The Pour House dreams big with their inaugural festival, Into the Woods, at the Charleston Woodlands


It was a long road

When the Pour House opened on James Island in 2005, there wasn’t much business synergy to attract people to Maybank Highway. But owners Alex and Vanessa Harris had a vision — create a place where they wanted to hang out, with food they wanted to eat, and bands they loved. Their approach prioritized the fan experience, following the lead of great promoters, like Bill Graham. If the patrons are happy and the band is happy, the business can grow and succeed.

That ethos drove the Pour House to create Into the Woods, a three-day festival at Charleston Woodlands. It differs from previous local festivals like High Water, Trondossa, Southern Ground, and Chazzfest by allowing patrons to camp on the grounds for the weekend. Alex Harris compares the experience to mid-size events, like LEAF in Black Mountain, N.C. or the Suwannee Spring Reunion in Florida.

“We’re not aspiring to be huge, like LOCKN’ or Bonnaroo,” says Harris. “We want to match the vibe we already do at the Pour House, where we can party and have a good time, and that we want to take our family to.”

Into the Woods’ lineup draws from regular Pour House headliners and favorites from the Charleston music scene. On Friday night, John Medeski (of jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood) plays with Mad Skillet, his sousaphone-driven New Orleans-based project that includes renowned drummer Terence Higgins. That’s preceded by Sol Driven Train and funk rockers Andy Frasco and the U.N. (“We’re kindred souls,” says Harris of Frasco. “He’s amazing, energetic fun.”).

Saturday’s lineup culminates with Colorado progressive bluegrass pioneers Leftover Salmon, whose two sets alternate with Grateful Dead cover band Reckoning, playing the band’s 1970 LP Workingman’s Dead. The night builds with the synth-wave rock of Charleston’s latest national breakout group, Doom Flamingo, growing alt-country star Rayland Baxter, and Philly-bred acoustic hip-hop duo Little Stranger.

Sunday opens with banjoist “The Rev” Jeff Mosier, a long-time collaborator with Widespread Panic, Phish, and Leftover Salmon. Motown Throwdown will do a set of Jerry Garcia Bands, before Asheville funksters The Fritz. On the same day, Peaches for Peace, a collaboration that includes ROBOTRIO and Travers Brothership, will celebrate the music of the Allman Brothers Band.

“It was a long road to get booked,” Harris admits. “I wanted to have some New Orleans in there and a diverse mix of funk, soul, bluegrass, songwriters, and Americana.” Artists like Leftover Salmon and Baxter (who will play San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival the following day) are flying in, while others routed tours around Into the Woods.

The mix of groups with local ties and long histories at the Pour House encourages on-stage collaboration. Pedal steel player Roosevelt Collier is likely to sit in throughout the day on Saturday, and Sol Driven Train may back Jeff Mosier.

“A lot of that stuff comes together organically at the last minute,” says Harris. “We put the lineup together based on connections between the bands and with us, so special things are going to happen.”

One musician missing from Into the Woods is Col. Bruce Hampton, the spiritual godfather of the Southeast jam scene who passed away on-stage at his 70th birthday celebration in 2017. Bruce referred to his surrealist personal philosophies as “Zambi-ism,” and Into the Woods’ main stage is dubbed “Zambi” in his honor.

“If Bruce was alive, he would have been a huge part of this festival,” says Harris. “Vanessa and I both wanted to honor his spirit by making it the Zambi Stage.”

A second stage, the Oak Stage, is immediately adjacent, allowing music to continue without downtime or overlap.

“You won’t have to trek anywhere — you just shift over and see the next band,” says Harris, emphasizing his intentions for the festival layout. “We want to build something that can exist and be successful without being overcrowded. People will be able to spread out and get loose without being packed in.”

Both parking and camping will be within a quarter mile of two music stages to minimize hassle for day ticket and weekend ticket holders. Two lakes in the immediate vicinity provide ambiance and are open for paddleboarding and kayaking (rentals available). The rest of the Woodlands’ 6,000 acres are open for exploration by hiking or biking.

Into the Woods will also feature craft vendors and artists, including nine live painters during the concerts. The food truck roster includes Semilla, Root Note, Chicken Fats, Bangin’ Pies, and Bottle Neck Coffee.

Harris admits that planning a festival generated more headaches than he anticipated, from obtaining permits to sourcing the quietest generators to optimizing the sound and the lightshow. Although he expects to lose money the first year, he hopes response is strong enough to warrant building Into the Woods into an annual event.

“I’ve already been busy my whole adult life, but this is another level,” says Harris. “It feels like I’m opening 20 restaurants at the same time, or at least putting 20 shows on at once, because that’s what it is. But we operate on heart and instinct — however it goes, this festival will have soul.”

Support the Charleston City Paper

We’ve been covering Charleston since 1997 and plan to be here with the latest and Best of Charleston for many years to come. In a time where local journalism is struggling, the City Paper is investing in the future of Charleston as a place where diverse, engaging views can flourish. We can't do it without our readers. If you'd like to support local, independent journalism:

UP NEXT FROM

FEATURE

SC COVID-19 cases top 200,000, percent positive rate high

Charleston City Paper Staff

More than 200,000 South Carolinians have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.  The initial news came over the weekend as Palmetto State residents enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends in what many believe may signal the trigger of a surge on top of a surge. On Monday, state officials […]

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

SC COVID-19 cases top 200,000, percent positive rate high

More than 200,000 South Carolinians have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.  The initial news came over the weekend as Palmetto State residents enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends in what many believe may signal the trigger of a surge on top of a surge. On Monday, state officials […]

11/30 COVID-19 update: 18% positive, 1,174 cases; 27 deaths

COVID-19 updates: South Carolina health officials reported 1,053 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, with 27 additional confirmed deaths. With 6,514 tests reported Monday, 18% were positive. As of 4:26 p.m. Nov. 30, via S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control: Confirmed cases in S.C.: 203,659 (+1,174)Positive tests in Charleston County (total): 19,992 (+47)Negative tests in S.C.: 2,401,775Deaths in S.C. […]

Myrtle Beach saw record rentals over Thanksgiving weekend

Despite warnings from health professionals and political leaders, vacation rentals in Myrtle Beach reportedly hit record levels over Thanksgiving weekend as the coronavirus pandemic continues to tally more than 1,000 cases daily in South Carolina. Over Nov. 21-27, more than 65% of Myrtle Beach vacation rental properties were booked, according to a report from Coastal […]

The Agenda: More of SC sees rising population; Holidays essential for local business

Population hot spots show growth across South Carolina. Rapid population growth, once a coastal phenomenon in South Carolina, is spreading to towns and cities throughout the state, bringing greater challenges, and plentiful opportunities. Source: P&C Coronavirus vaccines showing promise in early testing phases. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are developing vaccines for the coronavirus that, […]