The room throbs. Guitars grind. A young man growls into a microphone. A crowd gathers in a semicircle around the band. There’s no stage. Hardcore bands play level with the audience. Young men throw themselves against each other and mosh across the open concrete. Some pump fists, inches from the band. It’s a Monday night at the Beet Farm.
The Beet Farm isn’t a bar. It’s a converted practice space in Conway. The bands travel from as far away as Utah. They pack up in a van and drive for hours to unload and set up their gear, playing for about thirty minutes. When they’re finished, they’ll load their gear in a van and drive to Florida to do it all over again.
Caustin Sutton, a local promoter for The Corillaz Agency, social media manager at Banton Media and musician, stands beside a merchandise table full of T-shirts, hats and CDs for sale. He’ll book any space he can to promote original music on the Grand Strand.
Caustin Sutton, a local promoter for The Corillaz Agency, social media manager at Banton Media and musician, will book any space he can to promote original music on the Grand Strand.
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Sutton points to a band from Columbia, S.C. and says, “Those guys are part of a cool scene in Columbia. I wish the Myrtle Beach scene was more like theirs, but hardly anyone here wants to get it together.”
Sutton has been promoting bands for about five years, and he’s only 20 years old. When he was born, the music scene along the Grand Strand thrived. There were rock and alternative bands. There were original bands playing punk and hardcore and reggae and funk and mixing up genres to make something new and unusual.
There were bars up and down the strand willing to let these bands play to big and small crowds alike. The bands united on mixed-genre lineups. Bars promoted the shows with flyers and word of mouth. Bands broke up and the musicians intermingled and created new bands. They wrote new songs, sprinkled in a few cover songs that blended into their setlists.
Those bands have dwindled. Most of those bars are no more.
“Something happened during and after the recession in 2009. Everyone got cut-throat,” says Chris Grant, a local musician and bartender at Rockin’ Hard Saloon. “It used to be bands and bars working together to make a scene. Now, not enough people are committed to helping each other out. No one is playing for fun anymore. They’re playing for money. Bands became background music in bars instead of the event.”
Something happened during and after the recession in 2009. Everyone got cut-throat. It used to be bands and bars working together to make a scene. Now, not enough people are committed to helping each other out. No one is playing for fun anymore. They’re playing for money. Bands became background music in bars instead of the event.
Chris Grant, a local musician and bartender at Rockin’ Hard Saloon
Along with local venues like Beet Farm, Pirate’s Cove Bar & Grill, Island Bar and Grill, Klockers Tavern and Fresh Brewed Coffee House, Rockin’ Hard Saloon is among one of a few venues still bringing in bands playing their own music.
Rockin’ Hard Saloon’s owner Kathy O’Hara seems committed. The bar is in its second location, finding a home in Garden City. She brings in local bands and touring acts of all genres. She teams up with Sutton, rotating fresh talent onto their newly raised stage. She hires local musicians and people who know the current music scene to work her bar.
“There are still a lot of great bands out there, and I love to see the evolution of these bands,” O’Hara says as we scan the stickers littering the walls of acts that have played the venue in the past. “It does my heart good to see these bands get better over time.”
O’Hara is an exception to most of the bar owners. The Grand Strand’s music scene has veered into tourist-related bands with setlists full of covers and bars filled with crowds that dance and sing along to songs they know.
“Broadway at the Beach and the Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet are packed with great and professional cover bands. We can’t compete with that,” says O’Hara. “We’re more like a mini House of Blues, but we’re not going to gouge you with drink prices.”
It does my heart good to see these bands get better over time.
Rockin’ Hard Saloon’s owner Kathy O’Hara
“Those bands at the Marshwalk play flawless covers,” adds Grant. “You can get a drink and walk from bar to bar, and it seems like the different bands sync up the songs so it’s a seamless transition. We’re the alternative if you want to see a show.”
“A lot of cover bands look at this as work,” says Jaesen Moore, singer of the rock band The IZM and local entrepreneur. “Not that the original bands aren’t earning their keep, but we do this out of passion for the music. This isn’t a weekend thing for us. We’re lifers.”
“This market is overflowing with DJs and cover bands. The demographic are classic rock and Top 40,” says Sutton. “I don’t want to spend my time off listening to covers of Hootie and the Blowfish. I don’t want to drive to a different town to see bands I like. I want local, regional and national acts doing new music right here.”
“I always have a great time when I go to the places that still do original, live music – Island Bar, Pirate’s Cove, Fresh Brewed, Klockers Tavern, and now, Beet Farm,” says Brandon Collins, local musician and employee at Rockin’ Hard Saloon. “The problem is bars run the risk of closing down when they focus on the music or charge a door charge.”
“Bands have come in here with electric violins and their own Fichus trees,” says O’Hara. “I have an inbox full of bands wanting to play here, some big and some small. We mix it up and bring in the best for the best price. We may have three totally different bands playing in one night.”
“We live at the beach. The tide changes four times a day. For some reason, the people here aren’t synchronized with that,” says Moore. “We’re responsible for getting out there and creating this scene.”
We live at the beach. The tide changes four times a day. For some reason, the people here aren’t synchronized with that. We’re responsible for getting out there and creating this scene.
That’s not to say there aren’t some obstacles in the way.
Organizations like Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) were designed decades ago to represent songwriters and music publishers in negotiating licensing deals with thousands of radio stations and live venues playing music for the public. Combined, they collect billions of dollars each year in licensing fees.
Recently, the Justice Department looked into both organizations for non-transparent operations and unbalanced licensing agreements.
On the bar side of this are bands playing cover songs. BMI and ASCAP set out to charge fees to bar owners for the use of their artists’ music. This should help out venues booking bands playing original music.
“BMI’s head is in the wrong place when it comes to art,” says Collins. “There should be freedom in live music. They have people come to town and scout out bars, just to charge bar owners if a live band does a cover song, even if an original band works a cover song into their set. It’s just wrong.”
Then there’s the ever-present “metal show” issue.
“Ten years ago, metal bands came into venues, and fans might get out of hand and bust up the clubs,” says Sutton. “I want to build a great relationship with these clubs. I don’t want to break any ties so I have guys in the crowd to secure these venues. We should never take local shows for granted”
“I know it’s hard for bars, but where are the Limelight and Sound Hole and all those great bars that used to play great music?” asks O’Hara. “They’re gone. The scene doesn’t support itself.”
I know it’s hard for bars, but where are the Limelight and Sound Hole and all those great bars that used to play great music? They’re gone. The scene doesn’t support itself.
“You have to build a scene with respect,” says Moore. “I’ve seen bands demand more money or free drinks and food, and they end up playing to 10 of their friends, or the crowds they do bring in might cause trouble.”
“I’m surprised we’re still here,” says O’Hara. “We love when the metal bands play, but we don’t like to charge a cover charge, and metal bands bring in young crowds who drink water. We still need to make money that’s why we appreciate the musicians out there tapping away on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to promote their shows.”
“No one knows a lot of the bands that play at Rockin’ Hard Saloon,” says Grant. “Next thing you know, they’re touring nationally”
It appears the veterans of the old scene are working hand-in-hand to build up the new scene, giving tough as nails advice.
“Rockin’ Hard Saloon has been great to me, and one of my favorite places to play in this town is The Barrel Bar because we’re one of the only original bands that play there,” says Moore. “People can make excuses for bars and entertainment agencies not booking them, or they can be badasses and create their own thing.”
“I’m a realist,” says Collins. “Things change. There are a lot of talented bands in the scene today, maybe 25 of them. Back in the day, there were 80, but they started touring or broke up or moved away.”
“You have to be passionate,” says Grant. “Passion keeps it interesting and new. Passion brings the fans.”
“Back in the day, every musician wanted to put their hands in. Then they found out there was nothing in there,” says Collins. “But it was great to see this amalgam of great bands playing great little clubs, all kinds of different genres jamming together. It can get back to that with support.”
The ideal situation is when a crowd grows with a bar. Bars and bands need to start off simple, don’t do it to make big money, do it for the experience. The best way to grow a seed is plant it deep down and in the dark, keep watering it and it’ll reach for the light.
“I was in the best/worst local band ever, XS Baggage. I know what it’s like to build a crowd,” says O’Hara. “I’m a huge fan of local bands creating their own music, getting better over time and building a crowd.”
“No matter where you are you have to fight the variables. We’re too far from Myrtle Beach. We’re too near the Marshwalk. It’s eat or be eaten. You have to stay consistent, engage the locals in your community, don’t give yourself a bad reputation,” says Collins. “The most accurate quote I’ve ever heard about the music business comes from Hunter S. Thompson – ‘It’s a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs…There’s also a negative side.’”
“The ideal situation is when a crowd grows with a bar,” says Moore. “Bars and bands need to start off simple, don’t do it to make big money, do it for the experience. The best way to grow a seed is plant it deep down and in the dark, keep watering it and it’ll reach for the light.”