Concert Review: Toro y Moi @ Music Farm Columbia

Photo by Jordan Young If the University of South Carolina marketing department was wise, they would have had a slew of cameras capturing footage of Chaz Bundick (Class of 2009), a.k.a Toro y Moi, taking the Music Farm Columbia stage this past Wednesday.

Not only is Bundick himself one of those irresistible success stories that colleges love to repeat--the beginnings of Toro y Moi were planted during his years enrolled at the school, and he’s skyrocketed in the music world since he graduated and released his debut LP Causers of This in 2010--but there were other reasons to trumpet this moment. After all, the Music Farm sits mere blocks away from campus, and it’s ushered in a wave of concerts over this past year that could sway hip college kids to attend, emphasizing the cosmopolitan nature of Columbia and the opportunities afforded here that, say, that school down the road in the Upstate cannot. Plus, although Bundick now resides in Berkeley, California, he has consistently noted his South Carolina roots, taking local bands on tour with him in the region and helping out in various ways, including offering a tune for a benefit compilation for Fork & Spoon’s Aaron Graves battle with cancer and producing (and releasing on his imprint) singer/songwriter Keath Mead’s debut.

And, if they had had those cameras, they might have noticed that, in the range of colors splashed onto the indeterminate black lines that served as a backdrop, there were briefly moments when garnet appeared, giving the effect of the band playing behind a USC logo.

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All carping aside though, the show was excellent. Keath Mead opened up with his soaring, 70s-inspired melodies and guitar jams. Stripped of the warm, reverb-laden production of the record, Mead and his band felt almost from another era, in the best way possible. While the set got a bit soggy with ballads in its midsection, they opened and closed with some rockers that had the rather sizable crowd agreeably bobbing their heads.

Still, they were clearly stoked to see their hometown heroes return. In addition to Bundick, the live version of Toro y Moi features a host of familiar faces from Columbia’s music scene, including guitarist Jordan Blackmon, drummer Andy Woodward, and bassist Patrick Jeffords, with only recently added keyboardist Anthony Ferraro foreign to the Palmetto state. The band is ridiculously tight and quite adept at transforming the funky, synth-laden pop tunes that Bundick usually crafts alone in the studio into immersive, sweaty workouts, but it was hard to deny the impact of the more rock-oriented (and excellent) recent LP What For? had on the show. Tracks like “Empty Nesters” and “Half Dome” saw Bundick pick up an electric guitar for the first time in Toro, giving long-time fans a glimmer of his days The Heist & the Accomplice and Taxi Chaps while at the same time giving his sets a more varied sense of room to rise and fall, live and breathe.

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Bundick, always a shy presence on stage, seemed to find energy in the shifts between guitar and his array of keyboards, and his voice was in fine form throughout. The addition of yet another album to his catalog also seems to offer his live shows, for the first time, a true greatest hits feel. Only the choicest cuts from his earlier efforts made appearances as the group delved deeply into the new material. Highlights included the giddy power-pop blast of the aforementioned “Empty Nesters,” the Michael Jackson-esque jam “New Beat,” and the rippling one-two punch of the encore of “So Many Details” and “Say That,” two of the best tracks off of 2o13's Anything in Return.

In truth, though, it was hard to note exceptional moments in such a consummately professional show that also managed to revel so much in the slinky grooves that are indelible from Bundick’s output. It was difficult to stop moving for the nearly 90 minute set that Toro y Moi threw down, and I’d bet not a single soul left unhappy.

Here’s hoping the presence of the Music Farm Columbia with get Bundick and company back here more often now. -Kyle Petersen


Q&A with Singer/Songwriter Hannah Miller by Jasper Intern Erika Ryan

Hannah Miller 0612 b After finishing college in 2003, Hannah Miller moved to Columbia for a band that ended up breaking up, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her music career.

She decided it was time to go solo, and she’s being doing it ever since. She ended up staying in Columbia for seven years, but in December of 2010, Miller moved to Nashville, where she currently lives and works.

Her self-named umbrella genre “pop/folk/soul” was relatively isolated in Columbia, but settled nicely into the Nashville scene. Miller is known in the folk community for her bluesy, singer-songwriter sound paired with her charming voice, and has released several albums and singles over the last 12 years, including her 2008 debut LP Into the Black and a trio of polished EPs that followed her move to Music City.

Miller is currently experiencing a surprising flood of interest thanks to a viral video created by filmmaker Danny Cooke that used one of Miller’s new songs, “Promise Land,” to soundtrack drone footage taken of Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine. The video got an airing on 60 Minutes and has since gone on to get over 2 million views. “Promise Land” is available on iTunes now, but will also be on her new album, which she’s taking pre-orders for at her website here.

On Saturday, March 7th, Miller is set to play at Music Farm Columbia with her fellow Nashville-based and Soda City ex-pat Patrick Davis. Jasper was able to catch up with Hannah Miller and chat a bit about starting her career in Columbia, how the industry has treated her, and what she’s up to now.

Jasper: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in Columbia when you first got into the music business solo?

Hannah Miller: Well, I was very young and inexperienced — I was just starting out, I had no idea what I was doing. Columbia was a really respective, welcoming place for me to start, I think. I remember sending the Free Times my very homemade demo that I made on my computer—that sounded awful—and they actually reviewed it and said nice things about it.

It was a great place for me to grow. There was a welcoming vibe about it — no one was snobby, I wasn’t looked down upon for just being a beginner. So, I’ve always appreciated that. I would just take my guitar and travel around to open mics and coffee shops around Columbia. It was a good place to be for traveling easily — Charlotte, Atlanta, Charleston are all right around there.

I’ve always thought it was a good thing that I started there.

Jasper: How is the community support for folk musicians in Columbia? What was it like starting out in that genre?

Hannah Miller: I felt like it was pretty supportive. I mean, it’s on a very small scale compared to Nashville because there were just not as many people doing it, so sometimes I felt a little isolated. No one was really doing that — none of my friends were really musicians in Columbia. But as far as the people that were doing it, I found it really supportive, and not competitive or anything.

I remember going to the South Carolina Musicians Guild, so that was a great community I got plugged into. I always felt accepted, and not judged. The only negative for me was the amount of people doing it — there weren’t that many.

Jasper: Do you feel connected to the music community in Columbia now, if at all? How do you think it has changed over the years?

Hannah Miller: I can’t say that I really feel connected anymore. I don’t know who’s playing anymore. I used to recognize names, knew them personally or at least had met whoever was playing, and now when I’m traveling through, and I hear who’s playing, I hardly ever recognize who it is or have met them.

I feel like it’s grown since I lived there, but I don’t know if that’s a matter of it being a different class of people. I don’t know if it’s growing, or if it’s different people doing it.

I feel like when I was there it was a little better of a time for venues, or places to play. Since I’ve been gone, it seems like a lot of places have closed, like the White Mule, I loved playing there.

As far as the listening room type of environments I like to play, it didn’t seem as hard to find, when I was in Columbia, to find places to play as it is now, trying to go back.

I’m excited that Music Farm is a new venue in Columbia, and I hope that my music will be better received there. I just feel like it’s kind of been a struggle, because it was going strong there for a while and now a lot of venues closed down and it feels like there’s no where to play.

Jasper: What has it been like climbing the popularity ladder? Was there any specific moment where you felt as if you “made it”?

Hannah Miller: No, [Laughs] not really. I don’t know who said this quote, but it was something like “No success is permanent, and no failure is permanent,” and I feel like that’s very true in music. If you think, “Oh, people are paying attention,” it goes away very quickly — then you could think, “Ugh, this sucks, nobody cares,” or no one came to your show or something, but that’s not permanent either. For me, it’s just up and down.

The biggest thing, recently, this video used a song of mine, and it went viral with millions of views. It was just kind of like, “Cool, this is happening!” Even then, I just never trust in that place of feeling successful, because it’s probably going to go away and I’ll have a time when it’s quiet and not much is going on.

I don’t feel like there’s ever a “made it” place — there’s making it, then not making it, then making it again… you know. I feel like it you go to a place where Bono and U2 is, you could say, “yeah, I’ve made it.” [Laughs] But for independent artists like me, it is just moments of success and glory, followed by moments of failure and depression.

Jasper: [Laughs] Well, I guess that’s true. How does Nashville’s arts scene compare to a smaller, less music-centric city arts scene like Columbia?

Hannah Miller: Nashville is just great — on one level, you don’t feel like a weirdo anymore. All your friends are musicians, they know what you’re going though, and they don’t look at you weird when you tell them you’re a singer-songwriter. [Laughs] Everybody’s doing it, everybody understands the struggle of it, and that’s cool.

And on the other hand, you could be in town and working. Versus in Columbia, I would always have to travel and book shows outside of Columbia, because there’s just not that many opportunities to play in town, other than just playing cover gigs at a bar, which I didn’t really want to do. So if you wanted regular work, you have to book shows and travel.

I just had a baby last year, so I had to cut back on traveling. So, it’s a great place to be if you want to focus on songwriting and recording, but you can play all over Nashville all the time if you want to, too. It’s just such a huge scene, and the audiences aren’t going to overlap that much, because there are a lot of tourists. You’re always playing for different people, so you’re not necessarily burning out your welcome, even if you play at the same venue every night.

Those things I’ve found to be really great about Nashville. There’s so much going on, so even if you’re not doing it, you still feel like you’re in the middle of it — your friends are doing it, they’re doing cool things and you can live vicariously through them. There’s a lot of music going on, so it’s kind of a cool vibe here.

Jasper: What brought you back to Columbia for your show in March? Was it just by chance?

Hannah Miller: Yeah, that was just my friend Patrick Davis — he invited me to play with him. We’ve done some shows together and he’s really great, so I always try and say yes when he invites me to play, so that’s what brought me back this time.

I’ve tried to play [in Columbia] once or twice a year, to try and stay connected a little bit to my home base.

I haven’t been back that much — this will be my first show in Columbia for a while, I think, maybe even a couple years. I don’t know, I can’t remember the last time I played in Columbia, which is crazy. [Laughs]

Jasper: So how does it feel to come back and perform here? Is there a sentimental aspect to it?

Hannah Miller: I mean, a little bit. It feels—I don’t know—different. When I first moved away and I would come back to play, it would feel like some kind of homecoming — a show with a bunch of friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. So when you’ve been gone for five years, it’s kind of changed. More people I don’t recognize will be at the show. It’s not as much about, “Aw, my friends are here” and playing music for fans, more than just old friends.

But, we can still get some old friends to come to the show, and that’s cool. I also love being able to come and eat at old places that I miss. [Laughs] So I guess it is a bit like a homecoming.

-Jasper Intern Erika Ryan

Review: Justin Townes Earle @ Music Farm 2/20/15

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins Singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle arrived in town hot on the heels of the release of two new albums, the tandem pair of Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, both of which take a leaner approach in terms of sound and arrangement than the genre hopscotching of Harlem River Blues and the soul turn of Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now.

Fittingly, then, he took the stage with just one sideman—the sturdy pedal steel and electric guitarist Paul Niehaus, a prolific session player whose solos shined bright but never overtake the spotlight. And even though Earle is a gifted guitarist in his own right, much of the night’s focus was on his inimitable vocal delivery, something which has become increasingly more pronounced in recent years. He's formidable even when he's singing straight, but its the masterful, swooping shifts in volume and timbre that are his secret weapons, livening up even the most plainspoken of tales with melancholy ache and longing. Often during the set it seemed as if he was deliberately slackening the tempo in order to wring even greater nuance out of his singing, something which suggests a certain joy in the act of performing that feels cozy and comfortable even in the cavernous walls of the Music Farm.

And while the music had an almost reverential quality to it—Earle seems to be downplaying some of his more humorous and ribald material this time around—his between-song banter with the crowd more than made up for it, as whimsical asides provided new perspectives on tunes like “Christchurch Women” and “Am I That Lonely Tonight?” while he turned tender in introducing  “Learning to Cry” as his wife’s favorite tune followed by what he said was his mother’s, “Mama’s Eyes.” While those moments were poignant, he also tacked on to the latter that “Nashville spreads bastard children like sprinklers.” The combination of emotional openness and hardened wit that serves his songs so well was quite apparent.

Earle appeared to be working without a set list for much of the night, and the show pulled fairly evenly across his albums save for his twangy debut LP. Highlights abounded, particularly when Niehaus was at his most effective, like on “Memphis in the Rain” and “Burning Pictures,” but workhorses like “Harlem River Blues” and Earle’s familiar take on “Can’t Hardly Wait” were clearly the biggest crowd pleasers.

The only thing lacking was one of his bruising confessional ballads (“Won’t Be the Last Time,” “Who Am I To Say”), but that could be chalked to an increasingly large catalog of songs to pull from. Here’s to hoping the presence of the Music Farm means we’ll be seeing Earle here again soon.

Show Preview: Washed Out Plays Benefit Show for Aaron Graves at the Columbia Music Farm by Caitlyn McGuire

Washed Out Band Photo. Ernest Greene pictured. To the dreamers, the explorers, those who sink their minds fully into what’s coming out of their headphones and let the music take them to an entirely different place, we’ve got the soundtrack to your life. The music of Georgia-based artist Ernest Greene, who records under the name Washed Out, is a unique blend of soothing vocals and flowing rhythms along with cool electronics and the sounds of almost unrecognizable instruments.  The title of Washed Out’s most recent effort, Paracosm, references an imaginary world that’s created inside one’s mind, takes listeners on a full journey to escape reality. It’s an appropriate allusion given the immersive effects of the music contained within.  Although each song is brilliantly different than another, the theme of escaping is apparent in every carefully written lyrics and tune, allowing the listener to continuously drift away. Even the music video for their single “Weightless” maintains this aesthetic, allowing listeners to completely disconnect from the real world and delve into the one created by Greene.

And if we haven’t obsessed over Washed Out enough, his upcoming show on September 16 at the Music Farm Columbia is full of additional good local vibes and connections. Greene and his live band, which features Columbia musicians Chris Gardner (bass), Cameron Gardner (drums), and Dylan Lee (guitar), is paired with the quirky indie folk-pop of Those Lavender Whales and the sly singer/songwriter Keith Mead, two of the city’s finest young talents. The show is also for a good cause as well. Earlier in 2014, Those Lavender Whales front man Aaron Graves was diagnosed with a grade 2 brain tumor, causing the Columbia music scene to band together to help Graves and his family. All the proceeds from Tuesdays show will go to Tumor-Schumor, Graves’ effort to raise funds and support for his life-threatening illness. On, fans and friends can keep track of Graves’s progress through his blog, donate and learn more about the cause. If there’s one show to go see at the Music Farm in the near future, this is probably it. Good music plus a great cause is reason enough to see these musical minds in action.

Tuesday’s show is at the Music Farm, 1022 Senate Street. Tickets are $15-$20, doors open at 8 p.m. and anyone 16 years and older is welcome.

To donate to Tumor-Schumer or follow along with Aaron Graves’ journey, please visit

--Jasper Intern, Caitlyn McGuire