of recognizable names that draw a crowd every time.” Kara Miller, general manager at The Bridge, gives a similar report. “Although I think the venues in town are really supportive — maybe the most they’ve ever been in trying to provide a scene for our local musicians — it just seems like actual musicians have been leaving or taking on other projects,” she says. “I wish there were more local musicians and bands performing right now, but it just seems a little stagnant.” One insider who offers a different take is Richard King, the former owner of The Blue Note and Mojo’s. He says the first words that come to his mind to describe the local music scene are “very healthy” and “vibrant.” “I think there are a whole slew of talented individuals who are residing right here in the greater Columbia area,” King says. “I think what you’ll find most people saying is, ‘Well, they don’t bring many people in.’ That’s not because they’re not talented … let’s separate that. There are plenty of good musicians. Getting people into your room is another story. That’s the challenge that we’re all presented with.”
Getting Creative Local promoters have found several creative ways to respond to the challenge of luring crowds into their venues. Some have cut back on live music to offer other draws. At Roxy’s, for example, Garcia has switched to more DJ music, which, he says with a sigh, is what current college students want. At Eastside Tavern, which opened in the late 1990s, owner Sal Nuccio has replaced most of the live music with themed nights, such as comedy and free karaoke. The live music that remains at Eastside is different from the music of the tavern’s early days. “Back then, there was a lot more punk rock and heavy metal,” Nuccio says. “Lately, the scene has changed, and I’m working with a lot of bands that are in the roots scene. I think it’s the new rock ’n’ roll of today. Seeing how everything is so commercialized, people have turned to roots rock ’n’ roll — sort of Elvis meets AC/DC or Waylon Jennings meets Elvis. It’s cool stuff, and I like working with them, but there has been a big change in what’s ‘in’ over the years.” Two newer venues on the scene, The Bridge and Café Berlin, are using atmosphere to attract music fans. The Bridge has carved out a niche as a casual but upscale venue that offers live music at least five nights a week and supports the arts in general. “We try to be a community arts center, more than just a music venue,” Miller says. The Bridge is also connected to the Columbia Academy of Music, which offers instruction to all ages; one of The Bridge’s owners, Wes Wingate, is the founder and president of the record label Home Tone Records. One fan of The Bridge is Brian “BC” Craig, lead singer of a local band almost every venue owner includes in a list of current heavy-hitters, Don’t Mind Dying.
INSIDE COLUMBIA NOVEMBER 2014
“The folks at The Bridge, Wes Wingate and Kara Miller, they’re the guys who are really supporting all the local musicians in town right now,” Craig says. “That’s where you go if you want a gig.” Café Berlin began as a breakfast eatery and started offering regular live music shows in February. Inside Columbia columnist and KOPN-FM host Kevin Walsh says he is excited to see how the venue is bringing together what he calls the town people and the river people. “The river people hang out at Cooper’s Landing, at Rocheport General Store, at Lupus, at Jamestown,” he explains. “They’ve been around for generations, playing music, but you don’t see them in town much. The town people were mostly the kids who graduated locally or came out of the university and assimilated themselves into the scene. Café Berlin has taken all the worlds and mixed them together. They have straightup folk stuff, but on the other hand, they’ll have death metal. Eli [Gay], the owner, is just a fan of music that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves. And they have a real home concert feel to it.” Connor notes how Café Berlin has evolved. “Our whole mission as a restaurant — being local and a Southern kind of breakfast — has carried over to the night,” he says. “It’s kind of like a step up from a dive bar, and it’s just a different alternative to the bars in Columbia. People like that weird, rustic, authentic experience, and that’s something we definitely provide.”
For The Love Of Music Given the difficulties of running a live music venue, one might wonder why so many have taken it on in Columbia. The people running those venues say the answer is simple: Music is worth it. “It’s a tough business; there’s nothing easy about it,” says Ben Bradley, owner of Whiskey Wild Saloon. “You constantly have to pay attention to who college kids like, who older crowds like, who’s trending on the charts, who’s up and coming. There are so many variables, it’s really difficult. But at the same time, it’s a blast.” Connor describes why. “Music has the ability to evoke a feeling out of people like no other experience,” he says. “Finding bands and coordinating with them and going through the struggle of booking shows and promoting shows and calling media and getting on Twitter and doing all that hard work, and then opening up the bar and moving chairs and coordinating with the sound guy — there’s a lot of work that goes into putting on a good show. But that moment when you hear the first song start, and it’s one you know, and it’s one you love, and you share a glance with someone else at the bar who understands it, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is live music, this is awesome’ — it all makes sense, and it’s awesome.”