things together don't love me. Whether you are a member of the band or a member of the crew, show day is a work day, the fun is for the crowd. As long as everyone does their job on stage and in preparation, there is no reason not to have a good day. —Michael Pelland, front-of-house sound man at the Music Farm

click to enlarge Ron Wiltrout - T. BALLARD LESEMANN
Ron's Gripe List

I got a beef with stupidity and complacency.
I also got a beef with people acting like Charleston ain't shit (and by acting so making it so).
I got a beef with people saying "why don't you play like that other person who I like better/can understand?" instead of listening to what's there.
I also got a beef with all the new expensive bars/restaurants opening up and all the old cheaper places closing down.
I definitely got beef with club owners who don't know anything about music, but expect to still be able to tell the musicians what to do, and get pissy when they don't make any sense.
I think the most beef I might have is with people being so loud in bars, and then bars turning up the music to compete thus sending us on an ever-rising decibel battle. I will say that people take music for granted, but I've also been able to turn some of those heads (and quiet those mouths) in my time. I would like it if there was a little more awareness of music in town, so that people would be more interested in the different things that are happening, rather than just looking for background noise for tomorrow's stories of debauchery.
Otherwise, I'm getting old enough where these kids don't bother me too much. Grumpy old hermit here I come. —Ron Wiltrout, percussionist, New Music Collective

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