A few years ago, the closest thing to catching musical entertainment along the industrial drag of Morrison Drive was hearing Mexican pop over the stereo speakers at Santi's. Now, thanks to the efforts of two other restaurants in the neighborhood — the Tattooed Moose and the Royal American — live music events hit the strip each week. It's great to know a band might be setting up for a show blocks away from the City Paper headquarters in the Morrison Drive area — or as some of us like to call it, NoMo.
Situated in the Old Charleston Forge (970 Morrison Drive), the Royal American is the rookie club in the 'hood. "We're a new little place where people can get away and hang," says operating partner and manager John Kenney.
Kenney worked as a photographer, as a musician with Washington, D.C. alt-rock band Rotoglow, and as a music writer in the D.C. area before shifting into the bar business. He spent time in New York City and D.C. before relocating to Charleston four years ago for a managing position at Raval.
"Places like the Tattooed Moose, Taco Boy, and Santi's have done a lot in the neighborhood to change the perception that it's on the edge of nowhere," Kenney says. "A lot of people get sick of fighting the traffic on King Street and in the Market, so they come up this way. People who live nearby and F&B people swing by because our kitchen stays open late. And musicians come by to check out the shows. It's great to be a new hangout that's out of the way."
Scenesters first took notice of the NoMo strip when the Tattooed Moose opened in 2010 in the Kitty's Fine Foods building (1137 Morrison Drive). Not long after opening, owners Jen and Mike Kulick began booking bands and DJs. Despite the Moose's uptown location and cozy setting, Tuesdays became regular music nights. Fans flocked to catch local acts like Megan Jean and the KFB, FolkGrass, Shovels and Rope, the Royal Tinfoil, Bully Pulpit, and the Local Honeys. They've hosted visiting acts, too, like the Banditos, Izzy and the Kesstronics, and the Dirty Bourbon River Show.
When the Revolutionary Eating Ventures (REV) opened the Royal American last December, customers responded enthusiastically to the music. "The fun stuff with this job is booking the bands and growing the business," Kenney says. "When I moved to Charleston, I was kind of appalled by the lack of a local scene downtown. Cumberland's had already closed. There were some great venues outside of downtown, but I didn't see the camaraderie downtown."
So far, the Royal American averages one or two shows a week, but they might increase that to three or four. Local songwriters Lindsay Holler and Josh Kaler headline the club on Thurs. June 28. Additional shows on the summer calendar include Justin Jones, the Rival Brothers, the Dave Britt Band, and Sleepy Eye Giant. There's plenty more to come through August and September.
"I'm a musician by trade and music is what I feel I'm here to do," Kenney says. "I try to find bands that are good, who play original music, and who are enthusiastic and want to play a great live show. There are a quite a few new Charleston bands who really deserve to be heard. A couple of them have really surprised me, and we've booked them for more shows. I want the Royal American to be an intimate place where local bands can play on a stage with a great sound system — a place that provided a good environment for band and their friends. We want to treat bands with respect and pay them what they deserve. That's the main goal with the music here."
Check out theroyalamerican.com for more.