"Entertainment was a forethought for us," says veteran performer Ronnie Johnson of his restaurant and music venue Buddy Roe's Shrimp Shack. The tall, curly-haired proprietor is as boisterous as a carnival barker, eager to welcome every patron who walks through the front door. His Southern enthusiasm is just as strong when he's on his stage with a guitar, microphone, and a backing track.
"We wanted to create a specific stage and dance floor area with good lights and good sound system, instead of how some places just go, 'Why don't we move that table and stick you in the corner for tonight?' And the other thing is that there's something to be said for having an intimate setting with a smaller stage that's not six feet high."
Johnson's musical career kicked into gear as he reached his college years. Growing up in Valdosta, Ga., he played quarterback with his high school football team before seriously getting into music through the school's concert band. Working on his guitar and singing chops didn't take high priority until he attended Belmont University in Nashville.
"I spent over five years in Nashville," he says. "I think it should be mandatory that everyone in the music industry should spend six months in a city like that, because it helps you develop a more humble attitude and appreciation of things."
After his stint in the Music City, he started traveling as a solo act, splitting his time each year between Colorado and Georgia. In 1986, he landed in the Charleston area as a part-time entertainer at the Wild Dunes' clubhouse. The gig quickly turned into a full-time, year-round career.
In 2004, Johnson and his wife, Kim, opened the first version of the business on the Isle of Palms under the name Budiroe's in a roomy spot along Palm Boulevard. They regularly booked a variety of live shag, soul, and blues bands and DJs, plus solo acoustic shows. Business was inconsistent, however, and they were forced to close last March.
"We had a nice music room on the Isle of Palms with a big stage that was 12-feet deep," says Johnson. "It would rival anything in town, but being on the Isle of Palms, it was hard to get anyone to come out."
In a few short months, the Johnsons landed in a new spot and started all over. They renovated the old Island Clubhouse at 1528 Ben Sawyer Blvd. (on the way out to Sullivan's Island from Mt. P), and transformed Budiroe's into Buddy Roe's Shrimp Shack. While Johnson himself averages three gigs a week, he regularly books a mix of guest entertainers and headliners. So far, the schedule has boasted Alabama guitarist Jeff Cook, songwriter Richard Leigh, and blues/rock veteran Chris Clifton, along with a handful of locally-popular Carolina strummers like Doug Jones (of Cravin' Melon), Rik Cribb, and Travis Allison.
The vibe and style of Buddy Roe's reflects the diversity of its laid-back, very-local clientele of young professionals, blue collar music buffs, and couples hoping to catch a ballgame and dance to a few classic hits.
"Moving to Mt. Pleasant has been nice," Johnson says. "The shack has a lot of character by itself. It's a cute, little building just off the road, under some fantastic oak trees, with a beachy, Key West feel. We're not right on the beach, but we're on the way to the beach. The deck is great for those who want to smoke but don't want to be too far from what's going on. It's kind of like a little jazz or blues club like you'd see in a big city — a place with a little stage and brick wall behind it. I'm up there by myself a lot, and it is like, 'Welcome to my room,' you know? It's very relaxed, so if anyone has something to say or ask — or even if they want to get up and sing a song — I have no problem with that."
Buddy Roe's Shrimp Shack is located at 1528 Ben Sawyer Blvd. (call 843-388-5270). Visit buddyroesshrimpshack.com for more.