Becky Wych will see the Avett Brothers Saturday night for the 10th time – her first time right here in Columbia.
“We’re really excited it’s in our backyard,” said Wych, who got tickets with three friends for her first visit to The Township since high school commencement.
“That space is perfect,” the 26-year-old professional fundraiser said. “It’s not too big; it’s an intimate space.”
The 3,100-seat auditorium on Taylor Street – once relegated to wrestling matches and children’s dance recitals – is coming back into its own.
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Opened in 1930 and renovated in 2010, The Township has boosted its annual lineup, sold out more shows and brought in more national acts. In the past year alone, capacity crowds came out for John Legend, Jack White, Kevin Hart, Steely Dan and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
A trend toward smaller venues that give concertgoers a more personal experience, a promoter who’s been sold on The Township, and an attentive director who knows what local audiences want explain the venue’s growing success, observers said.
Just as people want locally grown food and have adopted an attitude that “less is more,” they now prefer smaller entertainment venues – and The Township is in the perfect position to capitalize on that, said Armen Shaomian, who teaches entertainment management at the University of South Carolina.
The stadium shows that were popular in the 1990s have fallen out of favor with audiences, as well as cost-conscious artists and promoters.
“We are not necessarily impressed with a Super Bowl-type show,” Shaomian said. “It’s much more personal” to see a show at a hall that seats 1,000 to 3,000 people.
The decision by the Avett Brothers to perform three nights at The Township is proof of its cachet.
The band must have been confident it could sell out here – just like it did for two recent shows in Dallas.
“This venue fits them so well, instead of going to Greenville or Savannah … We essentially won them over for three shows instead of them jumping around,” Shaomian said. “They’re sticking with Township and expecting the fans to drive to the show.”
About 40 percent of the people going to see the Avett Brothers in Columbia have purchased tickets for more than one night, said the Township’s marketing coordinator, Tresha Clark. And that’s at ticket prices of $39.50 to $53.
Kristi Lane and her husband, Derek, would love to be among those seeing more than one show, but they’re not.
Still, the couple will be coming over from Lexington County to spend Saturday in Columbia, maybe stopping into Craft and Draft before the show.
“They shred on the banjo,” said Lane, 28, anticipating a high-energy show. “They’re very intense. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
For Wych, an Avett Brothers concert at The Township – after seeing them at larger venues in Charlotte and Greenville – feels like “classic Avett.”
“We’re so excited to have them in town and hoping we’ll see them around,” Wych said. “We have some plans just to be hanging out on Main Street quite a bit. They’re here at least two nights.
“Odds are, there’ll be an Avett sighting.”
Going after the right acts
Four years ago, The Township was averaging 65 to 70 shows a year. Now, it’s hosting 90 to 100 shows, director Aundrai Holloman said.
One of the keys to boosting the schedule has been to intensify The Township’s relationship with AC Entertainment, which not only books acts for the Music Farm in Columbia and Charleston but also for Bonnaroo, the big summer festival in central Tennessee.
In the past year, AC Entertainment has brought more artists to The Township – including three of the year’s five sell-out performers: John Legend, Jack White and Steely Dan.
“We did nine shows in The Township last year. Before that, we had done 10 from 2005 through 2013,” said Ted Heinig, vice president of concerts.
Nowadays, AC Entertainment’s shows have been over-performing expectations at The Township, with artists and audiences having good experiences, he said.
Heinig gives much of the credit to Holloman, who he said “has an excellent understanding about which shows will work at The Township” and a staff that knows how to promote those shows.
“If you get on the phone with Aundrai, you’re going to play Columbia, unless there’s some reason not to,” he said. “He’s a great advocate for the building, and he’s a great advocate for Columbia.”
Drew Theodore, chairman of The Township’s board of directors, said Holloman pursues the bands he wants for the Township. He’s been working to land Earth, Wind and Fire for months, Theodore said.
“Instead of a promoter coming to us, which is what used to happen – they’d say, ‘We’re going to be coming through Columbia on our way to Atlanta,’ or whatever – Aundrai actually goes after the acts. He’ll go to the promoter and tell them the different bands he’d like to see come to Columbia.”
Two of the country’s biggest concert producers, Live Nation and AEG Live, also bring bands through The Township, creating a corps of eight to 10 promoters that work out of the Township on a regular basis.
“We’re selling out shows,” Holloman said, “and the diversity of the shows is what we’re most proud of.”
At the same time, Holloman has solidified the venue’s relationship with Richland County, which owns The Township and provides its operating budget through taxes collected on restaurant meals.
This year, County Council gave The Township favored status among tourist venues, with a guarantee of annual funding. Only four other venues get automatic funding.
The endorsement came after five years of steady increases in The Township’s funding: Five years ago, the concert hall was getting $50,000 a year. This year, it got $300,000.
That’s on top of the county’s $12 million investment to renovate the building, enlarging the lobby and backstage area alike.
Heinig, with AC Entertainment, said The Township has the versatility to install seats on the floor for patrons or to take them up, as was done for Jack White’s show. That’s unusual, he said, and it’s a big selling point.
“They’re at the top end of the buildings out there in the Southeast,” Heinig said.
“When you can make the building a ‘hot’ building, and all the shows are being successful, it’s like a magnet.”
And The Township is hot.
Below: An interactive timeline of some of The Township’s greatest acts.
INSTRUCTIONS: Hover to the right to call up the arrows and scroll through the timeline.