On the Scene: Another goodbye for a St. Pat’s official

otaylor@thestate.com March 16, 2012 

Jack Van Loan, the St. Pat’s in Five Points chairman, isn’t the only person stepping down from the festival-planning committee. After 10 years, Charles Wilkie is letting go of the booking reins.

“With certain things, it’s best you remove yourself from it at the right timing,” Wilkie said. “It’s just new opportunities and new challenges.”

Wilkie, who has booked the 3 Rivers Music Festival, once owned Headliners, a now-defunct Vista venue. When he was a part of All-In Entertainment, Wilkie was part of the booking at The Music Farm in Charleston, as well as venues in Charlotte and other cities in the Southeast. Is Wilkie, who has influenced and advised a lot of the local festivals and music events over the last decade-plus, retiring from booking and promoting shows?

He implied he was just taking a step back.

“It’s just putting it in the hands of people who are doing this everyday, and to me that’s the responsible thing to do,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie, who owns an apparel business, also fronts the band Lefty at the Washout. The band is playing 5 Points Pub’s St. Pat’s in Five Points after party Saturday night.

I’ve been reporting on music in Columbia since 2003, and Wilkie is someone I’ve looked to when context was needed for a story. He sees the broader picture. And for better or worse, depending on how you rate the music that’s come through this town in 10 years, he knows what works here, what people will pay to see.

Wilkie has taken some heat in this newspaper before — from me directly — and he has been quick to pick up the phone to tell me he disagreed with me or the paper’s position. I always listened. I respect someone who wants to have a conversation instead of a shouting match.

I’m hardly enamored with this year’s lineup — in fact, I called Wilkie to ask why hip-hop was again omitted. More on that later — but I’m sure Wilkie’s imprint will be missed because, if nothing else, he tries to please everyone.

What a thankless task, especially in the festival business. Though he says he’s not actively booking anything, we’ve heard that there’s a new festival in the works for the fall. Wilkie, as I’ve known him to do, didn’t answer my question directly.

“There’s nothing to graduate to from the St. Patty’s Day Festival,” he said. “Especially St. Patty’s Day, you have to have such a vast knowledge of local and regional music.

“It’s by far the greatest committee I’ve ever sat on.”

Chris McClane of All-In Entertainment has worked with Wilkie on booking the festival the last few years. If McLane takes over, Wilkie said it will be an easy transition. Merritt McHaffie, the Five Points Association’s executive director, agreed.

“We’ll miss Charles, but Chris McLane and All-In Entertainment, I imagine, will bid to book the festival, and because of our past relationship we’ll seriously consider them,” she said.

The St. Pat’s entertainment budget is $70,000.

Once again, hip-hop isn’t on a local festival’s schedule. The Free Times Music Crawl is the rare exception, and once Wet Willie’s withdrew two days before last year’s event citing lyrical content, among other things, the hip-hop lineup was in jeopardy. (It was moved to another venue.)

“It doesn’t matter what genre of music it is, it has to be the right combination,” Wilkie said. “For the most part, you go more middle of the road for St. Pats. We work for this event and I was instructed the very first year that if there were any curse words on stage, they would be kicked off.

“For the most part, knock on wood, it’s been handled pretty well.”

Artists never want to be censored, but the edict Wilkie followed was given by Van Loan, he said. Last year, Wilkie told me he was done with the festival. He booked one more year at Van Loan’s request.

“The respect that I have for Jack Van Loan, he says, ‘Hey, I’m going to retire at the end of the next year and I want to you see it through with me. How could you say no to that?” Wilkie said.

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