Monday, December 30, 2013

Blue Dogs 25th Anniversary Show At The Charleston Music Hall Was A Doggone Good Show

The lively and diverse Upper King Street around the John Street area is a mecca of shops, restaurants, and bars. Last night, the outdoor temperature was perfect for taking a window gazing stroll or for doing some people watching at the outdoor venues of the local establishments, such as 39 Rue de Jean, Hall's Chophouse, Republic, and Joe Pastas, which were all standing room only. Everyone was having a howling good time pre-concert and then around 8:00 pm, the whole affair took the expected turn.

The Charleston Music Hall proceeded to go to the dogs - more appropriately, the Blue Dogs. It was a celebration of their 25th Anniversary Show and from the front doors to the backstage - where the real party was obviously taking place - it was a rockin' good time. They picked and sang to a sold out Hall with a 3 1/2 hour, non-stop parade of special guests including Radney Foster, Edwin McCain, Don Lotti, Danielle Howle, John Satterfield and the Archtypes to name a few, but that was just the 'Dog' treats.

Bobby Houck, acoustic guitarist and vocalist for the Blue Dogs, tossed out a 'Dog' biscuit when he lightheartedly proclaimed his long-time partner, standup bassist Hank Futch, had been cheating on him by his Occasional Milkshake collaboration with high-spirited guitarist Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish, who joined the group on stage. Hank and Mark along with Doug Jones and Gary Greene performed a couple of their songs and Mark did a duet with Danielle Howle of Firework Show.

To top off the highlights, the big 'Dog' bone came late in the second set when Bobby invited Charleston's favorite son, Darius Rucker, out from the backstage to sing the Blue Dogs hit song "Isabelle" and it was a free-for-all from there. Darius and the Blue Dogs next sang the Bob Dylan-Old Crow Medicine Show inspired song that has become the now famous Rucker version of "Wagon Wheel" from his "Lady Antebellum" album and the roof blew off the house.

Hootie and the Blowfish joined the pack and performed a couple of their hits including the song "Time". Radney Foster rejoined the group with a couple more songs. Daren Shumaker dazzled on the mandolin and David Stewart artfully played the guitar. The night was closed out with the whole gang of performers joining the Blue Dogs in a climaxing tribute to their Mama's with their "Make Your Mama Proud" song from their 2004 album "Halos and Good Buys". In the finale, there were so many musicians on stage Radney Foster couldn't find an available plug-in for his guitar. So, he did what all good musicians do - he improvised.

Everyone present, including yours truly,  had a doggone good time, but the continuous parade of honky-tonkers and bluegrass musicians gave fits to the stage hands that handled the assortment of guitars and mandolins with their array of plug-ins and foot pedals. Despite a couple of glitches, they handled the challenge superbly accompanied by a well orchestrated light show. It was well worth the $21.05.

The Charleston Music Hall, one of the oldest buildings on the block, was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century by the South Carolina Railroad, known historically as The Tower Depot. It was designed to resemble a Medieval castle and featured a three-story tower that was unfortunately destroyed in the Charleston Earthquake of 1886. The rest of the building sat vacant for sixty years, until 1995 when it was transformed into the intimate, first class performance space it is today.

"There is not a bad seat in the house," is an appropriate slogan. I can attest to that fact. My seat was in section H-REAR, Row 9, Seat 9, the bird's-eye view on the second level. I could still see the facial expressions of the performers.

Click on Charleston Music Hall for upcoming shows and performances. February 13th will be the Elise Testone Album Release Show. You can purchase tickets here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Charleston Rises High Despite History's Uncontrollable Forces

Charleston, like many cities meandering in the stream of time, has both joyously celebrated and tragically suffered through changes inflicted on it by forces beyond its control. Through the upheavals, the city has licked its wounds and rebounded to become what it is today, one of the most popular destinations in the nation to visit.

Time, the most unrelenting of the forces, mercilessly moves in only one direction and either you seize the moment and prepare for the next or you end up a "decaying American city", likened to a "poisoned ecosystem", doomed to becoming a ghost town. (No pun intended, Charleston lives off of its ghosts.) Joe Riley, mayor of Charleston, unflatteringly characterized the downtown district by those words, and then seized the moment. Charleston Place rose from a huge, sandy lot where a JC Penney once stood. The Holy City celebrated its rebirth.

On various occasions, Charleston has been tried and tested by the uncontrollable forces wielded by nature in form of earth, wind, and fire. An earthquake devastated the city on August 31, 1886 damaging 2,000 of its buildings. Three-quarters of the homes in the historic district sustained damage of varying degrees when Hurricane Hugo struck the city on September of 1989 causing over $2.8 billion in losses. Five major fires have been documented throughout its history, which occurred in 1740, 1778, 1796, 1838, and 1861.

Some city icons have been systematically dismantled. In recent years, residents watched as the two aged, stately bridges traversing the Cooper River gracefully met their planned demise and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge ascended in their place--the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It now stands in the Charleston skyline as a shining beacon of progressive evolution. In early spring, tens of thousands descend upon it for the Cooper River Bridge Run to tread their way into the very heart of Historic Charleston.

Other Charleston icons of the past are now only footnotes in history and few Charlestonians are around that can even recall where they once stood. They can only be learned about in places housing the city archives or photos floating around on the Internet, and only if you are specifically looking. The Charleston Hotel was one of these vanquished icons.

The 170-room Charleston Hotel proudly graced Meeting Street for over 120 years and was a cornerstone building near the Old Market area. Extending eastward 264 feet on Pinckney Street and 200 feet on Hayne Street, it was an imposing four stories high--the city's largest hotel. Made of stucco and brick, its architecture was antique with two large dining rooms and high ceilings throughout. A 75 by 80 foot open courtyard surrounded on three sides by wooden balconies was at its center.

I only happened to stumble upon it while searching through old pictures of Charleston. It carried the distinction of being counted among the first major buildings to be constructed in the Greek revival style in America by the renowned German architect, Karl Friedrich Reichert, known as the initiator and ultimately the most prolific builder of landmarks that would contribute to the character of the American South.

A compelling part of the Charleston Hotel's story revolves around a little known fact--there were two Charleston Hotels. The original Charleston Hotel went up in smoke along with a large section of the city’s Ansonborough neighborhood in the famous fire of 1838. It stood less than two years. The second rose from its ashes. It survived the Earthquake of 1886, but not unscathed. The center portion of the parapet of the hotel's block-long Corinthian colonnade had been hurdled to the sidewalk during the massive upheaval reportedly crushing two ornate gas lamps that flanked the entrance door. After surviving the earthquake, 74 years later it succumbed to time and had a date with the wrecking ball. Some of the wrought iron railings that were part of the old hotel's colonnade are rumored to be displayed at an office building three blocks south of the hotel's original sight. 200 Meeting Street was the hotel's address.

When you are downtown on Meeting Street and walking in the area of Hymans Restaurant, look across the street. The Bank of America building occupies the sacred ground where the Charleston Hotel previously stood 52 years ago. It was built in the early 1990's. After a protracted public debate, the developers were permitted to reclaim the historic height and scale but was not allowed to restore the original facade. The concrete colonnade on the modern building is a poor knockoff for the dramatic colonnade of the original hotel. It says little about its famous predecessor, which became the precursor, if not the icon, for tall, white columns in the American South.

While standing in the front of Hymans, close your eyes and do a "Somewhere in Time." Maybe, if you concentrate hard enough, upon opening your eyes you may find yourself in 1886 dressed in a hoop skirt or a gentleman's suit of the day, sipping on a mint julep and basking in the aura of Charleston's premier hotel of the day.(It certainly would help the transition--the mint julep that is.)

Pay attention to the date and the time. Check the newspaper of the day, the News and Courier. If it is August 30th, check into the Charleston Hotel--soak in the antiquity and ambience. Make sure you register for only a one night stay. If you reserve August 31st, at 9:50 pm you will be running out of a pitch-black hotel with the rest of the guests seeking to escape the toppling furniture and falling plaster. You will have just experienced the famous Great Charleston Earthquake, which jolted the Lowcountry like an alligator rolling its quarry.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Landmarks And Stories Of Summerville's Enchanted Past-A Visual Walk Part Two

"Summerville conjures up an image of a warm, small community, a place to live your leisure... Summerville says century old high beamed homes with wide porches and gleaming heart pine floors set along moseying byways. Her voice breathes tranquilly through regal pines and moss laden oaks. It gentles across the silky pedals of her renown trumpet-shaped blooms...Summerville speaks of beauty...Her heritage is proudly recollected by her people." I could not have penned it more eloquently than this quotation taken from the Sesquicentennial Edition of Summerville.

Most of Summerville's distinguished history like an exhaled breath of air has been scattered by the winds of time. Yet, to get an invigorating breath of Summerville's pastoral past one only has to go to the deeply rooted pines of Summerville. From their exhales of written and oral memoirs, life is infused into Summerville's narrative landscape. Add to these the carefully preserved images of past and present icons and the story clearly unfolds before you. The following is my second installment of the landmarks and stories yesterday and today of its collective record.

Guerin's Pharmacy was founded in 1871 by Dr. Henry C. Guerin after buying out Schwettman Drugstore and moving the business to South Main Street and Richardson Ave. The Dunnings later acquired the pharmacy in 1975. When they were remodeling the interior they discovered a white chalk message scrawled on a wall by Joe Guerin in an upstairs office. The message documented the tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Guerin's Pharmacy is the oldest operating pharmacy in South Carolina. Bring the family and order a float, milkshake, hot dog or lemonade from its fountain. They have South Carolina souvenirs, post cards, Yardley products, LorAnn oils, and the best candy counter in town. It is still owned by the Dunnings.

The first train station in Summerville was of Victorian style design with elaborate gingerbread trim. It stood at the north end of the Square. The station survived the Civil War and the earthquake of 1886, but was moved in the early 1900's to Ladson to make way for a larger station. Business commuters would arrive to the station by horses and carriages for their daily trips into Charleston. Charleston planters and their families would come from Charleston for their seasonal stays.

The last train station was sadly torn down in the 1960's. The train no longer stops to take commuters into Charleston or anywhere else. Only vacant space with trees remains. There are hopes that someday the train will return.

The Summerville Short would leave the train depot on the square and after a long whistle, stop at 'West End.' It was sometimes also called Hickory Hill. In the 1880's J.H. Averill, superintendent of the railroad, built a small stop at Hickory Street near the tracks. It would stop to pick up area businessmen. The train would then go a block and a half to the turntable to turn around and then steam towards downtown Charleston.

Before Averill, Henry T. Peake was head of the railroad after the Civil War. He lived at White Gables, which at that time backed up to the tracks. He would have the train stop at his back gate to take him to his office in Charleston.

Like the train station, the stop at 'West End' is gone.

Squirrel Inn was built by Raven and Helen Lewis and opened around 1912. In 1941, the Sutter's bought the Inn. In 1957, it was nominated one of the top forty rural inns in the nation. Specialties of the house were continental cuisine and its well stocked wine cellar. One of Eugene Sutter's hobbies was raising camellias. Author Paul Hyde Bonner was a winter guest at the Inn and used it in one of his best selling novels, "Llewellyn Jones", referred to in the book as the Redbird Inn.

The Squirrel Inn closed its doors in 1970. It was converted into condominiums.

Middleton Place was established in 1741. Four generations of Middleton's occupied the estate. Days after the fall of Charleston in 1865, on February 22nd, the Main House and flanking buildings were ransacked and burned by a detachment of the 56th New York Regiment. The ground was strewn with books, paintings and other family treasures. William Middleton restored the South Flanker. What was left of the Main House and North Flanker toppled in the Earthquake of 1886.

The restored South Flanker survived and is a museum today. Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens visited by thousands.

In the early 1900's, the Arcade Theatre stood on Main Street across from Town Square. The triple-arched facade housed a long, arcade walkway that led to a 250-seat capacity building where silent films complete with violin and piano accompaniment were viewed. Around the early 1930's, Summerville went through a major reconstruction. The facade and many of the buildings in the east block adjacent to the Square were demolished.

The Arcade Theatre was located where Treasure Box Collections, Edible Arrangements, and Karate are today.

(Pictures taken from Images of America-Summerville by Jerry Crotty and Margaret Ann Michels, Porch Rocker Recollections, Summerville Sesquicentennial Edition, and City of Heroes by Richard N. Cote)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Plentiful Reasons For Seeing "Plaid Tidings" At The James F. Dean Theatre In Summerville

The high school harmony singing group called The Plaids are back from the land of the demised and made an appearance at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville. Decked out in their trademark plaid blazers and comber buns in the Flowertown Players presentation of Plaid Tidings, the quartet was full of the three E's - energy, enthusiasm, and eccentricity.

Plaid Tidings is a holiday musical revue written be Stuart Ross in 2001 shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11. The main purpose for writing the play was to lift the spirits of the people in the United States in the aftermath of those attacks.

It is the sequel to Forever Plaid where Frankie(Brandyn Williams), Jinx(L.D. Lewis), Smudge(Robert Venne), and Sparky(Brandon L. Joyner) while on their way to their first semiprofessional gig were killed instantly when their vehicle was broadsided by a school bus, but in a twist of fate are returned from the dead to perform the show they never got to perform while alive. In this sequel, they find themselves in the same situation.

The returned Plaids open by singing some of their old hits, but after realize they do not quite know why they have been returned. Smudge informs the audience one of their dreams was to perform a holiday special of their own. The four of them next break out with a medley of traditional holiday songs. The reason soon becomes clarified.

Sparky hears a ringing on stage and picks the object up. He asks one of the people in the audience what the strange, ringing object is, at which the lady informs him it is a phone. They listen to the voice who identifies itself as Rosemary Clooney calling to inform them that their mission is to spread a little harmony into a discordant world with some holiday cheer.

This is an audience participation musical with non-stop singing and playful shenanigans by the cast. The somewhat quirky foursome performed an entertaining musical skit with plungers as microphones and the audience expressed their approval with a resounding applause.

Brandyn Williams displayed his piano skills after the piano guy(David McLaughlin who by-the-way did a professional job at pounding out the tunes on the ivories) took an unexpected break and the whole group harmoniously rang the bells with the assistance of a young lady picked from the audience. Topping out the highlights was a Plaid Caribbean Christmas complete with bongos and palm trees and a fast-moving, prop-filled medley of Plaid-erized tunes including a version of "The Ed Sullivan Show" that will give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I sat close enough to see the melodious sweat beads of Brandon's expended energy, the noteworthy enthusiasm on Brandyn's smiling face, the eccentrically stuttering body language of Robert, and the 'tis the season green tongue of L.D. Lewis. The foursome put their whole hearts and departed souls into their performances. David Joyner made a brief appearance as Perry Como and Joe Gorman supplied the Voice.

So, take this advice from Frankie and the gang: Don't take your money and run to Venezuela, take your money and run to the James F. Dean Theatre sometime between now and December 22 to spend the evening celebrating the music of the season with The Plaids-tickets.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Take A Visual Walk Into Summerville's Enchanting Past-The Landmarks And The Stories

The Lake House is a 2006 romantic drama with unusual twists starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It is a film about two people who live in different time periods. They meet by way of letters left in a mailbox at a lake house they have both lived in at separate points in time. Architect Alex Wyler lives in 2004 and Doctor Kate Forster lives in 2006. They carry on correspondence by way of the mailbox and form a relationship. There is a point in the movie where Alex invites Kate to take a walking tour with him by way of a map he leaves in the mailbox to view his favorite architectural landmarks in Chicago.

This is what I invite you to do with me-take an imaginative, visual walking tour by way of images from the past and present for a glance at treasured landmarks of Summerville separated only by the passing of time. Possibly, we may unknowingly cross paths at the railroad station while attempting to recover a book left there years earlier - Persuasion.

Visitors were greeted by this overhead arch for over three decades in the early 1900's welcoming them to Summerville. The brick archway was near the intersection of N. Main St and Highway 78. It meant 'coming home' to travelers as well as residents. When leaving, the last thing you saw was the town's motto, "Let the Pine be Sacred."

This is what the intersection of N. Main St and Highway 78 look like today. The archway no longer exists, replaced with traffic lights.

Summerville's famous Azalea Park, home of the Flowertown Festival, was started in 1933 and completed in 1935. All the flowers planted in the park, 33,000 of them, came from George Segelken's Summerville Floral Nursery. Mr. Segelken was a pioneer in the propagation of azaleas.

Tourists flocked to the park. Bumper to bumper traffic lines on a Sunday afternoon were a common sight. They came because of the beauty, but also because azaleas were an uncommon sight and relatively unknown in South Carolina, except in Summerville. The park runs along S. Main Street.

The scene coming into downtown Summerville on Central Ave in the early 1900's. Tupper Pharmacy is on the right and Bishop's Grocery is in the center. Tupper Pharmacy was started in 1900 by Dr. George Tupper. The pharmacy carried a limited line of non-pharmaceuticals, such as candy, newspapers, and magazines. Pine Forest Inn visitors came to the pharmacy for the New York editions of the newspapers.

Today, Tupper Pharmacy is home to Marigolds and Bishop's Grocery is now the location of Ginger Snaps. The section of road known as Short Central is closed to cars and is a gathering place for Third Thursday festivities and visitors shopping locally owned small businesses.

Arriving and departing guests of the Pine Forest Inn passed through these decorative columns for forty years, beginning in 1891. The inn was world renown and visited by many celebrities, a showcase among Southern inns. It was advertised as being "situated on the outskirts of one of the prettiest villages in the Southland."

The columns are all that is left of the Pine Forest Inn. The final owner took what could be salvaged from the interior and demolished the structure. The preserved columns can be viewed near Linwood Dr. and President's Circle.

The Darlington Cocoa-Cola Bottling Plant opened in 1915. It was located on Cedar Street. Summervillians were captivated by the bottling process in the plant, especially the kids. About the Coke Plant's front windows, it was said there were "more nose prints than any other windows in town." Mrs. Salisbury, vice president for 14 years, was quoted by the Summerville Journal Scene on March 20,1987 as saying, "The children loved to come inside, watch for awhile, then we'd take them back and give them a free coke and some cookies."

The YMCA now occupies the location.

The old Town Hall was built in the early 1890's. The bell that hung in the bell tower was given to Summerville in 1893. The bell came from the Holy communion Church in Charleston, which became the Porter Military Academy or "The Arsenal." The bell rang in the new year, marked the opening and closing of business hours and was used as a fire alarm. There was a $200 fine for unauthorized ringing of the bell.

A popular story tells of a physician named Louis Miles ringing the bell to announce the birth of his daughter to the gathered crowd and gladly paying the fine.

Old Town Hall was torn down in the 1960's. Plans were drawn for the new Town Hall, but the location was not as of yet decided. Several sites were considered. The decision was made to keep it at the head of Town Square where it is today. The new Town hall was dedicated on November 14, 1969.

This is Town Square around 1920 looking from W. Richardson. The main train depot can be seen at the other end of the Square. It was an impressive 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. The Summerville Short ran back and forth to Charleston several times a day from the station.

The Arcade Theatre entrance on S. Main St, marked by a triple-arched facade, can be seen on the right side of the photo. Silent movies were shown at the theater.

This is Town Square today looking from the same location. The trees are much bigger and there is more landscaping. The train depot can no longer be seen at the other end-demolished in the 1960's, and the Arcade Theatre was torn down around the 1930's.

I hope you enjoyed our walk in time. This is the first installment. I will be sending the next shortly. Keep in expectation.

(Pictures taken from Images of America-Summerville by Jerry Crotty and Margaret Ann Michels, Porch Rocker Recollections, Summerville Sesquicentennial Edition.)