"The main thing here is the blues community," Tony McKie remarked to me last February as we stood together on a crowded patio at Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ in West Ashley (1205 Ashley River Road). It was during one of several packed-house events at the venue during this year's Lowcountry Blues Festival. "We are, modeled after the old juke joints and honky-tonks strewn throughout the Southeast. It's still damn hot, it's still two-deep at the bar, it's standing-room only, and it's a damn good time."
A few weeks after that gig, McKie and Home Team snagged the Best Jazz & Blues Club category in City Paper's Best of Charleston issue for the third year in a row.
A native of Augusta, McKie spent years in Athens working with such Georgia rock and roots bands as Bloodkin and Stewart & Winfield before becoming part-owner of Home Team's parent company, part-owner of the new Sullivan's Island location, and talent buyer for both venues.
"I will book every single show at every Home Team BBQ location that will ever be, with the exception of some of the bluegrass shows, which Sandy Nivens [of Bluestone Ramblers] actually arranges the lineups in rotation."
In April, Home Team BBQ completed extensive renovations at the old Bert's Bar building on Sullivan's Island (2209 Middle Street). They installed all-new fixtures, a new kitchen, and a fully-equipped stage area.
After a casual false start around Labor Day weekend, the Sullivan's Island location opened its doors to the public in mid-May, serving lunch, dinner, and late-night fare. The calender filled up right away. Wednesday became the official "Bluegrass Night" (Thursday is "Bluegrass Night" in West Ashley), and the weekends feature a mix of local and touring acts.
"Wednesdays on Sullivan's have actually become more of a family-oriented affair," McKie says of the weekly bluegrass nights at the new spot. "They start at 8 p.m. and go on until 11 p.m., while the Thursdays in West Ashley go from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. It was sort of a request from people on the Island and in that area."
McKie shoots for a variety of Americana, blues, folk-rock, and jazz/improv music. With sister venues on either side of town, he now has a unique opportunity to spread the vibes around the Charleston area.
"Eventually, with seven, 13, or however many new Home Teams might open up around the South, I'd love to put together a big Home Team BBQ tour for a few bands," McKie laughs. "We do blues, bluegrass, and country. I like to sit back and look at a six-month span and treat it like a bell curve, if you would, you know? Like do it country/blues/bluegrass ... you know, I don't like to be all up here on the blues, and I don't like to be all down here on the country [motioning to his calendar], and really the only way to do that is to go far in advance."
This week, the Sullivan's Island stage welcomes Guilt Ridden Troubadours, WILX, blues man T-Model Ford, Mayhem String Band, and a "Lowcountry Blues Club" jam session.
Several visiting acts have already booked two-night mini tours from Sullivan's to West Ashley. The late-summer schedule features double-date gigs from Dehlia Low, The Possum Jenkins Band, Sons of Sanchez, Mississippi John Doude, Betsy Franke, Packway Handle Band, Town Mountain, and Josh Roberts & The Hinges.
Not a bad start for a juke joint only two-months old.