DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Why We Need SxSE

Posted in Music Stories by darielb on September 23, 2009
Rocker turned gospel artist Mike Farris after signing guitar for SxSE director Jeff Roberts. Myrtle Beach Train Depot, May 2008.

Rocker turned gospel artist Mike Farris after signing guitar for SxSE director Jeff Roberts. Myrtle Beach Train Depot, May 2008.

Let me tell you about South By Southeast, and why I think it’s so critical to the Carolinas, especially to its native Myrtle Beach.

The group was formed in 2003 by a bunch of music lovers who believed there was more to music than the Top 40. According to their mission statement, their goal is “to preserve and promote American music not usually heard in traditional venues.” Their mission is also “to provide assistance and support to local music education programs, with our goal being to offset some costs associated with the musical education of young people in our area. In this time of budget cuts and strangulation of funding for the arts, our goal is to help young people in their pursuit of the joys of music.”

Fastback to 2002. Bob O’Connor, local guitarist with the Mullets, a popular jam band in Myrtle Beach, had put together a house concert featuring acoustic guitar wizard Jack Lawrence, known for his flat pickin’ with Doc Watson. A group of 30 or 40 split the musician’s fee, brought along their own eats and were treated to a intimate concert – the kind of show music aficionados lust for. Among those attending were Jeff Roberts, Seth Funderburk and Sam Hannaford – the core founders of South By Southeast.

Jeff Roberts was the owner of the now defunct record store, Sounds Familiar. He later opened Sounds Better,  still one of the only independent record stores left in the area.  Funderburk at one time was Roberts’ store manager. Today he co-owns Sea Note Recording and manages local rockers Ten Toes Up. Hannaford was a businessman and an avid music fan. Nowadays he also plays percussion with the Chainsaws.

Within a year, this core group along with Mike Millsaps (Sweet Nell guitarist) put together their own show for about a dozen friends at the Aloha Hotel on N. Ocean Boulevard, which was owned by the Millsaps family. Jeff Roberts’ face lights up when he talks about it. “We had Lauren Ellis and Jill Block in that first concert … and they blew us away.”

Lauren Ellis’ husky voice and guitar playing could give Bonnie Raitt a run for her money. Jill Block is a  singer/songwriter. Both are top talents, yet neither are household names, and that’s a running theme for SxSE, one I’ve come to love.

The fledgling group would present additional concerts, complete with pot luck dinners, at the Royal Oak, now Spencer’z Pub, in Murrells Inlet and the New South Brewing Company in Myrtle Beach.

Today the tradition of top quality music in an intimate venue continues with almost all shows, which are called Music Feasts, at the landmark Myrtle Beach Train Depot.

“I love the intimate feel of the Train Depot,” says Roberts. “It feels right. Once the food, the free beer and wine are set up, it’s warm and friendly,  and the acoustics are really sweet. Seth has the sound down.”

The historic Train Depot, which was almost demolished several years ago, is now owned by the city of Myrtle Beach and has been home to most South By Southeast shows since 2004.

Performers have included singer/ songwriter Randall Bramblett and his band. They have to turn away folks whenever he comes to town. Another popular show was Carolina Chocolate Drops, the highly acclaimed African-American string band playing the rich tradition of Carolina piedmont music.

Rocker turned gospel artist Mike Farris gave a breathtaking show at the Depot. I know, I was there for it. Cat Mary is an experimental acoustic group, one most music fans wouldn’t get to hear, were it not for an organization like South By Southwest.

Add to this, just to name a few, stellar performances by Diesel, Nashville’s David Olney and the rockin’ jammin’ Jumper Cables aka Johnny Mac, Paul Tucker and Steve Kent

I wanted to know if any particular concerts stood out in Jeff’s mind, but I don’t recommend asking him that if you don’t have an hour or two.

“Well, Mike Farris … that was a magic night,” Jeff tells me, “… and Verlon Thompson had to be the most reactionary show I can think of … Chris Knight … Scott MIller … Hayes Carll, oh that was a great night.” [Hayes Carll’s recent video is “When I Find Jesus I’m Going To Kick His Ass,” due to the fact this his girlfriend did indeed find Jesus.]

I wanted to know how South By Southeast became so aligned with Americana music.

“I’ve always liked different kinds of music. The Americana thing happened in 1998 or 1999 because that’s when people started identifying themselves like that,” came the answer.

Jeff Roberts, who serves as the director for South By Southeast, has been involved in music his whole life. “I was born in Asheboro, N.C.” he says, “And moved to Myrtle Beach when I was three. In fact, we lived in a big white house in Hidden Village where the store is today.

“I was running to the dime store to buy 45s by the time I was nine. Music was my only window to any kind of culture outside a small town. I would stand looking at the promo pictures and record labels in the front window of the store.

“My dad was selling  non-prescription drugs on a route around eastern  South Carolina, and I would work with him after school. I’d take my little paycheck/allowance to Mac’s Dime Store and the Record Shak on Ninth Avenue.

“Eventually the Record Shak, owned by Junior Blanton, hired me because the guy who worked there was getting married and they needed someone to fill in.

“I worked at the Music Box on Broadway, too, until 1975. Then the Record Bar chain came along while I was at Coastal Carolina. I took a management position with them out of college.

“For me, putting South By South together … it’s the realization of a dream. I can remember standing in Sounds Familiar with Seth …. when Robbie Fulks was the Mack Daddy King of Americana and I remember saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get Robbie Fulks to play for us?  Well, he did … Christmas two years ago.”

The other prong of the SxSE mission is music education and outreach programs in the schools. The group holds instrument drives to help out local schools. They find the money to send young musicians to music events or band camp.And they donate their time.

Some of these generous musicians include Bob O’Conner, Steve Marino, Paul Grimshaw, Butch Barnes and Phyllis Tanner-Frye.

“Most of these musicians have kids,” says Roberts. “They know how important it is to bring music into the schools and to teach them about the hard work that comes along with it.

“It seems like the sweat equity of the bands is what’s so rewarding. I can tell you a story that really says it. Marty Richardson from Crocodile Rocks went down to  Tara Hall near Georgetown. [a home for troubled boys]. He spent a lot of time talking to these kids. When he came back up to town, I wanted to give him some money for his gasoline expenses. ‘No,’ says Marty, ‘I’ve already been paid,’ and he takes out a picture one of the boys had made for him. It was a picture of Marty and across the top it read, ‘I want to be like you.’”

Does it get any better than that?

If you’d like more information about this organization, visit http://www.sxsemusic.com or contact organization director Jeff Roberts at 843-497-3643. You might also want to attend the House of Blues Art Show & Blues Battle on Oct. 3 – 4, which willl be donating 100% of sales from a special  signed and numbered limited edition Kim Dawn Clayton guitar print  to South By Southeast. The Rock 102 Radio Reunion concert featuring Nantucket on Sept. 25 will also benefit South By Southeast.

Memberships for this recognized S.C. charitable organization (501c(3) status is underway) are $25 a year. It’s money well spent.

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