When Charles Carmody jumped in as the general manager at the Charleston Music Hall in 2012, he brought an impressive sense of vigor and urgency to the historic theater, booking a variety of local programming and visiting acts, from comedy and spoken-word to rock bands and variety shows.
If you go
What: The Summer Harvest featuring Marcus Amaker and Quentin Baxter (Thursday), Michael Flynn (Friday) and The Tarlatans with Steven Fiore and Volcanoes in the Kitchen (Saturday)
When: Thursday-Saturday, doors open at 7 p.m. with shows starting at 8 p.m. each night
Where: Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.
For more info: http://charlestonmusichall.com
The Music Hall also quickly became a hot spot for local acts aiming to celebrate album release shows and farewell sets in style. Artists like Steven Fiore, Crowfield, Elise Testone, Luke Cunningham, the Explorer's Club, Sol Driven Train and Shovels & Rope have all delivered memorable performances from the Music Hall stage.
Carmody and his team at the Music Hall are going full-throttle this summer with big concerts and special events. This week, the venue will host The Summer Harvest, a weekend celebration of local art and music. The three-night series feature three album releases by local acts.
"We love hosting local musicians, as we want to be active members in the community and continue supporting and nurturing the local music scene," says Carmody. "I've been thinking for a long time that Charleston needs a downtown music festival. I thought an end-of-the-summer kind of multiple-nights thing would work well. This fell together nicely."
On Thursday, a poetry and music showcase hits the stage with featured poet Marcus Amaker. He and drummer Quentin Baxter have a new studio album on hand titled "A New Foundation."
Local songwriter and bandleader Michael Flynn (of Slow Runner) hits the stage Friday with special guests in celebration of his new solo album, "Face in the Cloud."
Carolina rock band The Tarlatans will celebrate the release of a new studio album "Good Luck" on Saturday.
"The idea for putting The Tarlatans on the stage for their CD release show came up, then we were in touch with Marcus Amaker about his album with Quentin and their poetry-based show," Carmody says. "Then Michael Flynn was the final piece."
Carmody laughs about the name of the three-night event. "It's a 'Summer Harvest,' like we're harvesting the talent of local musicians and artists," he says. "It's funny, but there is a great scene with some terrific talent here. The acts from night to night don't sound alike, and that's what I like most about it. I think this can really become an annual thing if musicians and artists get behind it ... sort of an annual album release blowout event. Maybe we could get multiple venues and out-of-town acts involved."
Poetry in motion
Thursday's event is the Music Hall's first-ever poetry show and will feature a diverse lineup of modern poets, spoken-word artists and musicians. Billed as the Word Perfect Poetry Show, the presentation will be hosted by Marcus Amaker, who returns to the Music Hall stage after last year's Pecha Kucha 20.
Other acts on the bill include Courtnay the Poet, Matthew Foley, Derek Berry, Carlos Johnson, Joey Tucker, Laura Cailtin Cox, and the duo of Nick Jenkins & Sara Peck. Many of the artists have performed and collaborated at various poetry slams, readings and jam sessions at small clubs, theaters, campus venues and cafes around the Lowcountry.
"The poetry scene in Charleston exists for sure, but it's rarely lauded," Carmody says. "A lot of experimental, cool stuff is out there. Some of the performers at the Word Perfect Poetry Show will incorporate multimedia aspects, like film and audio effects. Quentin Baxter will likely have some digital looping effects along with his drumming for Marcus Amaker's set."
An additional artistic feature at the Music Hall this week is the Local Visual Art Exhibition in the upstairs and downstairs lobbies, with visual art by locals such as Dana Thieringer, Sophie Treppendahl, Anna Mossman, Mark Avery, and special guests Mr. Bonetangles and Mr. Jenkins.
"We're turning the entire lobby into an art gallery, which is very exciting," says Carmody. "We'll have works by very different artists on hand, plus puppet shows and unique collaborations. We'll also have a local music merch table, which will become a permanent thing. We'll always have 20 to 30 local albums for sale on CD and vinyl formats."
Flynn flies solo
Last summer, longtime Charleston musician and songwriter Michael Flynn announced the semi-official breakup of his original pop/rock project Slow Runner. Flynn had been running the musical project with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaler and guests since 2003.
Slow Runner had only occasionally performed shows around town in recent years, but local fans didn't expect a sudden halt.
For Flynn, the tasks of recording and performing were becoming stressful and tedious.
"It was beginning to feel more like an obligation than an inspiration," he says. "We hadn't put out a record since 2011 ("Damage Points"), and we started feeling like we had to put something out.
"With a musical career, it's so momentum-based where you're constantly building on the last thing you did, and you feel like you have to keep yourself fresh in people's minds," Flynn adds.
After Slow Runner's farewell show at the Music Hall last fall, Flynn began finalizing tracks and mixes for his new solo collection, "Face in the Cloud." The new recordings reflect Flynn's stylistic detour from straightforward rock/pop sound toward a more electronic approach. The album's dynamic and eerily sultry lead single "Holy Ghost" bounces along with funky synth rhythms and bleepy keyboard sounds with Flynn's soulful falsetto and whispery croon lilting over the top.
"It has an organic heart, and sometimes it works ... sometimes it's a total train wreck," says Dan McCurry of Hearts & Plugs, the local indie record label that's releasing Flynn's new stuff this week.
"At this point, we needed to rebel against ourselves a little bit," Flynn says of his Slow Runner project. "It's kind of like how each one of our albums was a rebellion against the previous one. I needed to avoid stagnation and try new things."
The Tarlatans offer 'Good Luck'
Among the fresh faces in town just two years ago were guitar-based quartet The Tarlatans, a cheerful, rookie Americana/twang-rock combo from Greenville. It didn't take long for their country-tinged originals and pop sensibilities to start catching on with local audiences.
This year, lead singer/guitarist Taylor McCleskey, lead guitarist Ryan Williams, bassist Eric Mixon and drummer Blake Shorter have established themselves as a mature, confident, finely tuned troupe with a rock-solid new mini album on their hands.
The band will celebrate the official release of the six-song collection "Good Luck" on Saturday evening at the Music Hall with support from pop/rock songsmith Steven Fiore and local indie band Volcanoes in the Kitchen.
Local musician and studio wiz Jay Clifford (of Jump, Little Children fame) signed on to produce "Good Luck" earlier this year. His expertise and guidance was greatly appreciated by the band.
"The recording process and experience was very natural and easy," says McCleskey, the group's main songwriter. "Things went very well, and that's mainly due to Jay. We had some solid songs, and he helped us choose the strongest ones from the main list. We all respect and like Jay so much that it was easy to trust what he suggested and said. His ideas made good sense for our sound."
The Tarlatans' previous studio effort resulted in a lo-fidelity, self-titled debut album. The band set up in a two-bedroom apartment with two microphones and a ProTools setup, winging it along the way.
"The making of our first album was far less formal, completely done at home. Our sessions at Charleston Sound and Hello Telescope were the first serious studio experiences we've had," McCleskey says. "It was fun, but we were stumbling through the dark back then. We were much better prepared this time around.
"It was great fun to see both sides: the professional atmosphere of Charleston Sound and the indie home studio feel of Hello Telescope," he adds. "Once we got the final mixes back, we realized it really was the record we'd always wanted to make. We're happy with how simple and warm the album sounds."
The radio-ready tunes on "Good Luck" hum with positive vibes, from the power-chord rockers to the harmony-laden, slower-moving ballads. Local and regional radio stations like the Bridge 105.5 FM have already lined up airplay.
McCleskey and his bandmates anticipate a busy and fruitful run through the late summer and fall.
"Everyone is doing really well, looking ahead to some big shows in town and around the region," he says. "We're all on the same page, getting along well and getting excited about the future of the band."
Quentin Baxter (left ) and Marcus Amaker×
“Face in the Cloud”×