When it comes to filling Columbia’s mid-size music venue void, many have tried, and many have failed.
There was Rockafellas’, a narrow, brick-walled space along Devine St. that promised live music every night of the week, and delivered for 14 years before closing in 1998.
There was Elbow Room, a stalwart of live music in Five Points until it closed in 2002.
There was the Vista’s Senate Park, opened that same year and seen as a promising spot for national touring acts to play. It closed less than a year later.
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There was Headliners, also in the Vista, that opened in 2003. Another promising stage, and another disappointment when it changed hands four times in three years before closing in 2009.
“It will humble you in a heartbeat,” Headliner’s owner Jay Beneventano said of the music business in Columbia at the time. “I’ve learned concert promotion isn’t as easy as it looks.”
And yet, for the past year, the new kids on the block at Music Farm Columbia have bolstered the area’s music scene and looked good doing it. The venue celebrates its one-year anniversary Sept. 16.
Could it be what Columbia’s music fans have been waiting for?
The 1,200-capacity concert hall is a partnership with the Music Farm in Charleston and its adjacent neighbor, Tin Roof in the Vista. Tin Roof handles the bar aspects for the Music Farm.
“It made perfect sense,” Tin Roof general manager John Griffin said of the Music Farm’s arrival. “It was the next step in bringing more music to Columbia.”
Marshall Lowe, president and owner of Music Farm Productions, formerly All-In Entertainment, which oversees both Music Farm stages, said adding a second Music Farm in Columbia was a “natural progression.”
Lowe was one of the co-owners of Headliners and said it was a great room that lacked the right setup. “The production, capacity and layout (at Music Farm Columbia) is more conducive” to a successful mid-size venue, he said.
The Music Farm is the best thing that Columbia has going for its music fans.
Brian Conner, singer and guitarist for Columbia band Villa*Nova
The Farm’s first official show was chillwave band Washed Out, fronted by University of Georgia and University of South Carolina alumnus Ernest Greene. It was a “soft opening” on a Tuesday last September. In the following months, the venue sold out or nearly sold out plenty of marquee acts, including Jason Isbell, Robert Earl Keen, O.A.R., Yonder Mountain String Band and Wu Tang Clan emcees Raekwon and Ghostface. Acts that previously would have routed past Columbia on their way to shows in the Charlotte-Charleston-Athens-Atlanta circuit.
“We’re the only venue that’s like this, so of course everyone is excited,” said Trae Judy, partner at Music Farm Productions.
But Judy remains realistic. Columbians were excited about Senate Plaza and Headliners in their first years, too.
“Anybody can last a year,” he said. “I want people to be excited in three years, four years, five years.” He added that the Music Farm probably won’t have a big anniversary party until the five-year mark. “That will show we’ve accomplished something.”
So far, they have.
“It’s been very positive for the area,” Richard Burts, president of the Vista Guild board of directors said. “It’s brought people down to the Vista and people are taking advantage of going out before and after the shows.”
The Music Farm’s recognizable brand and music business savvy will likely keep the venue around for the long haul, Burts said.
Brian Conner, frontman for local band Villa*Nova (formerly Weaving the Fate) is in the same camp.
“I think it’s going to stick around,” he said.
Conner has played at the Music Farm in Columbia twice and at the Farm in Charleston “countless” times.
“I’d say the Columbia one is as good or better,” he said. “In terms of musicians, everyone is psyched about playing there.”
The events are our babies, but when you get to a show, it belongs to the fans.
Trae Judy, partner at Music Farm Productions
As the club’s reputation has grown, more musicians are reaching out and asking to play at the Music Farm Columbia, according to Ted Heinig, vice president of AC Entertainment, the Tennessee-based company that handles national talent booking for Music Farm Productions.
That interest will help build the music culture in Columbia and also artists’ careers, Heinig said. “Artists playing at the Farm this year could very well play Township Auditorium on their next tour,” which can fit double the number of people.
It also makes acts that hit it big more likely to return to the city as their careers continue, he said.
Judy hopes this is the case at Music Farm Columbia.
His most-wanted bucket-list act is Hootie & the Blowfish. The band formed in Columbia and got their start playing at area venues – The Music Farm in Charleston specifically.
“To me, this is not the Music Farm until they play here,” he said.