I remember the first time I walked into the Oceansong Café, the clean-cut, freshly-decorated Irish-style pub and music venue located in the heart of the Isle of Palms business district.
It was a laid-back summer evening. The scene was friendly and tidy, with two main rooms — one for the bar area and another for the stage area. As he did several nights a week, venue owner Carroll Brown was seated on a bar stool on stage, acoustic six-string in hand, singing twangy renditions of what he described on the microphones as "slow songs that create the most alcohol consumption."
Right off the bat, I noticed three things that set the place apart from most local taverns: it wasn't loud, it wasn't obnoxious, and it wasn't smoky. Brown had rigged up a small PA system for the bar area that allowed patrons to watch the stage through the windows and glass doors while listening to the performance directly.
One sign over the bar advertised "Guinness Draught: The Perfect Starter," along with seven other ales and lagers on tap. A "hall of fame" collection of staffers and friends was carefully arranged, taped onto the walls. Another sign to the side read: "If you are grouchy or just plain mean, there will be a $10 charge for putting up with you."
Oceansong Café provided an alternative venue for music fans and east islanders — a quaint, civil, and warm environment for patrons who wanted to enjoy a whisky, a glass of wine, or pint of beer without the ruckus and commotion of a more traditional local music club. The venue also provided stage and opportunity for local acts — Lowcountry Collection, Mike Thompson, Susie Summers, David Bethany, Ted McKee, Greg Smith, Roger Bellow, Bob Sachs, Gary Hewitt, and many others, as well as a variety of visiting acoustic performers, such as Gove Scrivenor, Clay Rice, John Brannen — to play for an appreciative audience.
Brown, 50, a father of two, has been a serious singer, acoustic guitarist, and songwriter since the mid '70s. Much of his repertoire is folk-based, often along Celtic/Irish styles. He spent years performing solo and with others in the Carolinas and Georgia (his main band in the '90s was called ACE Basin). As he recently put it, "many shows include what we call 'Country and Eastern,' which is coastal folk and country music ... a mixture of regional and popular favorites."
Sadly, things didn't work out for the Oceansong. Brown closed the doors for good on Tues. July 11. According to an open letter to his friends and customers, financial difficulties and "all the mental and physical stress" involved were the main reasons for shutting down.
"I can't begin to express what I feel when I think of all the great music and fun we've enjoyed here at the Oceansong Café in the last few years," he wrote. "We set out to create a room where grown-ups could enjoy quality music from local and national acts in a carefully designed nonsmoking room, and my thought was that it would eventually sustain itself. We almost made it.
"I'll personally be getting back to what I know how to do ... playing gigs and producing recordings," he continued. "I'm well overdue for a new saleable CD product myself, and have several other projects in the works. It has been fun. Thanks to you."
Already, Brown has bounced back into a positive routine, landing a weekly slot at the neighborly Morgan Creek Grill, located at 80 41st Ave. on the IOP (886-8980). The "Carroll Brown's Vintage Country & Bluegrass Night" series kicks off at 7 p.m. each Tuesday evening and features authentic original country, folk, and mountain music from Brown and various guests (check www.morgancreekgrill.com and www.carrollbrownmusic.com for more information).
Cheers to Carroll and his support of local original music and local music fans.