Ever been to a show you'd love to experience on repeat? That's what the Groundhog Day Concert is like, which makes its title a fitting one. When the who's who of Holy City musicians gather on the Charleston Music Hall Stage, magic happens — and that's why the Groundhog Day Concert has become one of the local music scene's most anticipated events of the year.
This week marks the fourth time musician Bill Carson has gathered his most talented local cronies — the likes of Shovels & Rope's Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, Lindsay Holler, Jack Burg, Joel T. Hamilton, Michael Flynn, Clint Fore, Charlton Singleton, Kevin Hamilton, Ron Wiltrout, Nathan Koci, Jonathan Gray, Simon Harding, Aisha Kenyetta, and more — for the Groundhog Day Concert benefitting the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. What started out as a mostly instrumental show curated by Carson has evolved into a collaborative effort with a growing ensemble of multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and vocalists performing both originals as well as carefully chosen songs from the Great American Songbook and more.
In the spirit of Groundhog Day — you know, that time Bill Murray spent eight years, eight months, and 16 days reliving Groundhog Day — we asked some of the performers to tell us about the one show they've performed or simply attended that they would relive over and over and over again. Here's what they said.
SKWZBXX, my old band, was playing at the Elbow Room in Columbia. If you have ever been in the Elbow Room, you know that the door that you enter is next to the stage. There is a small wall that separates it, and you can't see the people that enter if you are on the stage until they take about three or four steps in. We were playing to a packed house, and all of a sudden you could see that everyone's attention turned to the door. After about five long seconds, everyone started yelling and saying the same thing: "WOOOOOOOOOO!" Yes ... The "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and the entire cast of WCW Wrestling were entering the building. They had just finished a show at the Carolina Coliseum and decided to come and hang out. It just so happened that Arn Anderson — yes ... Four Horseman Arn Anderson — announced his retirement that night. Ric Flair joined us onstage and asked that all of the ladies "show Double A that retirement ain't so bad." As he was talking and doing his thing onstage, we were all in amazement. Jack Burg jumped off of his drums, came down to the front, and actually put Ric Flair in the headlock or sleeper hold. As the night went on, we watched a number of them get stupid drunk, stumble in and out of the bar, and beg for cabs to stop and take them back to the hotel. On top of that, we were killin' 'em with music! Awesome night!
In June of 2015, I was lucky enough to be a part of one of our always spectacular Shrimp Records Family Band shows at the Pour House. I could never have known just how special this particular night would turn out, and I don't think I will ever forget it.
The Shrimp shows usually arise out of a special occasion. We've done them for just about every album that anyone in the crew has put out. Bill Carson's Great Whale show was a memorable one. There was a "Tribute To America" Fourth of July jam that was pretty epic. And I also recall a hot and sweaty Shovels & Rope/Family Band show that will go down in infamy. The shows have always been at the Pour House and are never not fun.
So this past spring we all got together not to celebrate the creation of someone's new album, rather the creation of a marriage of two wonderful people. Our little bro Sadler Vaden was marrying his sweetheart Candice [Summers], and we would be damned if we weren't gonna send those two out with some real rock 'n' roll.
I could go on and on about why this particular night meant so much to me. First, there's Sadler — he's the greatest guy you could ever want to know. And with his busy schedule, it was the bees' knees to just have a chance to jam with him. Cary [Ann Hearst] and Mike [Trent] and all their magic. Joel [T. Hamilton], Bill [Carson], Michael Flynn, Josh Kaler, Jon Hager, and Jason Fox brought all the firepower you could ever want to the stage as well. We played a set of Tom Petty hits, which is never a bad idea if you've got Sadler at the helm. Tim Nielsen was on site playing bass for Sadler's solo outfit. Some guy named Jason Isbell was there ripping the guitar along with his pregnant wife Amanda, who was killing it on fiddle. Slow Runner played a set. Shucks, even me and Andy Dixon got to rock a few Punks&Snakes (my band) songs. But toward the end of the night was when the shit really hit the fan for me. Out of nowhere, Kevn Kinney shows up, and I am all of sudden playing a Replacements song I had never heard before with half of Drivin' N' Cryin' — three-fourths if you count Sadler.
Now I am a huge DNC fan. I snuck into a club in Columbia to see them when I was 16 years old. They blew my mind. I had all of their tapes growing up. I remember driving (not crying) across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at night with my homie Wells blasting "Scarred But Smarter" out of the rental car's stereo when we were sophomores on a summer trip. When Sadler got a gig playing with them, it was truly surreal. Here was this kid I had come to know and love through the music scene here in Charleston melting faces with my high school heroes. And now I was playing with them. Full circle, baby. Full circle.
The night ended with all of us on stage playing "Thunder Road," and at the moment I really did feel like I was chasing the promised land. I stepped off the drum riser and Kevn was right there. I hugged him and told him that he helped me make it through high school. I wonder how many people have told him that. I would relive this night over and over if I could.
One of my favorite shows that I attended was 96 Wavefest 1997, here in Charleston. This was an annual concert series that was put on by 96 Wave FM, with this particular year hosting an out-of-this-world line up: David Byrne, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Ben Folds Five, Cracker, Junior Brown, Blue Mountain, Son Volt, Jump Little Children, and many others. That lineup hit so many sweet notes in my record collection. I had some friends from New York drive down for the show, in no small part because we were convinced that there would be an Uncle Tupelo reunion (Wilco + Son Volt). Sadly, there was not, but the show was an amazing experience nonetheless.
We were on a nationwide tour with a bunch of emo bands playing all-ages shows in random, mid-sized clubs in towns we had never set foot in. Some nights it went pretty well — some nights, not so much. We kind of stuck out from the other bands, so if the crowd was intensely obsessed with that kind of music then they usually didn't 'get' us. Anyway, there was one night in Arizona — I think Tucson — where, for some reason, the kids just loved us. We played a decent show but not remarkably better than other nights — not remarkable in any way, really. But somehow there was a connection there, and our little 25-minute set felt like the Beatles at Shea Stadium. The next night we were back to middling applause and begrudging respect, but that one night has stuck with me. I'll always remember driving to the hotel afterwards thinking, "This must be what it feels like to be beloved."
The performance I keep returning to is Sonic Youth at the Roxy in Atlanta, 1995. It was my 19th birthday. I couldn't have been more in love with them at the time, and I felt like they were playing right to me.
Way back when in the late 1990s, I was in a group called Funny Looking Kids with some great musicians and friends. It was a punk/ska band, when the ska side was more popular. [My bandmate] Jason scored us a show opening for Fishbone at the Music Farm. We were so stoked for the show. It was a full house and the energy was high. The best part and most memorable part, was not only the great show, but that my dad was able to be there. I was with the guys backstage, and Angelo Moore [Fishbone singer], was sitting on the couch looking at his laptop. My dad came up, and we were having some beers, messing around. He looked at Angelo and said, "Hey, who are you?" Angelo looked up from his laptop with a serious look on his face and a subtle glare at my dad and looked back down at his laptop. A few moments after that, my dad says, "Hey ... do you know how much it's going to cost to get that tattoo removed from your head one day?" At that point, we kind of meandered into a different direction. Later, as we were watching Fishbone play, my dad decided to jump into the pit. At one point he was ejected from it, and he took his shoe off and threw it in. Fortunately whoever it hit didn't know what it was or where it came from. This was simply one of those nights playing music with great people, with a band at a higher level that inspires, and being around supportive family that jumps right into the chaos, which can be abnormal for your parent in the punk world. I've played lots of shows, but that one stands out as one that I could relive — and in the end, my dad found his shoe.
I'm not keen on the idea of reliving anything over and over, but if I absolutely had to torture myself through a Groundhog Day experience, then I guess it would need to be a concert that I could learn something from and need to repeat until I got it right. That would probably be last year's Groundhog Day Concert. I played seven or eight different instruments during that one and was frontman/singing a handful as well, so I was running around like a headless chicken. And I'm not talking about Mike. If everyone doesn't know that I am technically mediocre at most — if not all — of those instruments, then they should. Also, the ideal pace of a concert is much faster than a slow guy raised in the thick syrup of the South can keep up with trying to play a different instrument for almost every song. Maybe if I got the opportunity to do that one until I got it right, I'd feel better about myself as a musician and human. It seems I am still on the bill — thanks, Bill — this year, so maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought, or maybe this is my Groundhog Day.
I should also add that the joy and honor of playing music with such a handful of good friends and incredible musicians outweighs much of the bliss and hostility that life has to offer.
From about 2006 to 2008, I had the great fortune of playing music most every Friday night with Bill Carson and Johnny Gray at O'Hara and Flynn wine shop, when it used to be over on East Bay Street. Sometimes it'd just be a duo of Bill and I, sometimes it'd just be Bill and Johnny, but most often it was a trio, and it was A) the longest-running gig I've ever had and B) one of the most formative musical situations of my life. Sometimes people talk of "cutting their teeth" on certain gigs, with certain people, and often those stories tend to be about honing chops or technical aspects of playing. I never really had that myself — as perhaps my somewhat slipshod technique can attest to — but these Friday nights with Bill and Johnny allowed me to cut my teeth on a sort of spiritual and communal level. It was a loose affair for sure. Start times were fluid, breaks were long, and we surely drank our way through Michael Franke's expertly curated wine store as Manoli Davani served us expertly curated plates of cheese and meats. But we made music in a way that I often aspire to with every music-making endeavor I take on. We make music as friends and as family, offering music for friends and family, all seeming to create a small, one-room version of our community, sharing in the moments with everyone, singing harmonies, making mistakes, some nights playing hours later than we were meant to, some nights ending hours before we were meant to in order to sit around a table with friends. It's a testament to Michael Franke for creating such a space — and continuing to do so to this day, on Meeting Street now, of course, with Lauren Duffie at the helm — to Charleston for inspiring such a place, to Bill and Johnny and all the musicians that would stop in and join us for making all the racket. I feel like the Groundhog shows are an extension of that in a lot of ways.