Monday, June 30, 2014

Beautiful Charleston Harbor--See It From Land, See It From The Water

Like the ocean tides, history has flowed in and out of Charleston Harbor since its inception. An inlet formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, it was the perfect location to start a colony and establish what has become the charming and hospitable city of Charleston. From Oyster Point on the peninsula to Fort Sumter at the entrance and back, its coastline offers roughly 10 miles of scenic beauty and rich history.

Boasting the deepest water in the southeast region, huge ocean going container vessels enter the harbor on a daily basis--one of the busiest ports on the east coast. You will also on occasion see the cruise ship Carnival Fantasy arriving and departing year-round bound for the Bahamas and back. Tour boats from Charleston Harbor Tours and Spirit Line Cruises criss-cross the waters every day carrying locals and visitors on narrative tours around the harbor past 75 different landmarks and points of interests. Two of the points of interest connected to Charleston Harbor are my favorite places to hang out--Patriots Point and Shem Creek.

On the edge of the harbor, Patriots Point is the place for spectacular views. The Charleston Harbor Resort hosts a beach party every Friday from April to July. You can kick off whatever foot wear you are wearing and sink your toes into its soft, cool sand while listening to the tunes of local bands--one of the top ten on my list of things to do. Connected to the beach, a long walking pier provides you with a great view of the whole harbor while its balmy breezes wash over you with a splash of salt water scent. Nearby, the Fish House Restaurant overlooks the marina where the Yorktown is permanently moored and the Ravenel Bridge towers over the Cooper River. Spiritline Cruises dock on the Point as well.


Shem Creek is a restaurant/bar mecca with a gallimaufry of warm weather activity. Historically a safe haven for a fleet of shrimp trawlers to unload their catch and mend their nets, it is also a docking and launch point for pleasure craft of all sizes from cabin cruisers to kayaks. The waterfront bars at Water's Edge, Red's Ice House, Vickery's and RB's are popular gathering places for watersport enthusiasts to meet and greet. Also great for picture taking and for viewing the Charleston sunset. For me, the lazy waters of the creek is the perfect place to dangle my feet and launch a paddleboard. With dolphin frequenting these waters along with an occasional manatee, you just may have a once in lifetime experience similar to mine.

I had just paddled past RB's and was in the area near Vickery's. Straight ahead from my position, I saw two dolphins seemingly moving in my direction. At a point of twenty feet from me, they submerged. I ceased paddling with hopes they would continue on their course. I waited and watched, watched and waited. Looking toward the water on the right side of my paddleboard, I saw the outline of the grey mammals just below the water's surface swimming to the edge of my board. The board rocked gently from the shifting waters. It was that precise moment I experienced an epiphany. We stared into each other's eyes, locked in a mutual gaze. Even though the exchange was brief and words were not spoken, I felt a connection was made in that rarest of moments--unfortunately, to quick for a picture. It was surreal. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Shem Creek is also where the Palmetto Breeze docks. Built in Charleston, it is the largest capacity sailing catamaran north of Ft. Lauderdale with room for more than 100 crew and passengers. It features a spacious wooden deck with covered seating by the "barefoot" bar. You will find two bathrooms below, and speakers throughout. Dolphin Sails, Pirate Adventures, Historic Charleston Harbor Cruises, Sunset Sails are on its itinerary. All charters, public and private, include complimentary bottled water and soft drinks. Cash bar is open for scheduled public sails and some include free adult beverage.

Here are some ways to enjoy the beauty of historical Charleston Harbor:

FIREFLY Friday Charleston Harbor Dolphin Sunset Sail
July 11, 7:00pm-9:00pm
100 Church Street
Mt. Pleasant, SC
General admission $35.00 Children $20.00

Charleston Harbor Tours Presents a Murder Mystery Cruise
City Marina
17 Lockwood Dr, Charleston, SC 29401

Craft Brews Cruise
The Carolina Queen at the City Marina
17 Lockwood Dr.
Charleston, SC 29403

PALMETTO BREEZE Margarita Monday!
July 7, 2014 7:00 PM
100 Church Street
Mt. Pleasant, SC
General admission $35.00 Ladies $25.00

PALMETTO BREEZE "2 for Tuesday" Sunset Sail
July 8, 7:00 PM
100 Church Street
Mt. Pleasant, SC
General admission $35.00

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rum Stroll At Middleton Place--A Perfect Blend Of Spirits And Elegance

Shaken by a gentle breeze, droplets of water left by an earlier cloudburst fell from the leaves of the old oak tree. A table set underneath, next to the brick ruins of the original house, served rum punch to the gathering crowd. It was the second stop on the provided map. Soaking in the panorama of the plantations famous gardens on the Parterre, I sipped the tasty brew. Far off in the distance, directly over the river, a rainbow formed. Its brief appearance embellished the peacefulness of the beautiful setting. Delicately juggling my drink with my camera, I successfully made the tricky maneuver to get the shot.

The third stop was a tour of the house, which for the moment I bypassed and moved on to the fourth stop where rum balls and peanut brittle awaited--delightful. The exquisitely sultry affair was hot, humid and accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder. As the evening progressed through the various tables, there was not a dry shirt among us. Seeking out a breezy space was every now and then essential.

Throughout the plantation stable yard, food stations were setup featuring island-inspired treats and hors d’oeuvres created by Middleton's own Executive Chef Brandon Buck. At one table, fish cutters were being prepared and served. At another, conch fritters along with fried plantains were offered. The food complimented the rum offerings appealingly. The rum balls were my favorite of the treats.

The rest of the tables scattered about the grounds and stable yard featured rum tastings and specially prepared rum punches. At one table, costumed interpreters discussed the rum making process and the proper proportions of sour, sweet, strong and weak of punch preparation.

Charleston was represented by rum makers Highwire Distillery and Striped Pig Distillery. Each offered a tasting of their rum and a rum punch. It appeared the Striped Pig Distillery brought a mascot with them because there was a black and white striped pig wandering around the area of their table--just an assumption on my part, but seemed to be a reasonable observation. I didn't ask for confirmation.

Mount Gay Rum of Barbados, Pusser's of the British Virgin Islands and Total Wine were the three other distributors present. Of all the rum punches, Pusser's Signature Cocktail stood out for me with Highwire's blend a very close second.

The Middleton Place Rum Stroll was a celebration to the historic rum culture of the Lowcountry and the Middleton's connection to Barbados and the rum trade, which figured heavily in the Carolinas of the 18th century. It was reminiscent of the plantation's glory years. A time when rum figured heavily in the everyday life of the planter elite and was considered a staple of diet. When well-to-do Charlestonians strolled the elaborate gardens sipping on rum punches and munching on conch fritters and fish cutters.

The stroll for me was a step back in time paired with an introduction to Charleston's local rum distillers and distributors of today. It was a perfect blend of Middleton's natural and cultivated beauty with a celebratory salute to smooth tasting rum spirits. Cheers to a wonderful evening at the timeless Middleton Place.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summerville's Tour Guides Past And Present--Experiencing The Birthplace of Sweet Tea

In 1930's Summerville, tour guides stood by the town arch on Main Street near Highway 78 holding guide signs in their hands with hopes arriving tourists would acquire their services. The Town Hall was another gathering place for the young guides. All local boys, they would hop unto the running boards of the car when selected and direct the driver through the town past its beautiful residential gardens and key landmarks. Berlin G. Meyers was one of those young boys. He was paid a meager five dollars for his services, but as he fondly recalled, "A real fortune for a young boy in those days."

Like tea leaves steeping in a pot of sugary, hot water, Summerville has changed over the years and some of its older landmarks have gone the way of the Ford Model T. The town arch no longer graces Main Street, cars don't have running boards for young guides to stand on and if they did riding on it would probably be illegal, and the Town Hall of the 1930's has been replaced with the present one. But here is the resulting sweet tea of the story.

Tourism in Summerville is alive and growing. Through the tireless efforts of the Summerville Visitor Center and Summerville Dream in partnership with Lowcountry Loop Trolley, tours have been arranged for residents and visitors to drink in the highlights of our historic town deservedly designated the Birthplace of Sweet Tea and hear the numerous famous tales of its storied past from knowledgeable guides. The Summerville Dorchester Museum has been selected as the launch point. You can choose between three different tours scheduled throughout each month and they are as follows: Good Eats on the Sweet Tea Trail, Historic Summerville City Tour with Tea at the Museum, and Book Lovers’ Tea Tour-Timrod Library.

On the Good Eats on the Sweet Tea Trail, you will travel about historic Summerville on the Lowcountry Trolley enjoying complimentary tastes from a number of Summerville’s restaurants and gourmet shops. As an extra treat on your tris through town, Award-winning Storyteller Tim Lowry will regale you with stories of how local vegetables helped win the American Revolution, the social significance of souse meat, and the history of tea in the Birthplace of Sweet Tea. I have been on this tour. You can read my review It Was A Sweet-ride And Tea-rific Fun--"Summerville's Good Eats On The Sweet Tea Trail Tour."

The Historic Summerville City Tour with Tea at the Museum begins at the Summerville Dorchester Museum where you will get a firsthand look at Summerville rich history by way of exhibits, preserved photos and artifacts. Then you will hop on the trolley and be taken passed Summerville's lovingly preserved downtown, its many historic homes, and where sweet tea first started. Upon your return to the museum, you will be served a cup of freshly brewed tea and a sweet treat. It lasts 1 1/2 hours.

The 1 1/2 hour long Book Lovers’ Tea Tour also begins at the Summerville Dorchester Museum for a firsthand look at Summerville rich history and then takes for a ride on the trolley passed Summerville's lovingly preserved downtown, its many historic homes, and where sweet tea first started with one slightly obvious difference. You guest it, the tour makes a stop at the Timrod Library--one of only two membership libraries in South Carolina. It opened in 1915 and today houses a collection numbering in excess of 50,000 volumes including best sellers, reference materials, audio and video tapes, and a large number of South Carolina titles.

If you are a resident, whether young or old, reserve some time during the month to schedule a tour and learn about Summerville's unique place in the Lowcountry's southern culture and history. If you are a visitor, stop in the Summerville Visitor Center for information--while there grab a glass of sweet tea. Then, head to the Summerville Dorchester Museum on Doty Ave to hop onto the trolley to be taken down roads carved out by cows past summer homes built by Charleston's well-to-do. It's a tea-rific deal.

Schedule and tickets

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Music Farm--This Historically Significant Charleston Music Venue Hosted The Florida Georgia Line After Party

I stepped through the glass arched double doors off of Ann Street. My eyes were irresistibly drawn to the high vaulted ceiling. The network of steel girders glowed in the aura of the brilliant blue and magenta lights from below. Guitars, highlighted by spotlights, hung on several walls. Stage crews and sound techs were busy setting up equipment on the sprawling stage--one of the largest in Charleston.

The crowd for the moment was on the light side, but that would change. The Florida Georgia Line After Party was soon to begin. Chelsea Summers and her cajun playing sidekick, Robby Robins, were set to open the night's party for Charleston's Music Farm.


The Music Farm has played to packed crowds since 1991, when it first opened on East Bay Street in what was a previous nightclub. Headliners like the Stray Cats, The Samples, Phish, Meat Puppets, FIREHOSE, Chick Corea Elektric Band, The Dave Matthews Band, NRBQ, Warren Zevon, Widespread Panic, L7, and Social Distortion made appearances during its early days.

In 1992 it closed and in 1993 reopened at its present location between King Street and Meeting Street. The building historically was a storage depot for the South Carolina Railroad and is one of the oldest existing railroad structures in the U.S. David Byrne, Helmet, Run DMC, Phish, Meat Puppets, Pavement, Cracker, Counting Crows, Uncle Tupelo Hootie, Edwin, Blue Dogs, Jump, and the Archetypes have graced the present venue since.

It was my first visit. I was invited to shoot video for Chelsea's opening performance. North Carolina born Chris Lane was to follow. Chelsea Summers of Summerville is a very in-demand acoustic performer, often playing 3-4 shows a week all around the Charleston area. Chris, after his college baseball career ended, has played over 500 shows, opening up for Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, Eli Young Band, Chris Young and Brantley Gilbert among others.

Chelsea has moved to the top of the Country charts in Charleston. She will be playing at the Awendaw Green on July 2nd at 7:30 pm. Bathed in the colorful, concert style stage lights of the Music Farm, she rocked the house.

The Music Farm is in an area of Charleston with a strong railroad history. Close-by on John Street is the Music Hall. It was built in 1849-50 as a passenger station called the Tower Depot. It was part of a larger complex called the Camden Depot. The nearby Charleston Museum on Meeting Street has become the home for the first locomotive built in the U.S. that ran out of Charleston, "Best Friend." It is in a glass enclosure across from the Music Hall. Around the corner is the ever changing and noisy Upper King Street, where you will find some of the best new restaurants and drinking holes in Charleston--perfect for hanging out at before heading over to the Music Farm.

So, if you are young or just feeling young and looking for a music venue wrapped in Charleston history, check out the Music Farm. With few tables to sit at, its bold acoustics, sprawling stage, center bar, and down front standing-room only dance floor are its main features. It is not a huge venue. It can easily get over crowded, which could present certain undesirable problems. It has its share of good and bad reviews. History buffs will appreciate the cultural significance of the building--something likely overlooked by most of its younger patrons with live music, partying and drinking on tap--its main reason for being.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Full Day In The Lowcountry--Summerville's "Sweet Tea Day" At The Toast And "The Party In The Park" In Mount Pleasant

Sometimes great things just happen randomly or to put another way, by chance. For me, Tuesday started out like any other day. My plans were to participate in Summerville's "Sweet Tea Day" celebrations early in the day and later attend the "Party in the Park" at Waterfront Park in Mt. Pleasant. No randomness there.

As part of the "Sweet Tea Day" celebration, restaurants throughout Summerville were offering free sweet tea to everyone along with selected house specials. Participating restaurants were West Farm Cafe and Market, Newks, Oscar's Place, Montreux Bar and Grill, Gilligan's, Cantina's Burgers Tacos and Beers, and Toast of Summerville. My plan was to have lunch at the Toast, which would make it my first visit.

Located on Old Trolley Rd, the Toast of Summerville is fast becoming one of town's more popular eateries. It is called the Toast of Summerville because there is also a Toast in Charleston known for its bottomless Mimosas and was hailed as a must-eat by the NY Times.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by the host, Zach Smith who, when not working at the Toast, is also a performer with the Flowertown Players and recently completed a successful run of "The Three Musketeers" as the character D'Artagnan." I was seated, handed the simple lunch menu, and shortly thereafter greeted by the table's server. She stated the specials and my decision was quick. I chose the Palmetto cheese hamburger topped with bacon and onion special with a side of fries and of course the bottomless free sweet tea.

During my visit, I got to converse with a few of the friendly staff. I learned Channel 2 News along with Summerville Dream's Janyce Hursey and Summerville Visitor Center representative Tina Zimmerman had just left the restaurant fifteen minutes before my arrival. They were asking patrons the question of the day, "How do you like your tea." Notably featured in the interview was the Sweet Tea Mojito making skills of Toast's charming and experienced bartender, Robin. My server, Vanessa, was helpful and willing to engage in small talk, which I consider an important quality in a server. The burger was surprisingly tasteful and after having my fill of sweet tea, which is the way I like it, my pleasant and relaxing visit at Toast came to an end.

The afternoon passed quickly and the evening weather was looking to be superb--no early evening storms on the horizon. A short trip from the baseball parking lot on the open-air trolley to Waterfront Park was rewarded with a stunning view of the Ravenel Bridge towering over the pier in the sun-drenched background. "Artist in Residence" for Awendaw Green, Danielle Howle, kicked-off the festivities and was playing on the raised stage. The sun was hot, so shade was highly sought after if having a good view of the stage wasn't a priority.

I had made arrangements earlier to meet some friends, so I immediately surveyed the crowd to find them, which turned out to be somewhat difficult. The action of the sprawling crowd fanning themselves with their complimentary fans to stay cool looked like sun flowers swaying back and forth in a gentle breeze. It was rather mesmerizing.

A pretty lady standing to my right side, with her cell phone in hand, casually mentioned to me she was looking for a client. Standing there with my cell phone in hand, waiting for a response to an inquiring message, it became profoundly obvious fate was telling us we had something uniquely in common. After waiting a short while without success, we decided to break off our search and spend the rest of the evening keeping each other company.


So, we listened to country-folk-rock duo, the Swon Brothers, play their brand of music, drank some Firefly mixes made from the distillery's Sweet Tea Vodkas and Moonshine brands, and took pictures. Top headliner, Eric Paslay, punctuated the concert under the waning sun singing his recent and most popular hits. With Firefly sold out, a final beer and a walk on the pier in the cooling bay breeze and setting sun was golden, but it didn't end there. The after party moved to Red's Ice House where under a near full moon we drank in the color-soaked waters of Shem Creek and a few brews to light-hearted conversation.

Yes, sometimes great things just happen by chance. From a serendipitous occurrence earlier in the evening, a new friendship was forged.

The June 17th lineup includes McKenna Andrews, Jana Kramer and Charlie Worsham.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charleston Paddler On Shem Creek--Great Options And Ideal Entry Point

Since the inspiration of standing on a surf board with a paddle in your hand stormed unto mainland United States from Hawaii, the lazy tidal waters of Shem Creek have become a mecca of SUPers resulting in a cash windfall for watersport renters, and if it were not for an advertisement I heard on the radio featuring a floating hot dog restaurant called Hot Diggity Dogs, I would not have learned about Charleston Paddler.

After having Googled Charleston Paddler's location before leaving, upon arrival at Shem Creek I still wasn't sure where to find them. After making a second pass by the marina on Mill street, I stopped and asked a couple of young men carrying surf boards near the creek where to find it. They pointed to a building on my left and said, "This is it." A small sign on the fence marked the spot. "Can I help you?" one of them asked. It turned out one of them was the proprietor. I parked my truck and returned to the small, green office decorated with paintings and advertisements.

I introduced myself, we exchanged cards, some interest driven chit-chat and talked over the rental particulars. Harry, a guide and the day's proprietor, was engaging, very helpful, and willing to please. I was interested in the two hour, self guided package for $29. I was offered a waterproof phone carrier and a frozen bottle of water, which I greatly appreciated. The temperature was in the 90's and the early afternoon sun would no doubt be intense on the water.

My board was prepared, no adjustments needed on the paddle and I was ready to go. It was an ideal spot to put in. The only minor draw back was sharing the space with the once-in-a-while boater entering and exiting on the ramp. I boarded and pushed off into the warm, meandering current of Shem Creek. About two minutes into my excursion, I received my first pleasant surprise. A large gray, lumbering object rose out of the water just three feet away from me. The flat, paddle-shaped tail that followed gave away its identity. It was one of Shem Creek's more bashful inhabitants, the manatee. Within a matter of seconds, it disappeared into the murky waters. A Kodak moment missed. I continued my trek with plans of paddling to Crab Bank Island.

As I approached and passed the Coleman Blvd bridge, the salt laced breeze began to increase in intensity. The challenge would not be dealing with the choppy wakes created by the many boats cruising in and out of Shem Creek because the boat traffic in front of the restaurants was light. The challenge would be fighting the strong breeze blowing in from Charleston Bay.

I pulled up to the dock along the boardwalk and removed my camera from the waterproof pouch. I took pictures of the restaurants and shrimp boats and talked awhile with a couple nearby enjoying the view. I saw numerous fellow paddleboarders, a few groups of kayakers and plenty of playful dolphin.

I never made into Charleston Bay and Crab Bank Island. The waves rolling in at the mouth of the creek were more ideal for surfing and battling the strong bay breeze would have resulted in a fierce workout and a possible plunge into the salty, Charleston waters. That's just the way it is sometimes. I decided to stay in the creek and leisurely enjoy the many beautiful sights along the piers of the moored shrimp boats and weather-worn restaurant docks.

The paddle back was a breeze since I now had it at my back. With the Coleman Blvd bridge behind me, I passed more paddleboarders, some with their dogs sitting on the front of their boards. I didn't see any dolphin in this part of Shem Creek. My guess is they do not venture beyond the bridge. I did see smaller species of fish leap out of the water into the air along the grassy edges on my way to Charleston Paddler's entry point, completing my two hour rental.

When it comes to looking for a place to paddleboard, you can not do any better than the historic and trendy Shem Creek waterway. Its meandering tidal currents are easy to navigate and on calmer days offers a beautiful panoramic view of Charleston Harbor from Crab Bank Island. The collection of wildlife and salt water inhabitants you encounter are captivating.

When looking for rentals, Charleston Paddler is an ideal option considering it is located away from the sometime hectic and crowded waters of Shem Creek's restaurant row, but close enough to take it all in via a diverse offering of lessons and tours at competitive prices. Charleston Paddler also boasts a knowledgeable staff of homegrown fishing guides who guarantee you will catch red fish, speckled-trout and whatever else or your money back--just ask for Harry Gilmore.

Charleston Paddler located 529 Mill Street. Cell: 843-813-0655. Shop: 843-469-4323

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Awendaw Green Barn Jams--An Offbeat Music Venue Slightly North Of Charleston

North to south and places in between, the Charleston Lowcountry is blessed throughout the year with a diverse collection of outdoor music venues. You can soothe your fatigued feet in the cool sands of the picturesque Charleston Harbor Resort beach while listening to the jams of a local band with the city of Charleston as a backdrop at the Party at the Point--tops on my list. Travel south to John's Island and unwind on the grassy village green of Freshfield Village while sipping on a glass of sweet tea and grooving to one of its scheduled musical attractions.

Fifteen miles north of Charleston, tucked away in the oak trees of the Seewee Outpost just a stones throw from Highway 17 in the unpretentious and quiet community of Awendaw, sits one of Charleston's more offbeat music venues--not meant to be a pun. Before I transition to the finer points related to this green space touting a bohemian atmosphere, here are a few facts about its host, Awendaw.

Though not widely known by tourists, Awendaw is a cornucopia of wildlife and natural coastal beauty. Named by the Seewee Indians, it resides at the gates of the Francis Marion National Forest and dockside to one of the countries most outstanding wildlife preserves, the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Blackwater creeks, barrier islands, salt marshes, intricate coastal waterways, fresh and brackish water impoundments and maritime forests are some of its amenities.

In the early days of the New World, Awendaws nearby Bulls Island was a stepping stone to the first European settlement in South Carolina. Settlers landed on Bull's Island to replenish their stocks of wood, water, and food before proceeding further south to what is now the city of Charleston. Awendaw itself became the home of 52 men, woman and children known as the Wappetaw settlers--Wappetaw means "sweet water" and was an early name for Awendaw. In the summer of 1696, this group left Salem, Massachusetts to escape the insane madness associated with the Salem Witch Trials.

On this Sunday, the 25th of May, it was my first visit to the unconventional Awendaw Green where a tin-roofed, pine-paneled barn serves as a stage and the surrounding green space the auditorium. Musicians and bands from around the Lowcountry and a few outsiders were gathered to compete for spots at another outdoor concert venue. Headlined as the Party in the Park and hosted by WEZL, it is held at the Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. Three bands would be chosen from among the group to open for Eric Paslay and the Swon Brothers on June 10th. I was there in support of Chelsea Summers--currently #1 on the Country Charts in Charleston. Chelsea Summers will be performing at Awendaw Green Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 8:00 pm.

A little green tractor sitting on one corner of the barn roof was an apt reminder this was a Barn Jam. There were a few benches on the perimeter of the stage and rows of chairs lined up in front of the stage, but for a more comfortable recline, bring your own chair and sit anywhere you want under the many oak trees.

Food and refreshments were available. Wood fired pizza, wine, beer and other typical barbecued foods. Pets on a leash were permitted. Our group was accompanied by Bowser--the beloved pet of the Summers family. All ages are welcome and it is always a family friendly occasion. For a break from the music, a few diversions were available such as a corn hole game and child friendly tree swings. A $5 donation gets you through the gate. The whole affair, by my estimates, had the feel of camping minus the tent.

Although this was a special Sunday event, Awendaw Green Barn Jams run from 6-10 pm every Wednesday night of the year and features a diverse assembly of music from around the Lowcountry and parts unknown. Pack up your portable outdoor chairs and get your feet dirty.