Fri. March 24, 8 p.m.
Sat. March 25, 7 p.m.
301 King St.
Sat. March 25, 6 p.m.
Upper Deck Tavern
353 King St.
Q: How many indie-pop-rock bands does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: You don't know?
Well, Jason Brewer does — or he's banking on a guesstimate that looks to be around 18, the number of groups currently scheduled to illuminate the city as part of the inaugural Holy City Pop festival.
Brewer, along with his impeccably dressed, mop-topped bandmates in The Explorers Club, spent the past year honing a breezy, '60s-era California pop sound and making friends in venues across the Southland — friends he feels deserve the chance to be heard live in a Charleston arena ... preferably a dark, crowded, electrified rock club.
"I wanted to bring together a lot of artists that I really admire who always wanted to play Charleston but could never find a reason to, or could never work it into their schedules," Brewer says. "I'm kinda modeling it on the spirit of the old Monterey Pop Festival, where it was just a coming together of bands to establish, 'Hey, there's something exciting that's going on in music.' I'm just localizing it a little more."
With the help of the networking magic (and the MP3 players) of MySpace.com, he's put together a wide variety of truly eclectic bands for Holy City Pop, all of them having pop somewhere in their roots, combined with an overarching theme of independence from the status quo, and more than a smidgen of winking playfulness. There won't be any death metal or math rock 'round Cumberland's this weekend.
"I have noticed recently that everyone takes themselves a little too seriously," notes April Invention guitarist Harrison Ray. "It's old. Stop it. If the music is good, it will be heard no matter if you're 10 or 75."
Brewer echoes this sentiment with his obvious adoration of all things Summer of Love, which shines through in his group-hug approach to putting on the fest, bringing together independent artists who all hail from below the Mason-Dixon.
"I think the main thing to do is put together a music festival for Charleston that involves a lot of independent artists in the area," Brewer says. "I wanted to have something going on in Charleston and the Southeast without it being like one of those conferences or showcases. More of a 'this is for the music' kind of thing, not 'this is for the ego.'"
Last year, in Awendaw, ruffians of all sorts enjoyed the Rogue 66 festival, full of punk, greaser, and rockabilly bands, but the last time Charleston proper had a "happening" on a par with Holy City Pop was the 2004 Chord and Pedal festival, organized by Kevin Hanley at the dearly departed Anchor Café. Although he downplays his influence, Hanley put Charleston's name on the short list of small cities with damn fine musical gatherings, and in fact, he will be playing both nights of the festival (Friday with The Specs, and Saturday at the Upper Deck Tavern as solo act Giant Squid).
"It was certainly an honor to be asked by Jason for his assistance and guidance with this impressive festival," Hanley says. "If I may be so bold, I like to fancy myself the ghost of Obi Wan to his Luke Skywalker ... what Jason and I have in common is our love of pop rock and live music. This collaboration was a natural fit and it is wonderful to know that there are kids like him in Charleston continuing the tradition of unifying folks through shared musical experience. We're already discussing next year."
In fact, many members of the Chord and Pedal extended family will appear this weekend, including Charleston ex-pat Hartwell James (of Aamerican Tenants, the Ex-Lovers), The Specs, Bill Carson, and Schooner, a totally nautical band from Chapel Hill that played in Charleston for the first time during 2004's Chord and Pedal fest.
"[That festival] just showed me that there were a lot of people who gave a shit," says Reid Johnson, Schooner frontman and guitarist. "There's a little creative scene [in Charleston], which, if you can get some of the regular Joes to come out and do something other than watch American Idol, it could be very successful."
Real, non-diva singing is a high priority among the independent artists that will grace the stage(s) this weekend. On Friday night, audiences will hear three disparate local bands: April Invention, The Specs, and Carson, plus out-of-towners Band Marino, Kill Gordon, and The Fabulous Bird, led by former Charlestonian (and current Athens, Ga. resident) Peter Alvanos, who used to play drums in The Ferns, Honeywagon, and other groups.
"One of the reasons I left Charleston was I felt that there was a great music scene for a while there, and it fluctuated and I felt stagnant," Alvanos says. "Already, the festival has opened my eyes to what's coming out of Charleston and I'm really impressed. The Explorers Club played [in Athens] and it blew my mind! I was like, 'Hey, these guys are from Charleston, I'm from Charleston!'"
We haven't even started to scratch the surface of bands plying their auditory wares this weekend. Local acts appearing, besides the ones already mentioned, include smoky-voiced chanteuse Cary Ann Hearst and The Chimney Sweeps. For a listing of all the bands, see below.
"We're not in this to try to make money," Schooner's Johnson says, "and people that attend are likewise looking for something to promote creativity and good music. It's very, uh, inspirational. I don't mean like Christian rock, though."
Holy City Pop should provide a couple of nights of good, old-fashioned tunes for the innocents (or the devils who want to be innocent again for a few hours), so put on your boogie shoes and mosey over to King Street for a sampling of some of the best, freshest music that's popped up in years.