The Jam Room Recording Studio on South Prospect Street has been a staple in Columbia for 30 years. Seven years ago, studio owner Jay Matheson decided to bring the music to the people and founded the Jam Room Festival.
The free outdoor festival returns Sept. 29 to the heart of downtown Columbia. There will be food, craft beer and music throughout the day on two stages set up on Main and Hampton streets. The festivities run from noon to 10 p.m.
“The biggest difference now compared to then is that we are a nonprofit. When we first started, we were stunned that we could put a board together and told we could get H-Tax for this. Our plan was to just raise some money and put it together ourselves on a shoe string budget.”
Despite the modest initial expectations, during its best years, the festival boasts attendance of up to 10,000 people. The event has also become a groundbreaking platform for many local, up-and-coming performers.
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This year, the festival has partnered with the national nonprofit SAVE — Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. The event will feature a suicide awareness booth and an appearance by Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE. The organization will raffle off a guitar signed by musicians playing the festival, as well as hand out suicide awareness materials.
“We’ve seen too many lives lost,” Matheson said. “We’re hoping that by partnering with SAVE, we can get out the message that suicide is preventable: There are warning signs, and we all have a role to play in recognizing and acting on them. And for someone who is suffering, there is always a place to turn for help.”
Baronees (Grammy-nominated metal from Savannah, Ga.) and SUSTO (melodic, country-inflected rock from Charleston) will headline this year’s event.
“Our motivation is a little different from other festivals in town. Anyone can book 10 acts at a venue and call it a festival, but we wanted to make sure we did it right,” Matheson said. “There are a hundred things that go into making this happen and our goal is to enhance the local music scene.”
Other performers include Don Merckle & The Blacksmiths, Late Bloomer, Alarm Drum, Niecy Blues, 2 Slices, EZ Shakes, Contour, H3RO, Tomboi, and Kid Trails.
We had a chance to speak with three hometown favorites — Kid Trails, H3RO and Niecy Blues — who’ll be performing this weekend.
6:45 p.m. Palmetto Brewing Stage
Q: In your opinion, how much has music changed throughout the years?
A: The biggest change is how accessible music is now. Anything you would ever want to hear is readily available in a matter of seconds. The internet definitely played a big part in me consuming music when I was a teenager, but it was different. I really like that I can listen to or look up anything that pops in my head now. Maybe it’s not quite as precious to me as a CD, cassette, or a record though.
Q: Speaking of cassette, tell us about your new project and why you chose to put it on a cassette?
A: Our new album, “Displace,” was recorded at Different Fur Studios in San Francisco. The idea was to have the sound of a five-piece band playing in the same room with minimal overdubs, which is the way they made a lot of records in the ’60s and ’70s. The band for this record are all dynamite players, and we left room for a little bit of jamming and spontaneity in certain songs. I wanted it to have a classic sound. Hopefully that came through.
I put the album out on cassette because I love the look and feel of a tape. I still buy and listen to cassettes, especially when I’m driving. It was also the first format I listened to music on as a kid — I had my little boom box. You can also hear the album on all the streaming platforms.
Q: You lived on the West Coast for a bit. Now that you’re back in the Southeast, what are some of the benefits to living in Columbia that artists may overlook?
A: Columbia has some really rad things going for it. There’s a lot more places popping up to play shows. You don’t need to move to a big city to make something good or to be inspired. If you’re able to travel, do it. I think it’s good to see other places and experience other cultures. But there’s plenty of cool stuff in your own backyard though.
Q: How does a festival like Jam Room impact young artists in Columbia?
A: Hopefully it will be inspiring for a young artist. When I was a teenager I went to Columbia’s 3 Rivers Festival and I was really stoked. I was thinking “I wanna play a music festival like this. Me and my friends will be up there one day.” It became a goal for sure. It’s also just nice to be out in the early autumn weather and hang out with friends. The fact that it’s a free event for the community is dope. Props to The Jam Room for putting this whole thing on.
4:30 p.m. Whig Stage
Q: How did you get into music?
A: I am originally from Oklahoma and I have been writing songs since I was about 8 years old. Little silly songs that I would make my godsister sing with me. In college I majored in musical theater and performed professionally in Greenville for a couple years. I decided that it was time to get back to my roots, the thing that I truly loved, which was writing my own music.
Q: What projects are you working on?
A: The first and only project that I have available online now (on all streaming services) is called “Opaque.” The sounds is R&B but I’m moving away from that genera into more hip hop/electronic/indie rock. I am currently working with producers Contour and Infinite Freefall.
Q: What are some challenges of being a musician in Columbia?
A: Some of the challenges I face in Columbia are the lack of resources such as booking agents, entertainment lawyers etc. This leaves many artists with no choice but to outsource or relocate entirely.
Another thing I notice is the divide in the city’s music scene. Many times, you’ll see the same people attending certain types of shows. Members of other scenes (hip hop, indie rock, punk, jazz) often don’t make the effort to attend shows outside their genres.
Q: For people that might be hearing you for the first time at the Jam Room Festival, how would you describe your sound?
A: For people coming out, they can expect an indie rock influenced R&B sound.
Q: Who are some of your musical inspirations?
A: Sia Furler, Ray Lamontagne, Amy Winehouse and Etta James just to name a few.
Q: What do you enjoy most about festivals like Jam Room?
A: I love the stages and the audience accessibility to them. People who may not otherwise have come to one of my shows or gone to see some of the artists on the lineup have the opportunity to be exposed to something new. This shows that there are people in Columbia who do care and want to support local artists. This means a lot to me.
3:45 p.m. Palmetto Brewing Stage
Q: What was the first pivotal hip-hop album that got you into writing?
A: “Food and Liquor” by Lupe Fiasco. It was the first full hip-hop album I latched onto. The way Lupe was able to bend words and make them fit what felt like an atypical hip-hop experience inspired me to try my own hand at it.
Q: What are the challenges of being a hip-hop artist in Columbia?
A: We just aren’t a major market, though we are growing. The biggest struggle seems to be creating a healthy hip-hop scene that wants to see their locals succeed the same way we support those who come from out of town. Hip hop still has a rough reputation.
All we can do is make clean music so that it has universal appeal, and work to break through those obstacles.
It’s great having platforms such as Jam Room Festival that are committed to having diversity in music represented, giving us hip-hoppers a chance to blend audiences who may already like a lot of different kinds of music.
Q: Who are some of your favorite MCs?
A: Nas, Lupe Fiasco, MF Doom, Phonte, Supastition, and Lauryn Hill.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m really trying to make the H3RO band work! I want to get more into live music, and I have a few projects with some other emcees in the works. I recently finished a project to follow up “Tragic H3RO,” and I’m trying to drum up as much momentum as possible. I’m working to improve myself as a stage performer everyday while also focused on creating engaging content for those who’ve been rocking with me forever.
If you go
Jam Room Music Festival
When: Sept. 29
Where: Main and Hampton streets
Good to know: Music starts at noon. Wear comfy shoes. Ride your bike to the festival and enjoy free bike valet
More info: jamroommusicfestival.com
THE WHIG STAGE
Don Merckle & The Blacksmiths: Noon
Late Bloomer: 1:30 p.m.
Alarm Drum: 3 p.m.
Niecy Blues: 4:30 p.m.
2 Slices: 6 p.m.
Susto: 7:45 p.m.
PALMETTO BREWING STAGE
EZ Shakes: 12:45 p.m.
Contour: 2:15 p.m.
H3RO: 3:45 p.m.
Tomboi: 5:15 p.m.
Kid Trails: 6:45 p.m.
Baroness: 8:45 p.m.