Charleston has had in the past and most certainly will have in the future a great music scene. People will argue that it is great now, and I will disagree, but not in a bad way. Our scene is almost great. There is one major piece missing to the puzzle, however, and that piece is an all-ages, mid-cap music venue that isn't cost prohibitive and is nurturing to all genres of music.
By 'all genres' I mean everything from Americana to hip-hop, death metal to EDM, indie to punk rock. I hear from local bar owners their fears about deviating from the cover bands and Top 40 DJs that are the status quo. Not knocking cover bands or DJs, but it is local, diverse, original music that grows a scene.
I also hear common misconceptions about many different genres, but I hate to break it to you — not all punks sneak in booze and steal shit, not all hip-hop shows are full of dudes ready to fight, and not all hardcore shows are destructive to the venue.
Another thing: 'all-ages' does not mean illegal, nor does it automatically equate to underage drinking — it isn't any of those things. You can have underage kids at a show and still have great bar sales from the people who are of legal age. Too many bars cringe at the thought of having anyone under 21 in their establishments to the extent that these venues then book tired cliches to fill a calendar that could be filled with varied local original talent that brings in a diverse crowd.
Charleston is my home, and I have seen the scene here be great before. There were many bars, from Cumberland's and Oasis to the Village Tavern, Jimbo's, and Map Room, that were all mid-cap rooms that allowed all-ages shows of every genre. The Music Farm used to have locals shows on any weekend night that weren't filled by national acts. These spots served as catalysts and incubators for a once-great local music scene.
There aren't many, if there are any, mid-cap rooms left in Charleston that allow multiple genres in an all-ages environment. Music Farm is too big, and nearly every other bar people mention is strictly 21-and-up, which is cool, but they do not foster the growth and diversity this town needs to make the scene great once again.
What does that mean? There needs to be a 200-to-400-person capacity venue. We can pack 140 people into a 40-cap sandwich joint; we can pack 150 into a 50-cap burger spot; and we can also cram 180 people into an Italian restaurant — but these options are not viable into the future. If someone were to take a risk in coming up with the capital, it would not be in vain. If they were truly welcoming and open to music and music fans of all genres and ages, the community would rally around it. I hope this can start a dialogue and fill a void desperately needing to be filled.
PJ Taylor runs Charleston Shows and has promoted thousands of shows all over SC since 2009.