Columbia SC has new proving ground for young bands at the White Mule
When Columbia’s music scene was at its zenith in the late 1980s and early 1990s (thanks, in large part, to a little band called Hootie & the Blowfish), Trae Judy was listening to it all go down from his dorm room at Wofford College.
The Spartanburg native and his partners would go on to buy the Music Farm in Charleston 12 years ago and then open Music Farm Columbia in 2014. He and his partners sold the venues earlier this year.
Now, Judy is starting a unique musical concept in Five Points called Rock Block. Judy is establishing a music incubator in the old Bohemian retail space on Saluda Avenue and has renovated the former Speakeasy jazz bar two doors down into The White Mule — a reincarnation of a musical venue once located underground on Main Street.
“Our focus is launching bands,” Judy said. “The White Mule is really a showcase for what we are doing at the incubator.”
It was no coincidence that the first show last Friday was Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan.
“A lot of history has been made by bands here — Hootie & the Blowfish, obviously,” Judy said. “When the stars align in a village like this, there’s a lot of great rock and roll that can come out. That’s what we want to do again. Start building from the ground up.”
The concept is one that is standard in business.
A new business starts small in a private or public incubator. There, through mentorship, hard work, investment and a little luck, it matures and moves out and on to bigger things.
That’s what Judy wants to do with bands, musicians, songwriters and industry types.
“It’s the Wild West out there in the music business,” he said. “Bands and people in the business just need a little direction.”
For instance, a person might be a great songwriter, but not a strong musician. Rock Block would provide music teachers to help out.
Or students at the University of South Carolina can intern at the incubator or the venue, then grow into the business.
Or a band might have great musical skills, but not be very proficient at marketing or the business side of things.
“Songwriting, branding, marketing, websites,” Judy said. “We want to be a one-stop shop for anyone looking to take the next step in the music business. I’m trying to connect all the different pieces and make one musical highway.”
Sandwiched between the incubator and The White Mule is a self-proclaimed “hippie shop” called Loose Lucy’s.
Owner Don McCallister has sold trippy clothing and music-related items such as stickers and posters for 26 years.
“This is a great fit for us,” he said
When Bohemian and Speakeasy closed, McCallister worried those spaces would remain dark or open as “fly-by-night college bars,” a growing concern among many who do business in and live around the urban village near USC.
“That was our greatest fear,” McCallister said. “But these folks have a long history with the Music Farm and other ventures and are very happy. They are complementary to what we do.”
The new incubator and venue are the most recent in a string of positive announcements for the urban village. A new boutique is opening a little farther up on Saluda Avenue. And Charleston-based Home Team BBQ is renovating the former Harper’s restaurant building on Harden Street.
“I didn’t think it would take so long for entrepreneurs to show and see what opportunities are here in Five Points,” McCallister said. “We couldn’t be happier.”