Celebrating Jazz on Main Street - by Mike Miller

This First Thursday Jazz is the Main Event

main street jazz fest.jpg

     Thirty years ago, a Columbia restaurant owner named Veron Melonas and his trumpet-playing pal Johnny Helms decided that Columbia needed a cool jazz party right on Main Street. Melonas owned the Elite Epicurean, a top-notch eatery right across the street from City Hall, and he said, “Why don’t we put the stage right outside?” Helms knew a lot of jazz players in New York, so he got on the phone and invited several of them down to the South Carolina capital city. Just like that, a jazz festival was born.

     “Jazz on Main” as it was called was first staged in July of 1987, and it ran for 10 years. One of the festival’s first performers, pianist Marian McPartland, called it “a true happening,” and it was pretty special. Musicians who came to Columbia during those years included trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, and bassist Milt Hinton, just to name a few.

     To celebrate the 30th anniversary of that first “Jazz on Main” show, November’s First Thursday on Main will become a jazz festival of sorts. But this will not be a nostalgic event. It will showcase many of Columbia’s current crop of talented jazz musicians, players such as Mark Rapp, Tony Lee, Amos Hoffman, and Sam Edwards. Columbia jazz veterans such as Dick Goodwin, Danny Boozer, Robert Gardiner, and Jim Mings will also be performing.  

     Festivities begin at 6 p.m., and there will be live music at several locations on Main Street. Trumpeter Mark Rapp is the prime mover on Columbia’s contemporary jazz scene, and his quartet will be performing in the Main Street Public House. The guitar duo of Mings and Monte Craig will be in front of Mast General Store, and a revolving array of local jazz stars, including guitarist Hoffman, bassist Edwards, trombonist Mitch Butler, and drummer Boozer, will play on a stage in Boyd Plaza outside the Columbia Museum of Art. Add trumpeter Goodwin and the Tony Lee Group to the mix on Boyd Plaza, and you’ve got one of the most impressive collection of jazz players to come together in Columbia in quite some time.

     Back in 1987, there was an impressive array of jazz artists playing around town as well. Goodwin’s big band played weekly shows in a club called Greenstreet’s. Guitarist Terry Rosen and bassist Frank Duvall could be heard often at happy hour in the Five Points restaurant Garibaldi’s. But the most adventurous jazz happening took place on Tuesday night in Pug’s, a Five Points bar named after owner Pug Wallace. Weekly jam sessions there featured players such as drummers Reggie Ritter and Ted Linder, guitarists Mings and Rosen, trumpeters Al McClain and Helms, keyboardists John Drake and John Emche, and saxophonists Hans Tueber, Roger Pemberton, and a teenager named Chris Potter. For Columbia jazz fans, those nights in Pug’s were not to be missed.

     Today’s Columbia jazz scene is just as vibrant, and truth be told, it’s more diverse and active than its counterpart from three decades ago. Jazz can still be heard in Five Points at Speakeasy’s on Saluda Street. But the epicenter for jazz has moved uptown to places such as Public House on Main, Gervais and Vine, and Pearlz in the Vista.

     Other Columbia nightspots are featuring jazz nights, and there are many other exceptional musicians playing around town than just the ones mentioned above. It’s a great time for jazz artists and fans in Columbia, and that’s why it seemed like a good idea to revive the spirit of “Jazz on Main” and celebrate this cool, complex, and free-flowing music in the capital city.     

Fall Lines Program Announced for Thursday, July 28th at Tapp's

Fall Lines

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 ~ 7 – 9 pm

Tapp’s Arts Center ~ Columbia, SC

 

7 – 8

Reception

 

8 – 9

Welcome & Recognition of Honored Guests – Cindi Boiter

Awarding of Prizes – Ed Madden & Kyle Petersen

Readings

Scott Chalupa

Claire Kemp

Kathleen Nalley

Travis Bland

Matthew O’Leary

Eileen Scharenbroch

Bo Petersen

Mark Rodehorst

Tim Conroy

Julie Bloemeke

Mike Miller

Jonathan Butler

 

Sincerest appreciation to Tapp’s Arts Center, Jonathan & Lorene Haupt, Sara June Goldstein, Bert Easter, One Columbia for Arts & History, Richland Library, Friends of Richland Library, South Carolina Academy of Authors, University of South Carolina Press, Muddy Ford Press, Columbia Museum of Art, SC Philharmonic, Rosewood Art & Music Festival, Deckle Edge Literary Festival

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Chris Potter shines on "The Sirens," his debut album for ECM Records - by Mike Miller

I have to admit, listening to Chris Potter’s new album, “The Sirens,” is something of a surreal experience for me. The spacious and flowing songs conjured here by the Columbia native and saxophone colossus have been giving me a sense of being transported in time, something like Déjà vu.

 

Now let me be clear, this languid, mind-expanding mood is not being solely induced by the atmospheric and exploratory jazz that’s being played. (Chill, it’s not what you’re thinking. Chemicals were not involved.) Part of it can be attributed to the fact that “The Sirens” is Potter’s first album for ECM Records, a label known for putting the avant in avant-garde jazz. In other words, the stuff on this label is out there. (ECM was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by a double-bass player named Manfred Eicher, so you get the picture.)

  But I’m getting ahead of myself. To better explain my depiction of ECM records, I need to go back to the 1970s when I was trying to expand my musical tastes by dipping into jazz. I discovered people like Larry Coryell, The Crusaders, and Grover Washington Jr. Then I traced their roots back to Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. In the middle of all this jazz teeth-cutting, I happened across an album by a pianist named Keith Jarrett that turned out to be the most non-conformist record I’d ever heard.

  The first thing that struck me was the stark but-alluring artistic packaging. Very sophisticated, I thought. Secondly, the quality of the vinyl was a notch above other albums I owned. Most importantly, the music played by Jarrett and his trio was mind-expanding, hard-to-categorize stuff. I checked the label, saw that it was ECM, and went in search of more music from this eclectic company.

 

I discovered artists such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Eberhard Weber, and guitarist Pat Metheny. Time and again, I was rewarded with music that was as challenging as it was beautiful.

 

In recent years, I’ve become reacquainted with ECM records and been blown away by releases from trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, The Tord Gustavson Trio, and pianist Nik Bartsch. Now comes the ECM debut from Chris Potter, Dreher High School grad and veteran of many jazz sessions as a teenager at Pug’s in Five Points. Granted, Potter, who's 42, has appeared on ECM records before, giving marvelous support to artists such as Dave Holland, Steve Swallow, and most notably, the late drummer Paul Motian, with whom Potter played on the stellar 2010 live album, “Lost in a Dream.”

 

But seeing his name displayed prominently on one of those cool ECM CD covers gave me chills. I’ve long considered Potter to be Columbia’s most important musical export ever, and this CD goes a long way in confirming that. Potter has almost 20 albums under his belt as a bandleader, including the masterful “Traveling Mercies” on Verve Records in 2002. But his entry into the ECM fraternity is especially gratifying, given the high standards for boldness and quality the label has set through the years. I could use words like sublime, transcending, and illuminating to describe Potter’s playing on “The Sirens,” but you really have to hear it for yourself. If you’re a jazz fan, check this record out. If you’re thinking about dipping into jazz, give this Columbia native son a try.

--- Mike Miller

(Editors note: For more of Mike Miller on Chris Potter, check out the forthcoming book, The Limelight (Muddy Ford Press, 2013) which releases on February 24th with a launch party at Tapp's from 5 - 8 pm)

Susan Taylor Releases a Superb Batch of Original Songs - by Mike Miller

Susan Douglass Taylor got her first guitar on her 11th birthday. At age 17, she became enamored with the five-string banjo, her dad’s favorite instrument. Over the years, she honed her talent on both instruments at bluegrass festivals and during living-room jam sessions. She even played in a bluegrass band called String Fever for 10 years.

  So it’s somewhat surprising that it took her so long (she’s now just a shade or two north of 50) to record her first solo album. But that doesn’t make it any less gratifying to hear the songs on her disc, “Great Falls Road,” because they resonate with a rich sense of time and place, and are delivered with the maturity of an artist who’s seen much in life and knows what’s important and what is not.

  “Great Falls Road” is about life in a small town and all the simple pleasures and family ties that make life there so special. The town in question here is Winnsboro, S.C., Susan’s hometown, and songs such as “Black Top,” “Old Brick Tavern,” “Little Town,” and the title track are all wonderful reminisces that ring with Southern sincerity.

  Many great players contributed to the disc, including Robert Bowlin on fiddle, John Wayne Benson on mandolin, Michael Hearn on harmony vocals, and stalwart Texas pedalman, Lloyd Maines, on pedal steel guitar. One of the Midlands’ most respected bluegrass musicians, Danny Harlow, produced and recorded the album.

  But it is Susan’s beautifully pure voice and delicate guitar playing that carry the day. This is music that sprang from her heart. There’s a touch of Western swing here, a dash of bluegrass there, and it’s all sung and performed with a gentle warmth that wraps around you like a fresh mound of hay in a hayloft.

  At her CD-release concert last week at the UU Coffeehouse, Susan demonstrated that she was a fine bandleader, too. She was wonderfully supported by Harlow on mandolin and guitar, Collin Willis on dobro and pedal steel, and her husband Cary Taylor on bass. It was a superb evening of harmony vocals, soaring instrumental solos, and solid ensemble playing. It was like watching our version of Alison Krauss & Union Station, and I’d like to see this cracker-jack band play a few more dates around the Midlands.

  Congratulations to Susan Taylor and her fine new CD. It’s exciting to see someone who’s been a quiet mainstay for so long on the South Carolina folk and bluegrass scene to step forward with such a great batch of original songs.

-- Mike Miller

 

City Art presents HIGH NOON with the Editors of Jasper Magazine

City Art  at 1224 Lincoln Street down in the Vista is doing something pretty cool.

They're opening up the gallery space every Saturday afternoon this summer for a series of arts-related events and they're calling it High Noon.

At Jasper, we're honored to help them kick off this series by bringing four of the editors of the magazine out on June 9th to do a reading.

  • Ed Madden will be reading poetry from Prodigal
  • Mike Miller will be reading short stories from his book, Lonesome Pines
  • Kristine Hartvigsen will be reading poetry from her upcoming book, To the Wren Nesting
  • And Cindi Boiter will be reading short fiction from her new book, Buttered Biscuits

All the books will be available for sale and signing as will all the fabulous art and art supplies that City Art carries. The event runs from noon until 1 pm on Saturday, June 9th.

We hope you'll come out for a visit.

For more information click here.

Why I'll Be Writing In "Tom Jones" On Tuesday by Alex Smith

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Mike Miller has withdrawn from the race for Columbia city council, and, frankly, I'm depressed. You should be too. We all should be. There were many reasons Mike should be on city council. I think I might mention a few here. Initially this was meant to be a ringing endorsement of Mike on behalf of the freak (a.k.a. arts at large) community. Now I'm not quite sure what it is other than another goddamn admonition to the voters of Columbia to remember that if you want to affect positive change, start around the corner. Vote in your local elections, and pay attention to what the folks who are running for ACTUALLY stand for and whether they're actually going to do anything once they're elected. Anyway, here's what I had to say.

*

Politics and art are eerily similar in America. To the vast majority of the population they:

  • A. are far too complicated, paradoxical, cryptic and boring to even try to comprehend;
  • B. are easiest to accept when kept safely behind large, preferably hard wooden doors inside halls of marble and plaster;
  • C. are of little or no use until they mingle with religion, sex, bodily fluids, or any combination of the three;
  • D. must fall precisely within the parameters of an individual's beliefs concerning the proper use of religion, sex and/or bodily fluids;
  • E. are deemed "impeachable", "obscene", or both, if they don't fall precisely within said parameters.

Perhaps this is why artists and politicians get along so well … Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys … Bob Evans and Henry Kissinger … Frank Sinatra and the Reagans … when you run with the damned, there's little need to discern which circle you're mingling in, and there's no telling who you'll meet, who you'll end up in bed with, or what you'll learn.

Which is how, I suppose, I managed (being what might be described as an artist) to dip my toe in the milk of local politics, and why I'm attempting to talk about them here having done some practical learning. Last year, when I was helping to get The Tapp's Arts Center built and partially funded by the city of Columbia, I attended what seemed like countless meetings (but probably amounted to no more than six or eight) at city hall and thereabouts. My experiences only added to my belief that politics and art are not too distant cousins.

I'm looking over the notes I took during a 'what will remain un-named' subcommittee meeting at city hall. It reminds me of most 501-c3 board meetings I've been to (only, you couldn't pay a local reporter enough to attend a non-profit board meeting and take notes, which, I guess, makes me look foolish for writing this stuff down, but, hey, I never said I wasn't a fool):

  • quote: "…trying to get their arms around that 800 lb. gorilla…"
  • '____' (a local reporter) looks B-O-R-E-D…
  • quote: "Who brings a mini-van to a gun fight?"
  • The people running this shindig are the same people who can't stay in their seats until intermission at the opera… when's the intermission for this fucking show?
  • quote (of the day): "…dog ain't got no more hair on it…"

You should never get a bunch of artists OR politicians in the same room trying to decide something. If one of them has a plan which they need help putting together, chances are, no matter how great the person's idea is, it will disappear into a storm of great ideas that everybody else in the room has, because, as you're probably starting to understand, none of them give a shit about anybody's ideas but their own. Just like politicians. Only, getting a bunch of politicians to decide on something is twice as difficult, because, not only do they have to agree that one person's idea is best, then they have to vote on it, which, as I have seen firsthand, can take months. "Why on earth should it take months to vote on something that everyone agrees on," you ask? I respond with another question: "Who brings a mini-van to a gun fight?" Exactly.

*

To find any one person who truly gives a shit and is somewhat knowledgeable about both art AND politics in this day and age is rare; to find them in public office is astounding. You have to be truly interested in your community to engage in pushing the arts as a politician, and you have to be significantly less ego driven than most if you are an artist who is trying to effect political change (of course, there's a third option which applies to both politicians pushing arts and artists getting involved in politics: you can be fucking insane).

When I met our mayor for the first time, I was impressed by the fact that he introduced himself as "Steve." I was impressed when I watched him have an assistant usher a woman, who became very upset by how disrespectfully she felt she had been treated at one of these endless meetings I attended, out of the meeting, and to find him actually talking to and encouraging her outside the meeting afterward. After getting to know him, I was impressed by how astute he seemed to be concerning how, when placed thoughtfully and with care within an infrastructure, the arts can function as a tremendous business catalyst in any city. Mostly, overall (and he is too much a gentleman to approve of my language here, but that's why he's mayor and I'm not) I was, and remain, impressed with how much of a fucking human being he is. Make no mistake, friends: human being sightings are rare among politicians, whatever side of the fence you fall on.

Don't get me wrong. Mayor Benjamin shakes hands and kisses babies with the best of them; but when it comes down to it, Steve is going to stick by his guns when it concerns getting things done that will make our city a better place … and, if you are on his team, or vice versa, he is going to laugh with you about it when the shit gets done. I happen to share his vision for what a cohesive community this city can, and should, be, and he and I were among a group of folks who believed that Brenda Schwarz's idea for an arts center on Main Street was integral to that vision, so it is easy for me to respect and admire him for that commitment to getting the job done.

Mike Miller falls in the same category as the mayor. As long as I've known him (socially for almost twenty years), he's always been "Mike." He is a gentleman of the first order. He has written with great care and passion about music in this town for … well, for as long as I can remember, and he's stuck by it through good times and bad. But more than all of this, Mike cares, genuinely and selflessly, about the city of Columbia as a community, and he not only believes that the arts can create stronger community within our city, he works to make it a reality, and has been for some time.

I could go down the list of all the amazing shit Mike has done in Columbia to make it a better, stronger community, but I'd rather tell you why I'm voting for him. I used to live around the corner from Mike, and he was always trying to drum up ideas to get the neighborhood together to get outdoors, have some fun, and get to know each other. What he and I are actually talking about in the photo above is the idea he had to screen free movies for kids when the weather got warm at a public park right around the corner from where I used to live. I told him, having made and projected films, that if he handled the red tape, I'd help out with any technical know-how that I could.

That's why Mike gets my vote. He's smart enough to know that if you want to create a community that cares about their city, get them together on a beautiful spring evening, give them some snacks and drinks, and put on a movie that they and their kids love, and you have a hell of a lot better chance of getting them together on any of the real issues plaguing our city, than if you treat them and refer to them as "constituents," which is as good as to say, "numbers." Or "voters."

By being a human being instead of a politician.

-- Alex Smith

Alex Smith is an actor, director and visual artist. You can reach him at alex@whatartmademedo.com or respond to this post in the comments section below.

 

A Portrait of Columbia Through the Lens of Richard Samuel Roberts

Wherever your eyes drift while viewing the work of photographer Richard Samuel Roberts, they’ll always return to the faces. There’s a story to tell in each one, stories of dignity, determination, and strength of spirit.

  Roberts, a self-taught African-American photographer, is celebrated for the remarkable portraits he took of black Columbians between 1920 and 1936. In the introduction to “A True Likeness: The Black South of Richard Samuel Roberts,” Thomas Johnson notes that Robert’s photographs “of course portray black Carolinians in their role as ‘burden bearers.’ But here also is W.E.B. Du Bois’s ‘talented tenth’ in South Carolina -- the achievers, progressives, entrepreneurs who engaged in individual and communal programs of uplift and self-help, who were concerned not just with mere survival, but ‘making it’ and claiming their piece of the American pie.”

  Thanks to the work of a new membership affiliate at the Columbia Museum of Art, the

Friends of African American Art and Culture, 24 of Roberts’ images can now be seen in a new exhibit in Gallery 15, upstairs at the museum. The images were chosen by FAAAC board members, folks such as Waltene Whitmire, Javana Lovett, Preach Jacobs, Michaela Pilar Brown, and Kyle Coleman. Each board member was asked to write down their thoughts about the photograph, and these insights are displayed alongside the image.

  This is a must-see exhibit for everyone, but especially for Columbians who are not familiar with Roberts and his work. He deserves to be heralded as one of our city’s most historically significant artists, a man whose curiosity and dedication preserved a part of our culture that might otherwise have been lost.

  Roberts and his family moved to Columbia from Fernandina, Florida, in 1920. His wife, Wilhelmina Pearl Selena Williams, was a native of Columbia. Roberts took a job as custodian at the post office and worked weekdays from 4 a.m. to noon. He purchased a five-room house at 1717 Wayne Street for $3,000, and in 1922 he rented space for a photography studio upstairs at 1119 Washington St., a block off Main Street.

  “The fact that Roberts could purchase such a house is ample evidence that he and his family were members of a rising, relatively affluent, middle-class black community,” Johnson wrote.

  Over the years, Roberts took thousands of photographs of members of this community, so the 24 on display currently the Museum of Art only scratch the surface of this historical treasure trove. (A book could be written about the discovery and restoration of the 3,000 glass-plate negatives that were found in a crawl space at the family’s Wayne Street home a half-century after Roberts took the photographs.)

  The exhibition will be on view through April 29, 2012. But don’t wait to go see it, and don’t go just once. Check out the book “A True Likeness” for more of Roberts’ work, and I encourage everyone who has an appreciation for the artistic and cultural contributions of African-American artists to join the FAAAC. Affiliate president Brandolyn Thomas Pinkston says the group’s goal is to provide “a multitude of programs, lectures, and exhibits.”

  The Roberts exhibit is a fascinating and powerful start.

-- Mike Miller

 

Michael Miller is an associate editor of Jasper Magazine -- read more of his work in the last two issues of Jasper at www.jaspercolumbia.com.

Jasper's Nightstand -- Don't call it a book club, call it a book trust

By now, it should be news to no one that Columbia, SC is a readers' city. I need more fingers than the ones I have on my hands to count the number of book clubs I know about that I don't even belong to.

Some may attribute our propensity for reading to the number of institutions of higher education we have in and around town. Universities and colleges tend to attract not only students and faculty but also literate individuals who are drawn to progressive thought and intellectual engagement, whether they go to school or not. Others may posit that the lack of hard hitting cerebral stimulation from our public education system forces us, at an early age, to seek out our own intellectual adventures in books and, ultimately, establish a life-long love of losing ourselves in literature (and, for some of us clearly, loving the lilt of alliteration).

For whatever reason, last June, Columbia was named by Amazon as one of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in the country.

In fact, we're #16.

You may have heard What Jasper Said yesterday about the new One Book, One Columbia selection of Ron Rash's Saints at the River as our book selection for 2012. Given that, we at Jasper are delighted to announce our new bi-monthly reading group, Jasper's Nightstand and, in keeping with our close association with the One Book, One Columbia Project (Mike and Cindi are both on the selection committee), we are even more thrilled to announce that Saints at the River will be the first book we'll be discussing.

What's on Jasper's Nightstand?

Saints at the River by Ron Rash

Thursday, February 23rd at 7 PM

Wine Down on Main at 1520 Main Street

RSVP here

Jasper's Nightstand is a book club for artists, people who love arts and artists, and people who appreciate the unique insights that artists and arts lovers bring to the complexities of life.

_____

On the Wings of a Snow White Dove ...

It was a Saturday night back in September at Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor, and the place had the feel of a great big family picnic. There were laughter and hugs. Small children scampered here and there. A long table was filled with covered-dish staples, and folks were unpacking guitars, banjos, and fiddles.

A hush fell over the crowd when someone said the guest of honor was on his way. Cameras were readied, kids were shushed, and when the doors to the Pickin’ Parlor swung open, in stepped Bill Wells, the man who has championed bluegrass music in South Carolina for the past 26 years."

That's how I began my column a few weeks ago for the new issue of Jasper, which will be released next week. I'd heard that Bill was suffering from stage-four melanoma and was in a bad way. I'd known Bill for more than 20 years, and a friendlier, more humble person you'd never meet. In a small way, I wanted to pay tribute to the man who raised awareness of bluegrass in the Midlands and gave pickers and grinners a place to call home on Meeting Street in West Columbia for more than two decades.

Bill died yesterday, and his passing has left a hole in the heart of the Columbia music community. Bill was steadfast in his devotion to the music he loved, and for him, pure acoustic bluegrass music was the highest art there is. I'm sure he's circling around a single microphone up in heaven right now with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, having a good ol' gospel sing. Rest in peace, old friend.

Bill Sings Life's Evening Sun here.

Someday We'll Meet Again Sweetheart

Listen to Bill sing more here.

 

 

-- Mike Miller is associate editor at Jasper --The Word on Columbia Arts

www.jaspercolumbia.com

(To read Mike's column on Bill, please pick up a copy of Jasper Vol. 1 No. 2 available throughout Columbia and the Midlands on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011.)

It Was 15 Years Ago Today ....

It didn’t matter if you were a fan of Willie, Hootie or Neil. What really mattered was that Farm Aid was coming to Columbia, and everyone was excited.

 

There was no denying, It was going to be a big deal. A large part of the pop-culture universe would shift its focus to South Carolina for a day, and that day was exactly 15 years ago, Oct. 12, 1996. It was a day I’ll always remember, because I’ve never felt so many good vibes in one place, with so many famous musicians just hanging out and enjoying each others company.

 

Farm Aid was founded in 1985 to raise public awareness about the plight of the American family farmer. Its masterminds were Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and John Conlee, and its mission was to provide assistance to families whose livelihood depended on agriculture.

 

Hootie and the Blowfish were at the top of the pop charts at the time, and the Columbia-based quartet played an energetic set at the 1985 Farm Aid in Lexington, Kentucky. Afterwards, they invited Willie to bring the show to Columbia in 1996. A quick check of the calendar to see when the Gamecocks were out of town, and voila! Farm Aid was booked for Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 12.

 

It was announced to the public in July of 1996 (Willie rolled into town in his tour bus and did a press conference at the stadium), and everyone immediately wanted to know who would play … in addition to Willie, Neil, and Mellencamp of course. When the line-up was announced, anticipation swelled. Country stars abounded. Tim McGraw, Ricky Van Shelton, Hal Ketchum, Gretchen Peters, and Martina McBride were coming, just to name a few. Pop-rock stars such as Jewel and Rusted Root were scheduled. I almost blew a gasket when I saw Steve Earle, Son Volt, Robert Earl Keen, and the Texas Tornados on the bill. I can now confess, 15 years later, to doing something a tad unethical for a newspaper reporter. I finagled an artist’s laminate, hung out all day backstage, and had the time of my life. Heck, I’m a music fan and this was a chance of a lifetime. Besides, I got some great stories by posing as a country-rocker, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

 

Tickets were a whopping $27, and gates opened at 10 a.m. The first act was scheduled to start around 11:30, so I took a seat on a folding table near the load-in gate just to see what I could see. I knew it was going to be a good day when I looked to my left and the first person to come walking by was Steve Earle.

 

“Hey, Steve,” I said.

 

He glanced at my laminate and took a seat next to me on the table. For about 10 minutes we talked about Farm Aid and Columbia, and I confessed I was a hometown boy. He laughed and asked me about a club he’d played with the Dukes years back that was under a big water tower.

 

“Oh, that must have been Sylvester’s,” I said.

 

So it was cool when I heard Earle mention from the stage a few hours later about how he’d played Columbia before at the old club formerly on Pickens Street.

 

And that was pretty much how my day went. I’d spot somebody and chat with them for a while. Robert Earl Keen. Jay Farrar of Son Volt. Marshall Chapman. I actually chased a couple folks down, because I just had to say hey. Freddy Fender for one, who was wearing the largest belt buckle known to man. And David Crosby for another, a surprise visitor who came to sing with Hootie (and Neil Young, too, as it turned out).

 

Speaking of Neil, he provided the strangest episode of the day. As it got close to time for his set, the stagehands constructed a private tunnel from his tour bus to the stage so he wouldn’t be distracted. It was a big disappointment for me, because Neil has always been one of my biggest heroes. But he didn’t disappoint when he took the stage that night with Crazy Horse and played one of the loudest hour-long sets I’d ever heard.

 

As I made my way to my car around midnight (the show was supposed to end at 11 p.m.), I was exhausted but exhilarated by the phenomenal music I’d heard. In fact, I was still hearing it, because Willie and Family were onstage, playing into the night.

 

It was a magical (and historical) day for Columbia, and I’m still thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in it all.

 

 

In Praise of Small Rooms

As Bobby Houck, Hank Futch, and David Stewart of the Blue Dogs were getting settled onstage to begin their set last night in the White Mule, Houck leaned into the microphone and thanked everyone for coming out. Then he mentioned that it was the third time they’d played the cozy basement bar on Main Street and how much they enjoyed the room. “So let’s give a hand to the White Mule for hanging in there,” Houck said. “It’s not easy to do these days.” The crowd cheered, the Dogs kicked into their first song, and I basked in the intimacy of seeing some live music in the company of about 40 or 50 other people.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially after catching a couple shows at the new Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia. Live music in a small room with just a few folks can be a wonderful thing. Being up-close-and-personal with the action is a big plus, and meeting the performers at the break and chatting with fellow concert-goers can make the whole thing feel like a family affair.

I’ve come to cherish these intimate musical encounters, and I’m beginning to think that these smaller rooms with smaller crowds is all Columbia needs to keep its music scene alive and well.

This way of thinking goes totally against the grain of what I’ve preached for years: That the big black eye on the Columbia arts community is the lack of a mid-sized music venue that can comfortably accommodate 500 to 1,000 people. For years I’ve whined about Greenville having The Handlebar and Charleston having The Music Farm, and Columbia having, well, nothing of comparable size and quality. Valiant efforts have been made (Senate Park, Headliners, etc.), but for whatever reason, these clubs failed.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not location, quality of the sound, or the space that eventually does these clubs in, it’s the local-music audience, or lack thereof. At a Neko Case show a few years ago at the Orange Peel in Asheville, I ran into at least a dozen folks from Columbia who had trekked north for the gig.

“Why can’t we get a show like this in Columbia?” one of them grumbled.

“Because if Neko played Columbia, there’d only be the 12 of us in the audience,” replied another.

An overstatement, surely, but not by much. Although there’s a solid core of knowledgeable and dedicated music fans in Columbia, on the whole, the audience is neither large nor curious.

And that’s what got me thinking that these smaller rooms are a perfect fit for now. White Mule, Conundrum, New Brookland Tavern, Utopia, Whig, Five Points Pub, and others are doing their best to bring good music to town and provide a stage for aspiring local artists. So we as music fans should attend as many shows as we can and PAY ATTENTION to what’s being played.

Who knows? We might develop a valid live-music culture here, and our lackadaisical audience might turn into one that’s larger and more loyal. Only then will the talent bookers who route tours for people like Neko Case start casting approving eyes towards Columbia, and only then might we need that 1,000-seat room.

- Mike Miller

 

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Meet Jasper associate editor, Mike Miller

(photo by Mark Green)

Mike Miller has been a surfer, janitor, tennis bum, shoe salesman, bellhop, and newspaper journalist. He writes short stories, poems, and songs, and he's penned a book about the local rock band Hootie & The Blowfish. He is the author of a collection of short stories titled, Lonesome Pines – Living and Dying in a Little Town, and almost eerily resembles Mickey Watson of the famed musical group The Cedar Creek Boys.

But that’s not surprising.

Mike knows his way around rock ‘n’ roll and the literature from which it sometimes emanates. He once bumped into John Prine in a bar in Galway, Ireland; ran into Tom Waits at the airport in San Diego; and asked Pat Conroy for writing tips one morning after breakfast at the old Martin's Restaurant on Devine Street.

Despite these close encounters, Mike says, “very little real talent has rubbed off.” Yet he continues to trudge along, stringing words together in various forms of prose, banging away at the same old guitar chords, and trying to make just a little sense of the wacky world around him.

Jasper is pleased to have Mike ply his trade for our little arts magazine. In addition to writing feature stories, copy editing, and tending to whatever tidbits of arts news that catch his eye, Mike will be crafting his own column in each issue of the magazine. We're all pretty excited about it.

Jasper likes Mike.

For more of Jasper Magazine -- The WORD on Columbia Arts, please visit us at

www.jaspercolumbia.com

 

David Yaghjian's Everyman Conjures a Connection

 

While gazing last night at repeated depictions of the central character in David Yaghjian’s wonderful new exhibit, “Everyman Turns Six,” I kept thinking that somehow I knew this bald, pot-bellied, middle-aged man who preferred being naked or wearing only his underwear. Everyman is a loose cannon, that’s for sure. He’s the scary neighbor who is sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous. The one you hear talking to himself while he’s unfolding cheap lawn furniture. Tom Waits’ “Buzz Fledderjohn.” Mike Cooley’s “Bob.” No, wait a second. I’ve got it: He’s Charles Bukowski.

 

Bukowski was the heavy-drinking, womanizing waster who scribbled poems between (and during) sessions in the seediest bars of Los Angeles. He lived in flophouses and flea-bit hotels. His best friends were winos and prostitutes. He was the Everyman of poets. Like Yaghjian’s creation, Bukowski could have easily fired up a leaf blower in the front yard while wearing nothing but his tighty-whiteys. I can hear him now, screaming a verse over the leaf blower to a passing girl on the sidewalk, “Your swagger breaks the Eiffel tower, turns the heads of old newsboys long ago gone sexually to pot; your caged malarky, your idiot’s dance, mugging it, delightful --- don’t ever wash stained underwear or chase your acts of love through neighborhood alleys!” (From “Plea to a Passing Maid,” 1969)

 

 

For years, academics have panned Bukowski’s work, but regular folks who like an occasional verse or two, have found his poems honest and refreshing, as well as disgusting and titillating. I’m no art critic, and my association of Bukowski with Everyman is certainly not derived from some deep understanding of Yaghjian’s thought-provoking paintings. The connection was simply triggered by physical similarity and a shared artistic weirdness I sensed from the paintings.

 

That’s one of the things great art can do: Dust out the back corners of your mind and help you make creative connections you might not have otherwise. “Everyman Turns Six” runs through Sept. 6 at 80808 Gallery in the Vista.

 

Here’s another (R-rated) Bukowski poem to be going on with, one called “Drunk, ol’ Bukowski, Drunk.”

 

I hold to the edge of the table with my belly dangling over my belt

and I glare at the lampshade the smoke clearing over North Hollywood

the boys put their muskets down lift high their fish-green beer

as I fall forward off the couch kiss rug hairs like cunt hairs

close as I’ve been in a

long time.

 

--Mike Miller

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