May 22, 2013

Will Charleston concert-booking agency fill void left by 5PP?

Five Points has been hurting for music venue stability since Elbow Room closed in 2002.

As Bryson Jennings performed at the Five After Five concert Thursday, some in the audience talked about the demise of the Five Points venue where Jennings, a country singer, had become a fixture.

A night earlier, The State mentioned on Twitter that 5 Points Pub, the shopping and entertainment district’s only dedicated music venue, had closed. After years of closings and ownership and name changes that confused bargoers, it wasn’t shocking to hear that the venue had abruptly shut down, forcing promoters to jockey shows.

Only this time there isn’t an immediate party interested in rebooting the Devine Street space. But there soon might be a venue to fill the void left by the club, only it probably won’t be in Five Points.

Trae Judy of Music Farm Productions confirmed a rumor that the concert-booking agency that owns Charleston’s Music Farm was looking to open a Columbia venue.

“We’re definitely looking and I feel like we’re getting close,” he said.

But the space at 2020 Devine St., which has a 225-person capacity, isn’t what the production company, formally known as All-In Entertainment, is seeking.

“For what we do, it’s just not big enough,” Judy said, adding that his company was in the market for a room that could accommodate at least 400. “That’s the size venue Columbia is hurting for.”

Five Points has been hurting for music venue stability since Elbow Room closed in 2002. The irony that 5PP closed the same weekend that Jam Room celebrated the iconic Five Points club Rockafellas’ was so thick it was sliceable. But the closing and celebration were reminders that in the music club business, even if the show must always go on, nothing is permanent about the address — or venue name — where the show is held.

After changing its name from Pub on Santee in 2007, 5PP went on to establish itself as an important place for local, regional and national bands wanting to play Columbia gigs. Then Sudworks Taphouse opened in January 2009. A $20,000 tap system was installed, and when the pool tables were removed is when the trouble began.

Just five months later, the place was renamed Elbow Room. A year after that, it was dubbed The House. In the summer of 2011, ownership changed the name back to 5 Points Pub. In the winter of that year, Vance McNabb was brought in to revive the club.

“In order for a venue to stay down in Five Points, the attendance numbers on the music shows and the bar numbers need to increase dramatically,” McNabb told The State at the time.

Neither McNabb nor Ronnie Stepp, one the 5PP’s owners, responded to requests for comment.

The club had its core performers like Jennings, as well as Ben G and Atlas Road Crew, among others, who drew capacity crowds. The bar relied heavily on college-aged patrons to fill the club, a reliance that can be crippling once students leave for summer break, according to a former club owner.

“We had a really tough time in the summer even if we had a great year,” said Dave Britt, a former owner of Headliners in the Vista and the White Mule on Main Street.

Britt, now the executive director for the Greater Rosewood Merchants Association, still occasionally books shows. He moved last Friday night’s gig that was scheduled at 5PP to Concocktions on Harden Street.

The Five Points Association doesn’t actively recruit businesses, but Amy Beth Franks, the interim executive director, said 5PP was “one of those necessary places for Five Points.”

A common perception is that Columbia, a medium-sized city, should be able to sustain a relatively small rock club. Music fans are fickle, and the red-hot EDM (electronic dance music) craze is sure to cool, so clubs have to be flexible to stay competitive.

“You’ve got to be a little creative and use your space in as many ways as possible,” said Judy, who noted that The Music Farm rents its hall to a church on Sunday.

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