Live music is not exactly something you'll have to seek out in Charleston. It's practically inescapable, especially if you're bar hopping on King Street. But if you're looking for something more substantial than a mediocre cover of a Jack Johnson song, you'll have to dig a little deeper.
The most obvious music venue downtown is the Music Farm. They tend to book an eclectic mix of artists, so you won't have a hard time finding a show to suit your tastes. And for a relatively small venue, they draw in some pretty impressive acts. Just this summer, the Music Farm hosted Fitz and the Tantrums, Washed Out, and Railroad Earth. Most shows are all ages, but don't expect to get away with drinking underage at this venue — they'll kick you out faster than you can stutter your fake birthday.
If you're on a budget, you'll fit right in with the crowd at the Pour House. Ticket prices rarely exceed $20, a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy is $3, and they have free music out on the patio almost every day from 6-9 p.m. Their schedule tends to cater to patrons of the jam band scene, but that's not to say they lack versatility. Artists who recently graced the stage include jazz virtuoso Taj Mahal, guitar god Steve Kimock, and indie-folk stars Blitzen Trapper. The Pour House also has a reputation for supporting local talent, with at least one night a week reserved for a Charleston-bred band. For instant scene cred, keep an eye out for a Shovels and Rope night.
When you're in the mood to make a music-inspired pilgrimage but don't want to travel too far out of town, head to Awendaw Green behind the Sewee Outpost. It's about a 30-minute trip from downtown, but the experience is well worth the drive. On Wednesdays, they host a Barn Jam, a free showcase of local musicians from 6-9 p.m. It's a great way to take in some scenery and get acquainted with the different players in the scene.
The Windjammer is also a bit of a trek from downtown, but as the only beachfront music venue in town, it's definitely something you'll want to check out. For a small club that's basically built like a boardwalk, the acoustics are incredible. You can get up close and personal with whomever is playing — whether it's a local singer-songwriter or a big-name star like Michael Franti. Plus, you can skip down to the beach during set breaks.
Though Charleston's music clubs are always worth checking out, they aren't your only option. Some of the best music in Charleston is performed in the corners of tiny restaurants, and most of the time these shows are free. If you stumble into Big Gun Burger Shop on a weekend, you're likely to find an experimental band playing loud and hard for an intimate audience; it's about a block from King Street, there are never any cover charges, and the drinks are fairly priced.
The Tin Roof may serve hot dogs, but they're also one of Charleston's premier places to rock out. In an average week, they'll showcase a few lesser-known indie groups, a thrashing punk band, and some traditional rock 'n' rollers. And the Royal American has been hosting some pretty cool indie shows lately too.
And this isn't even the tip of the iceberg. Chances are it won't be long before you find yourself in a King Street restaurant listening to some fledgling stars of the local scene.