John Ellison and Marshall Lowe just bought the Farm the Music Farm, that is. The rumor floating around town that the famous, and at times, infamous, downtown venue has been sold is true. Ellison and Lowe plan to overhaul the site physically and continue with bands there as soon as possible. "Right now I have dust in my nose and blisters on my hands from working on it," Lowe says.
Both concur that upgrades for the Music Farm will include cleaning, painting, and renovating the floors and the bathrooms. The pair also want to "make things more efficient and bring better service by moving the bar out of the center of the club," says Ellison, the new operations manager. Lowe says that they are currently installing a "whole new P.A. system to improve the sound," but they are keeping some improvements secret so they'll be a surprise. He asserts, however, that the name will remain the same.
The two new owners have been involved in the Carolina music scene for years. Ellison currently lives in Charlotte, N.C., and has owned and operated the sizeable music venue Amos' Southend (www.amossouthend.com) since 1990. Lowe, a concert promoter for 15 years, lives on Daniel Island and is part owner of All In Entertainment (www.allinent.com), which is a Southeastern concert promotion and booking business. All In Entertainment owns Headliners (www.headlinerscolumbia.com), a large music venue in downtown Columbia.
Lowe confirms that All In Entertainment will book most, but not all, of the bands for the Music Farm. "We are going to book all the shows we can and make them as big as we can," he says. Both Ellison and Lowe say they support a variety of music at their other venues and want to bring a wide range of shows to the Music Farm. "We are open to everything," Lowe says. "We are looking at bringing some comedy, gospel, and private parties to the club." As of this week, the Music Farm is closed for renovations and is scheduled to re-open on Sun. Oct. 28 with a performance by N.C. band The Avett Brothers. The venue has a number of bands booked through November. Mute Math, They Might be Giants, Galactic, and Slightly Stoopid are on the fall calendar so far.
Both owners are excited to get the venue open. "Our goal is for the Farm to be a nice venue where people from all age groups can come and enjoy it," Lowe says. "We want it to be an active, fun place."
The original Music Farm opened on East Bay Street in 1991. Owners Carter McMillan and Kevin Wadley relocated the venue to its current location at 32 Ann Street in 1993. In 1998, McMillan and Wadley sold the club to Craig Comer, Riddick Lynch, and Yates Dew. Kurt and Sara Papenhausen bought the venue in the fall of 2001 and ran things through this summer with the help of managers Jimbo Webb and his brother Stephen Webb.
When Ellison and Lowe heard that the club was for sale, it sounded like something they would be interested in. "I went to a show years ago at the Music Farm and thought it was a great place," he says. "I remember in the '90s it was the gem of Charleston. People loved it and supported it." Ellison goes on, "The area where the venue is, it's so historic and charming; I love it."
When asked about local competition, Ellison doesn't seem worried. "Booking shows in Charlotte, there is so much I have to work around the Carolina Panthers and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. It's a lot easier to compete against other clubs than it is to compete against Clear Channel."
Upcoming shows for Amos' Southend, which uses All In Entertainment to book many of their shows, include Henry Rollins, The Flaming Lips, and Hanson. In October, Headliners is scheduled to host David Allan Coe, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Chevelle, Cowboy Mouth, and Charleston's own Jay Clifford. According to All In Entertainment's website, the company has booked shows for the Music Farm and the Windjammer in the past.
Will the new face of the downtown music scene be affected by this change? Will this fourth generation steer the venue toward new musical territory? Will the men's room toilets actually flush? Can over 14 years' worth of grime, spilled beer, and rock 'n' roll shenanigans be renovated into something really cool? We'll see.