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Mark Bryan on Hootie, managing Stop Light Observations, and new LP, Songs of the Fortnight

A Little Bit of Everything

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As the lead guitarist and co-founder of Hootie & the Blowfish, Mark Bryan became somewhat of a musical icon throughout the musical scene of the Carolinas, but the trio of hometown shows that the musician has coming up this week truly shows the range he has as a performer. Hell, they may be as great an example for how well one can handle the music business as any one artist will ever show within a three-day calendar.

First comes the CD-release party for his last solo album, Songs of the Fortnight, at an Isle of Palms venue that can hold just under 600 folks at capacity. That will be followed by a doubleheader stint at a Daniel Island stadium, which can (and will: it's sold out) hold over 10,000 screaming fans, a decent percentage of whom will be reminiscing about their early-to-mid-'90s glory days at random bars around town and telling anyone who will listen that they were there way back when. Such a range in audience numbers would be enough to throw other performers off their A-game, but Bryan says it's a talent that his bandmates all had to learn on the job.

"It was something that everyone in Hootie learned to do in the early '90s, back when we first started getting successful," Bryan says over the phone from his Charleston home. "We had to learn how to move from the clubs to the big outside venues, fast, a long time ago, and its just second nature to me now. The gear is the biggest difference between the two gigs. I have all of my Hootie gear over at Volvo Stadium, and then just this little side rig of a different guitar and amp to use at the Windjammer. They'll be ready."

It makes sense that Bryan showed that he was a fast learner right out of the gate, as it wasn't long after the Hootie band members announced their hiatus from performing together that the guitarist found himself gravitating toward experimenting on the other side of the glass within the recording studio. What began as trying his hand at co-writing songs with other area talents soon grew into producing entire albums worth of material for artists who had gained Bryan's respect.

Bryan has now stepped even further back from the microphone, spending much of his time as a manager these days for local stars Stop Light Observations, who will serve as the openers for Hootie this Saturday night at Volvo Car Stadium. It's just one aspect of the musician's diversification of influence and attention across Charleston's music scene. He was instrumental in founding both CofC's radio station and its music industry program as well as the local arts nonprofit Carolina Studios and, as of this year, the Emmy Award-winning public television program Live at the Charleston Music Hall. When the break from the rigors of writing and touring for Hootie came along, Bryan realized that he was in a position to help all communities — not just the music — in some small way, which he downplays today.

"It's satisfying," says the performer. "It's a chance to take what I have learned from my experiences within the music industry and convey it to the next generation. I hope it helps the chances of the next generation, maybe."

Helping the chances of Fortnight breaking through to a mass audience isn't something Bryan is interested in doing, however. While he knows that his name carries a certain amount of cachet locally, he is well aware also of the crowd sizes that would await him once he left the friendly confines of the Southeast. Not that the musician isn't held in high regard as a talent, but the potential ticket sales don't render themselves into an even trade for the things he would be giving up for his time.

"It's really just about the songs more than my having a solo career," he explains. "I mean, that's the main reason [for only having four tour dates in support of the album]. The other reasons are that I have three kids, I live in Charleston, and I manage a band. Touring doesn't really fit into my schedule. If I wanted to go around and play small clubs to less than a hundred people, because I'm not a household name, it just doesn't translate for me. If I were really pursuing a solo career, I would tour a lot to build that fan base up in each market, like every artist knows you have to do. That's not really my goal as a solo artist. My goal is more to give these songs a life. I've just committed to doing these other things in my life, that keep me from doing a tour. I'd do it in a heartbeat for Hootie & the Blowfish, go out and do a big tour, but I'm just not prepared to put all of my other jobs on hold for this project."

Bryan adds, "I just really want to give these songs a chance, more than anything."

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