Over the last few years, Mt. Pleasant dentist Eddie White has established himself as an unlikely musical patriarch of all things local. His weekly Barn Jams weathered zoning issues at his Awendaw Green property, and have to grow and prosper at their current location at the adjacent Sewee Outpost. Alongside both up-and-coming and seasoned Charleston songwriters, touring acts now frequently contact White to perform.
The difficulty (and the beauty) of what's grown out of Awendaw Green is that more young musicians than ever want to play. With their confidence strengthened by a set before an attentive, appreciative Barn Jam audience, an unprecedented number of Lowcountry songwriters are pursuing their musical aspirations with hopeful intentions.
When Awendaw Green first began the weekend-long Rocktoberfest in 2008, the immediate problem that White dealt with was how to put every one of these talented performers on stage. By last December's Awendaw Green Music Festival, the result was four stages and quick set times, stretched over two days. With hundreds of performers and a cheap weekend ticket, Awendaw Green didn't set itself up to turn a profit. That was never the motivation. This was all about the music.
This weekend, the Awendaw Green Homegrown Music Showcase continues that tradition, but with a renewed focus and direction. White and his loyal volunteers have collaborated with Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum to create a Veterans Day weekend celebration, utilizing the Grove — a clearing in a wooded area adjacent to where the U.S.S. Yorktown sits in Charleston Harbor.
"We're bringing it closer to town so that we can get better awareness," says White. "When I was approached by Patriots Point, we had a lot of plans to do something really big. We realized that what we wanted to do was make this more like a Barn Jam — real laid-back and chill — for all those people in town who can't always make it out to Awendaw on Wednesdays."
To that end, much has been simplified. Instead of setting up multiple stages, there'll be one platform for performers to play an "in-the-round" format in 45-minute sets. White carefully assembled his songwriter groups, working to maintain a consistent vibe on stage. Groupings include Mac Leaphart/Doug Jones/Reid Stone, Danielle Howle/Elise Testone/Zach Bodtorf, and Mark Bryan/Hank Futch with the possibility of their notable friends joining in.
An Asheville-themed grouping includes Kellin Watson, Pierce Edens, and Leigh Glass. Another trio to watch features the Shaniqua Brown's Rachel Kate Gillon with Lindsay Holler and Johnnie Matthews.
"It's family-friendly, and there will be a few surprises," says White, who adds that a second stage may open up to allow walk-on performers. "We want to showcase all of the artists that we've gotten to know so well and some that people might not know yet."
Hosting an event like this is a new endeavor for Patriots Point. Although the museum has rented out their grounds for recent concerts, this is a first attempt at actually hosting. Executive Director Mac Burdette explains that the collaboration with Awendaw Green fits both the museum's new business model and coincides with the formation of their new Institute of History and Science. All proceeds from the festival benefit children's education programs on the Yorktown (providing grants for school groups to visit on field trips) and another newly created nonprofit, the Awendaw Green Arts Institute.
"Patriots Point is a great place to have concerts," says Burdette. "If we fail, it isn't because we didn't try something new."
The director says he'd like to see the Homegrown Music Showcase become one of four marquee events at the site each year, and he's already thinking ahead to a bluegrass festival on the grounds in the spring.
"We're changing up a lot of things over here. A lot of people don't realize that we don't get any state appropriations. What we spend, we've got to make," says Burdette, who sees Veterans Day as a time to celebrate, unlike the somber mood of Memorial Day. "Awendaw Green is all about giving musicians a chance to become good performers and further their careers. That seems to fit with our whole veterans theme."
Although the festival is only $5, individuals can purchase admission to the entire museum and the concert for $20. The Vietnam exhibit will be available free to all festival attendees, and veterans can visit the museum for free all weekend. Re-enactors will be aboard the ship, and on Saturday the museum will host a 5K and a military band.
In typical Awendaw Green fashion, musicians will continue to be added right up until the day of the show. No matter how well connected you are in the Charleston music scene, you're bound to discover someone new on Sunday, says White. "This day is really going to be super cool," he adds. "The grassy clearing in this beautiful wooded section at Patriots Point reminds me of being out in Awendaw."