Scratch the surface of any music town and you’re bound to find an unassuming local bar hosting a late night jam session for the area musicians to unwind or try out new material. The Myrtle Beach area - while not necessarily on the radar of music cities such as Nashville, L.A., New York or even Athens, Ga. - is still no exception. As a bustling tourist area full of theaters, restaurants and bars that employ a plethora of pickers, singers, beat-makers, horn players and the like, the Grand Strand is home to a talented pool of musicians from many walks of life.
This is Weekly Surge’s comprehensive guide to the hottest jams and most diverse open mike nights up and down the Strand. Ranging from stripped down acoustic nights to full blown electric throw-downs, there is an abundance of exciting music occurring below the radar nearly every night of the week. With venues from Murrells Inlet to the Little River area opening their stages you are certain to find exciting music nearby and with no cover charge.
The area jams each have a different vibe and character appropriate to the specific venue. Volume levels, equipment and various other factors play a role in the personality of the area jams.
Places such as the Fresh Brewed Coffee House in downtown Myrtle Beach provide an intimate singer-songwriter-oriented setting while the full band set up at Pine Lakes Tavern sets the stage for inspired electric jamming. The spontaneous environment is a great place to see familiar tunes reinvented and new songs born on the spot.
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Let’s take it day by day
•Bourbon Street Acoustic Jam
The Monday night acoustic jam at Bourbon Street has been steadily gaining popularity since its inception at the end of summer. Hosted by yours truly, Jeff Thomas, and BJ Craven (formerly of Ten Toes Up), the Monday stage is ideal for solos, duos and acoustic-based ensembles. A high quality P.A., multiple acoustic guitar rigs, vocal microphones and mandolin can be found there each Monday. Bring your own acoustic stringed instruments or even brass or woodwind instruments. All styles welcome from Indie Folk and Americana to Bluegrass and Gypsy Jazz. The Monday special, $3 Fireballs only add to the fun. The Acoustic Jam runs 9 p.m.-close. A mostly casual affair, Bourbon Street doesn't have a formal sign up sheet. Just introduce yourself to the hosts and you're welcome to jam or play solo if you like. Bourbon Street is located at 5307 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach and you can find it on Facebook or at www.bourbonstreetmb.com for the latest events and specials.
One of the busiest nights of the jam week is Tuesday. As most musicians find their work week centered on the weekends, Tuesday has become a night for area players to get out and let off steam. A number of exciting jams and open mikes can be found around town.
•Angie Capone’s Open Jam at The Tavrne
A long-time fixture in the Myrtle Beach area music scene, Capone hosts an open jam each Tuesday at The Tavrne in downtown Myrtle Beach on Broadway. A relaxed neighborhood bar with dark wood and good beer prices, The Tavrne is a casual affair with a wide assortment of players mixing it up. Capone provides the P.A., small drum kit and bass rig. Electric guitarists are encouraged to bring their own amps if possible. Having run numerous open mikes around town, Capone does a great job of making sure all players get their fair stage time. The open jam starts at 9 p.m. every Tuesday. Sign-up sheet is provided starting at 8:30 p.m. The Tavrne is located at 531 Broadway, Myrtle Beach.
•Pine Lakes Tavern Full Band Open Jam
One of the longest running and very best jams in the area, the Pine Lakes Tavern Full Band Jam has been rocking the neighborhood for almost five years now. Rising from the ashes of the infamous Stool Pigeons jam at Broadway at Broadway at the Beach, the PLT jam is largely helmed by Kevin Shiels and Jeff Watson who were part of that powerhouse band before Stool Pigeons closed. Rounding out the house band now is an extremely versatile rhythm section comprised of bassist Chip Harrelson and drummer Robert Brennan.
The house band provides a full PA, drum kit and bass rigs as well as microphones and guitars. Preferably bring your own guitar, but you may never play through a better guitar rig than lead guitarist Watson’s. A disciple of good tone, Watson will help you dial your sound in through his all-tube amp and array of effects pedals.
Starting around 9 p.m. every Tuesday, you can witness a huge variety of music as the band is one of the most flexible around. The sign-up sheet hits the table at 8:30 p.m., while the house band sound checks. It’s not uncommon to hear ‘80s classics, deep reggae, fusion jazz or twangy alt-rock on any given Tuesday. A friendly and music-oriented staff make this a great experience all the way round. Pine Lakes Tavern is located at 5201 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach; check it out on Facebook or at www.pinelakestavern.com for the most up-to-date information.
•Chris King’s Singer/Songwriter Night
King, of the local retro twang band Union 706, hosts a singer/songwriter night on the last Tuesday of each month at Island Bar in Surfside Beach. Modeled after a Nashville listening room or Texas songwriter’s night, this is an ideal setting for one man (or woman) to tell a story with three chords and the truth. Expect a variety of original and cover songs in the vein of Ray La Montagne and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
At Island Bar, you will find a spectrum of craft beers and colorful characters. Island Bar is located at 2272 Glenns Bay Road, Surfside Beach. Up-to-date specials and events can also be found on the bar’s Facebook page.
•Aftercare Café Open Mike/Jam
Aftercare Café, located in Myrtle Beach’s tattoo district at 704 Seaboard Street, was opened nearly a year ago by partners from Elite Ink and Elite Piercing. Many of their artists and clients were seeking a fresh alternative to the abundance of fast food in the area. A creative and wide ranging menu offers something to suit various tastes.
We spoke with the owners who have been very pleased with the response to their Wednesday night open mike, which features $1 PBR and half-price appetizers from 8-11 p.m. The format here is purely democratic as there is no set host or sign up sheet. Instead performers are encouraged to either collaborate or support one other as they wait their turn.
A small stage in the front boasts a P.A. system, small electric guitar set up and electric drum set on premise. The vibe I got was anything is welcome from garage rock to hip hop. Ping Pong and Horseshoes provide even more entertainment on the newly renovated back deck. The full menu is available on Facebook or at www.aftercarecafe.com.
•Fat Cat Café Open Mike in Carolina Forest
The recently opened Fat Cat Café in Carolina Forest runs an open mike on Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. Fat Cat Café provides an alcohol-free venue with a wide variety of coffee, hot tea and fresh fruit smoothies. Freshly-made sandwiches and salads are also on the menu.
The open mike is conducted by a group of students introduced only as Quinn, Jarrett and Jimmy. A small P.A. is provided and there were various guitars placed around the comfortably furnished café. A true coffeehouse experience, Fat Cat Café encourages music, poetry, spoken word and even sketch comedy on Wednesdays. Sign-up starts at 6:30 p.m., performances begin at 7 p.m.
The venue has also started hosting independent rock shows on Saturdays at 9 p.m. for the all-ages crowd (small cover charge) with a great response in the first two weeks. Fat Cat Café is located in Carolina Forest at 2070 Oakheart Road in the Forest Square Shopping Center. Find more info about Fat Cat Cafe on Facebook as well Twitter: @FatCatCafe.
•Fresh Brewed Open Mike
One of the most successful and well run open mike nights in town is the Fresh Brewed Coffeehouse Open Mike developed by local songwriter Brian Roessler. In its fifth continuous year at Fresh Brewed, the Thursday night open mike is one of the most popular and diverse around. The separate listening room features a stage with professional sound and lighting along with ample seating, although it often becomes standing room only. Sign up begins at 7 p.m., performances at 8 p.m.
When the list began to grow beyond 20 performers, Roessler devised a genius lottery type system where acts were chosen randomly out of a box to ensure that the same early acts weren’t repeated every week. Also due to the large number of acts, the Fresh Brewed Open Mike is very business-like in terms of regulating stage time and swift transitions between acts.
Songwriters, poets, comedians and topical speakers are each given full and equal attention and any crowd noise above a hushed whisper will be addressed directly. This is a listening room full of artists who take their craft seriously and also one of the most supportive and open-minded crowds in town. A separate common area in the front coffee shop provides a more relaxed and conversational atmosphere.
This is mostly a quiet affair at Fresh Brewed and obviously not suited for drums or loud guitar amps, a refreshing alternative to conventional rock settings. Due to an increasingly demanding schedule of projects, Roessler has passed the reigns of the Fresh Brewed Open Mike to some of his longtime regulars, but is often there out of support and camaraderie. A true asset to the arts community, Roessler has cultivated a vibrant and stable night for younger artists or those who happen to fall outside the mainstream. Fresh Brewed Coffee House is at 933 Broadway St., Myrtle Beach and the Web site is http://freshbrewedch.com.
•Tim Allen’s Blues Jam at Beer 30 Bar and Grill
Located in Surfside Beach, Beer 30 Bar and Grill was the site of Texas bluesman Tim Allen’s weekly open jam for much of the year. Unfortunately, as this article was being put together, the Friday jam has been put on hiatus until further notice. Tim Allen’s Bluestime served as the house band providing a professional PA and full band set up for the jammers. Keep an eye out for Allen’s blues jam to come back or possibly relocate to another venue on the South End.
Typically, open mikes and jams are rarely found on Fridays or Saturdays for two reasons: 1. All the pro players in town are busy trying to earn a few bucks and 2. The venues in town reserve their stages for acts that are well-known and proven entertainers.
This is not a bad thing. It’s a smart thing. You should jam with a buddy at home, work on recording or, better yet, go out and see some live acts in town and support the scene on Saturday nights.
•Jay’s in Little River Blues Jam
Though Sunday seems an unlikely night for a jam in most towns, the Sunday night blues jam at Jay’s in Little River is one of the longest running. Hosted by Jimmy Brown and Michael Stallings, The Jay’s Blues Jam has run continuously for more than 11 years. A full band of casual acquaintances and experienced road vets interchange playing a mix of classic and obscure blues tunesproperly. This is a place to play Albert King and Freddie King, attempting to play something like Kings of Leon will probably result in your being asked to leave. Jay’s Jam starts at 9 p.m. and is a great opportunity to sit back and appreciate the playing of men (and women) who have spent decades honing their blues mojo.
Jeff Thomas is a local guitarist and solo performer who has spent more than a few nights jamming on stages all over town.