by Paul Bowers
Charleston City Paper’s Swell Sessions showcase local musicians playing stripped-down versions of their songs. For the second installment, City Paper staffer John A. Zara shot a video of Half Strangers performing their song “Better” on the back deck at the Pour House.
It wasn’t a stretch for Half Strangers to play without microphones or a sound system on the Pour House deck. Lead vocalist Devon Elizabeth’s rowdy blues vocals carried just fine in the cool afternoon air, and anyway, the band was used to keeping it simple.
Half Strangers, a group of relative newcomers to the Charleston music scene, have been peddling their twangy soul sound in small local venues like the Royal American, Tin Roof, and the Sparrow, where intimate crowds and minimalist sound systems demand strong performances. The band consists of Elizabeth (vocals), Brad Blankemeyer (bass), Clifton McCallum (drums), Michael Parks (violin), and its most recent addition, Josh Beavers (lead guitar).
“We were all acoustic until Josh came with his electric guitar,” Elizabeth says. “I think people are just kind of burnt out on electric stuff — or at least I am.”
“But then I’ve also kind of gotten burnt out on folk-rock, the straight-up acoustic,” Blankemeyer says.
“We’re not sure if we might go reggae, though,” Beavers says, eliciting chuckles from his bandmates.
Standing in the Pour House parking lot after their performance, it’s obvious that Half Strangers have an easy chemistry about them. But, as their name hints, they’ve only recently become acquainted. After Elizabeth and Blankemeyer started working on a blues duet, new band members from around Columbia and the Upstate started joining in.
“It wasn’t like some band that coalesced from nowhere and nobody knew each other, but we half-knew each other,” Blankemeyer says. Elizabeth knew Blankemeyer from school in Charlotte, Blankemeyer knew Parks, and the band slowly formed from a web of acquaintances and degrees of separation. They bonded quickly, though.
“Our first two shows were in Nashville, Tenn., so we had the nine-hour drive there, a whole weekend together, and then the nine-hour drive back,” Elizabeth says. “Josh hasn’t made a trip with us yet.”
While the band kicked off their performance career in Music City, they say they feel right at home in the Holy City’s thriving Americana scene.
“This is definitely the place to be as far as Southern roots revivalist stuff,” Blankemeyer says.
Half Strangers will play Awendaw Green on Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. with Cranford Hollow, Pan, and Jared Templeton. A $5 donation is requested at the door.