6/28/2016

Hearts & Plugs Third Annual Summer Shindig Was Lit

View of the parking lot. Photo: @dempseymusic

The Scene

I had high expectations for Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig, and I've gotta say I was absolutely blown away. The set up in the Royal American parking lot was way better than I had imagined, with a large stage and plenty of standing room, as well as the classic indoor stage that Royal-goers have grown accustomed to. Despite the late-afternoon rain causing some minor inconvenience, the place was bursting at the seams with music lovers and artists from Charleston and beyond.

Before I break down my experience, I want to give a shout out to Dan McCurry, founder of Hearts & Plugs, the staff at Royal American, and the City of Charleston for banding together to produce such an awesome event. Dan spent the night running around like a madman, making sure that everything in terms of the music was under control, the staff at Royal dealt with some seriously high volume and kept their cool, and the police made sure that nobody did anything too stupid. As far as I could tell, the night was a major success, and people are going to be talking about it all the way through to next year's Summer Shindig.

Tickets to the Shindig were $20, and at the entrance to the parking lot they sold drink and food coupons for $5 each, which could only be used at the vendors outside. The bar inside functioned as per usual, with Genesees and Brass Monkeys, rum punch, shots, etc. The indoor bar was always packed out, but if you wanted to avoid the ticket situation, that's where you went. There were also merch tents outside selling t-shirts and stuff for the bands that played, and plenty of H&P people walked around handing out flamingo tattoos and such. I ended up with one on my shoulder, and another on my junk.

Brave Baby topping off the Shindig. Photo: @joel8x

The Music

Now let's move on to the important stuff: The Music. For most of us, the chance to see so many of the best Charleston bands in one day was the core reason that we went to the Summer Shindig in the first place. There may have been other reasons piled on top, but if you pulled them all away, the music was the main focus, or at least what brought us all together. I say this because that sentiment could be felt floating through the air at the Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig. There were a few hundred people there, and not once did I see signs of negativity among concertgoers. It was all about the music.

Below are some of my thoughts on the bands I had the chance to watch, along with some photos taken during their sets. Shout out to my good friend, photographer Kyle Kilgo for being a G and contributing all these dope unedited photos. Check out his Instagram for more awesome concert photography.

ET Anderson plays inside Royal Amercan. Photo: @killlgo

ET Anderson

The first band that I had the chance to see was ET Anderson, who aren't actually from Charleston, but rather Columbia, which is close enough for me. It was my first time watching them perform live, and it was during a somewhat chaotic period of time at Royal American. The rain had just come down hard for about thirty minutes, soaking the parking lot and displacing the crowd to the indoor area. Instead of postponing for rain, they played to a completely packed out Royal American, and absolutely killed it.

ET Anderson really knows how to rock. A broken string on the first song didn't slow them down one bit, which is another example of the sense of community that was cultivated at this event. Word got out about the broken string, and within minutes somebody rushed in with another guitar. They had a knack for entrancing the crowd, and looking around I noticed a few people in their own zone, eyes closed just feeling the music. That's one sure sign of a great performance.

ET Anderson playing to a packed bar. Photo: @killlgo
SUSTO's Johnny Delaware rocks out in his Jesus suit. Photo: @killlgo

SUSTO

Susto was the band that I was most excited to see at the Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig. Their music encompasses the spirit of Charleston with lyrics of religious upbringing, rebellion, and love, with an alternative country vibe that fits in perfectly with the Lowcountry. I was pleased to see them open with their newest song "Chillin' On The Beach With My Best Friend Jesus Christ", and then go into four or five songs off their self-titled debut album. They had the whole crowd singing along and punching beach balls in the air, which I'll admit the beach balls were a bit of a distraction from the music, but they fit in with the overall vibe of the Shindig and they got people moving, so they were still cool.

This is another one of those bands whom I'm gonna say if you have a chance to see them, you really need to take advantage of that. Charleston is really on the rise right now in the music scene and Susto is one of the main reasons why. Their music just encompasses so much of what it feels like to live in this gorgeous town. As a northern transplant, I really appreciate their lyrical perspective, and I think the same would apply even more to those raised in the religious South. Which is hard for me to believe, considering how much I like Susto's music.

SUSTO in the zone. Photo: @killlgo
Brave Baby crushing it. Photo: @killlgo

Brave Baby

Brave Baby was definitely the perfect band to close the event, and the energy in the crowd was there to show for it. Their performance got everyone even more hyped than they already were, which is saying something, because this Shindig was already lit. Brave Baby's unique blend of indie rock burst from the speakers and found its way into the Hearts & Ears (Plugs) of everyone in that Royal American parking lot. People were jumping, dancing, belting out lyrics, and slapping balloons with lights in them into the air, while the band continued to shred harder. By the end of the set, most of the balloons had popped and people were walking around with bright colored lights in their wardrobes.

Brave Baby's Keon Masters on stage at the Summer Shindig. Photo: @killlgo
The Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig was the second time that I had the chance to see Brave Baby perform live, the first being at the Music Farm sometime last year. I enjoyed their performance at the Summer Shindig much more than I enjoyed the one at the Music Farm. For some reason the first time I saw them I couldn't get into their sound as much, but that probably had a lot to do with the way my life was going at the time. Things are better for me now, and after getting to see Brave Baby at the Summer Shindig I've had their albums, Electric Friends and Forty Bells on repeat. The next time they play a show in Charleston, you can bet your ass I'll be there.

Black & white Brave Baby. Photo: @killlgo

The Interview

I was also lucky enough to land an interview with Dan McCurry, founder of Hearts & Plugs and the brains behind this operation. What resulted was a great conversation that offers a ton of insight into Hearts & Plugs and the Summer Shindig, and the production of all this awesome local music. The questions and answers are below, and when you finish go check out heartsandplugs.com for more cool stuff.

Where did the idea to start a record company come from?

I'd say it ultimately spawned from the feeling that my own band Run Dan Run and several of my friends bands were putting out great music that wasn't really getting heard. I initially that if we pulled together under one name, perhaps we'd grow a bit more together than we would remaining apart. I still feel this way about music here in the south, that a lot of it flies under the radar.


When/what was the first moment when you said to yourself, “Wow, I might be on to something here?”

I think the first real "Eureka!" moment was when Elim Bolt and Brave Baby asked to join up in the fall of 2012. Up to that point my band Run Dan Run was truly my priority and H&P was there to supplement that. At that moment, I realized that H&P had the potential to be a real record label and that I was really into that idea. Prior to that I just always thought of myself as more of the artist but now I see myself as more of a facilitator.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced along the way?

Every obstacle seems like the biggest one until you get past it and see the next one.

Can you tell me about the record production process?

In terms of recording, it's all pretty much happens close to home. All the releases have been recorded by Wolfgang Zimmerman, Kenny McWilliams, myself, or the artist thus far. Fortunately with technology where it's at these days, you don't have to record in a $1 million studio to make something that you're proud of that sounds great and has vibes, etc.

Are you involved in recording, or just the distribution and marketing side of things?

I'm definitely involved with distribution and marketing, that's probably the end that I've moved to the most. I'm still involved with the recording here and there though. I always want that to be the case as that's still the part that I love the most, being involved and making the music happen.

What are your plans for the future of H&P?

We're just trying to take H&P to national status and make Charleston proud to have its own record label here making some noise out there.


Do you want to expand past Charleston?

Absolutely. I think we have to to really make it on the national stage, however, we will always be based in Charleston and will be predominantly focused on the Southeast I believe. I'm just a big believer in what's going on around these parts and everyone who is on board feels the same way. I'd like to continue to highlight the Southeast in general.


Did most of the bands on your label come to you, or vice-versa?

It's kinda both ways really. Everyone that's been on board thus far has come from within our network of bands. There hasn't been an artist from left field yet. Honestly, I'm not sure if there ever will be as usually it's one band that'll turn me on to the next one, say they played a show together or something. I really enjoy that natural progression there that's happening. Don't get me wrong, I always listen to every submission we get and if something knocked me off my feet, I think we'd certainly pull them on board if it made sense, if we thought it was a good fit and felt like we could really give that band/record a great platform, etc.

Do you get a lot of demo tapes?

Not a ton but it's steady. I always make it a point to listen to it a little bit and reply to nearly all of them (I've missed a few just due to email overload I'm sure).

Any new releases on the way?

Always. I can't exactly divulge what and when but I believe we've got a really exciting year coming together here.

How long have you been planning the third annual Summer Shindig?

Pretty much since January 2016, that's when we booked the date and venue and bands. I think we're going to get started on next year's right now actually. It's gotten to that point now that it's going to be a yearlong planning process.

Was it hard to convince Royal?

Not at all! Our bands have pretty much grown up at Royal, it's the unofficial H&P headquarters here in town. It just made sense to work with John there since we always had a great relationship. He was stoked to do this bigger event with us too. I'm glad we were able to make it happen.

What about the flamingos?

They are the official bird of both summer and party. We did it last year and it was a hit so we've decided to stick with the flamingo theme. 

Here's to next year's Hearts & Plugs Summer Shindig being even more of a success than this one. That's gonna be hard to top, but I think by next year this thing will be much bigger than it is now, and the music scene here in Charleston will have grown to an amazing level. There are a lot of great people in this city working on great things, and in time we'll see much more of what they have to offer. In the meantime, we can listen to the Hearts & Plugs Summer Essentials album, which was being handed out at the exit door.


Up next: High Water Festival Comes to North Charleston Coliseum on April 22-23rd, 2017

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