The music scene is a huge part of Charleston's culture and nightlife. City Paper understands that, as college students, you must learn to pick and choose wisely. Let us help you out. This guide will show you where to find great live music. And, every once in a while, it's okay to splurge on high-dollar entertainment, so plan ahead, look for ticket offers, and get out there.
Some of the greatest shows can be enjoyed for less than 20 bucks at the big local venues, and you'll have just as much fun (if not more) than if you spent over a hundred bucks on a big auditorium show.
Some of the most popular hangouts that feature live bands, DJs, and acoustic acts don't even bother with a cover charge. Along King Street such bars as Charleston Beer Works, the Kickin' Chicken, Midtown Bar & Grill, O'Malley's, Kudu Coffee House, and Chai's book local jam bands, turntablists, and singer/songwriters. Scattered around the Market and East Bay Street area, Wild Wing Café, Wet Willie's, The Brick, Tommy Condon's, Light, Wasabi, and Johnson's Pub are among the big clubs offering live music for free (or very cheap).
While most of those hotspots feature crowd-pleasing cover bands and dance music, other venues mix in plenty of original music from a wide variety of acts.
Located off Maybank Highway on James Island, the Pour House is a quaint and bustling spot with a medium-sized music room (and a terrific sound system) where musicians from all over come to perform. The wildly vibrant feel of this place can overtake anyone looking for a good time. But don't stop there; head out back for an unexpected surprise. The back porch features a stage, a full bar, and a welcoming backyard vibe. This fall, music fans can enjoy various styles of music from local groups and visiting acts at the Pour House, such as Tea Leaf Green, Shooter Jennings, and Jason Isbell. Along with these popular artists, you can find many local talents rockin' the stage on a nightly basis. The Pour House boasts a full menu of high-gravity craft beers, but it also offers reasonable drink prices for all those struggling college students.
Also on James Island, the unpretentious Oasis on Folly Road has emerged in recent years as a local headquarters for hardcore metal, punk, and indie rock. They book mostly underground touring bands and local up-and-comers, but their massive stage and PA can easily handle big-name punk and metal acts. Oasis recently featured The Ataris, Guttermouth, and Antiseen on their stage.
Over in West Ashley, a handful of smaller venues have emerged as major music spots. The original Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ has a small stage and music room set up near the main bar. It's a regular host of Piccolo Spoleto blues events and Lowcountry Blues Bash gigs, and they consistently book touring Americana, alternative-rock, and blues acts from week to week. Admission is rarely more than five bucks. The venue has won City Paper's "Best Jazz and Blues Club" category in the Best of Charleston issue for four years in a row.
Just a block down the street from Home Team, the cozier and less flashy Tin Roof keeps a solid musical lineup on the schedule. The vibe is total dive bar. The clientele includes some of the more colorful characters in the local food 'n' bev and indie rock scenes. The range of musical styles runs from vaudevillian blues to honky-tonk and punk.
Jimbo's Rock Lounge, a new West Ashley music club located on Savannah Highway, offers a spacious layout, a cool lounge area, and a huge stage. Late in the evening, the focus stays on the local and visiting bands. On a given night, bands like The 33's or the Shaniqua Brown might be on the stage, The next night, a local veteran act like Johnny Mac & The BootyRanch might crank up.
The Music Farm is a legendary downtown venue that hosts some of the most amazing performances Charleston has ever seen. Housed in a unique building (an old train depot), it carries the downtown vibe throughout the historic brick walls. August hosts such nationally known as The Nappy Roots, Interpol, Perpetual Groove, Lee Brice, and others. The stage leads many famous performers night after night throughout the fall with more wild nights with Corey Smith, The Deftones, Ghostland Observatory, The Gracious Few, and Wolf Parade. Some of the bigger shows can be pricey, but with many tickets priced under $15, plan ahead and purchase online.
On a much smaller scale, Eye Level Art on Spring Street has an arty atmosphere in a warehouse setting. As a performance space and gallery, the venue attracts more experimental artists from the local scene and region. They regularly book critically acclaimed jazz, pop, alternative, and electronic acts, such as the Two Man Gentleman Band, Timbre, and Toro Y Moi. It's about as bohemian as downtown can be.
In Ladson, down the street from the fairgrounds, Kush Lounge has established itself as one of the most popular dance clubs in the north area. Hot local DJs and top hip-hop acts (like veteran producer Marly Mar and various touring rappers) perform on one of the two main stages. The hip-hop-based South Carolina Music Awards host big parties here from year to year.
Over on the Isle of Palms, The Windjammer is famous for catching many popular musicians sweeping through the area. The venue is small enough for everyone to have an intimate experience but big enough to host some well-known bands including John Mayer, Edwin McCain, The Fray, JJ Grey & Mofro, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, and many others. This is one of those venues you want to be sure to buy tickets in advance for because many shows are sure to sell out quickly. Shows are constantly added throughout the year.
Not willing to pay a cover? Just head over to Folly Beach and stroll the streets. You will likely hear something you like emanating from one of the Center Street bars or eateries, like the Drop In Deli, Planet Follywood, Taco Boy, or Rita's. The popular Surf Bar is a casual spot hosting local musical jam-rock, blues, and reggae acts. Spend your money on the drinks and order some onion rings to enjoy the total local experience. Hear some well-known cover songs raining from the sky? That's probably ringing from the rooftop bar at Snapper Jack's. Many nights you can find live music on the bottom floor of this three-story bar and restaurant.
You're young. Take advantage of the music scene. Live music is everywhere in Charleston so keep your eyes (and ears) open and don't miss out on some amazing shows.