If your musical palette isn't very well-rounded, helming soundboards for a living would be a pretty miserable task. Luckily for Charleston Music Hall's Andrew Hidgon, that's not a problem. "I love classical, I love bluegrass, I love reggae, I love metal, I love pop music," he says. "I love Katy Perry and Lady Gaga as much as I love Metallica. And I'm not just BS-ing anybody."
It's 10:30 a.m. on a Friday at the Music Hall, a venue that has, of late, welcomed everyone from Blues Traveler to Kidz Bop. As stage hands gradually make their way into the venue to set up for tonight's Melissa Etheridge Holiday Trio, Higdon stresses the importance of patience and fortitude when working behind the scenes. "I might sit here all day long waiting to do something that might take me 10 minutes," he says. "Or I may kill myself for several hours."
Higdon might not get home before 11 p.m. following a 10 a.m. start at the Music Hall, where he's worked for a decade now. And he also owns Hope Sound, which sees him doing everything from installing a sound system in a small, 175-year-old Catholic church in Bonneau, S.C. to handling the sound for Mt. Pleasant's holiday parade. "Tomorrow I'm doing the Charleston Jazz Orchestra here at the Music Hall, and I mix it — an incredible band with some of the best musicians around anywhere," he says. "And Sunday I'm doing the PA and lights for the tree lighting at Marion Square."
Higdon got his professional start in 1995 on the boards at the Music Farm, this after only setting up house shows throughout college. It was at the Farm that a 22 year-old Higdon became well-acquainted with the scene, handling the sounds of local staples of the '90s, like Jump, Little Children and Hootie & the Blowfish. "I really didn't have a whole lot of experience, but they needed somebody pretty badly," he says. "And so I tried the job and they liked me ... that's when it got serious."
During his days at the Farm, Higdon was able to take part in some of the most memorable shows of his career, including a two-week run that welcomed Grammy Award-winners Steel Pulse, Gwar, and Ween, who did a normal 75-minute set, played Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," and continued to perform for another two hours, finishing finally at 2 a.m. "And Gwar was just extreme craziness," he says, recalling that the band shot liquid from the stage all the way to the bar. "I had to wrap all the monitors onstage, lay them face down in poly, and wrap all the monitors and the side fills. I had to cover all the walls, all the way down the steps with plastic the day before. It was insane — alien blood and alien semen in three different colors" And Higdon got to operate it all. "It was full-blown chaos onstage," he says. "That was a really incredible little span that really struck me."
When the Farm shut down temporarily in the summer of 1998, Higdon was approached by bands about the next step. "I didn't know what I was going to do," he says. "I figured that was my career."
Higdon signed onto a six-month stint touring with Edwin McCain but returned to Charleston knowing one thing: as the son of a retired army colonel who had lived all over the world, he just wasn't cut out for a life of touring. So with a lot of coaxing from the music scene, he started his own sound business.
"Friends would let me borrow this piece of gear, that piece of gear and I would go do a gig and then use any money I had after bills to go buy microphone and mic stands and just built it up the old-fashioned way," Higdon remembers. "But, really, it was the community — it was all the local musicians who really helped. They were like, 'You gotta do this; you're the guy.' I'm really lucky there. A lot of people start a business, and they don't have a reputation and nobody knows who they are and nobody's asking them to do it. They just do it and throw themselves at it and see if it works. Whereas I was really lucky that everybody was asking me to do it. So I already had built-in business before I even started."
Now after a total of 21 years in the industry, Higdon doesn't take a single day for granted. From plugging in local bands to the epic Music Farm shows of 1997, Higdon feels right at home making great things happen behind the scenes.
"I still love it," Higdon says, glancing over to the soundboards. "Even if it's a lousy show, I'm still like, 'That's my office. That's my desk. I'm lucky as hell I get to do this all the time."