Jason Brachman moved to Charleston in 2001, but it wasn't the city's historic charm, pristine beaches or friendly faces that lured him here like so many others: It was the music.
"Charleston has great venues and a great music scene," the 31-year-old singer/songwriter said.
For that, we can thank the likes of Hootie & the Blowfish, Jump, Little Children, Blue Dogs, Band of Horses, The Working Title, Leslie and many more.
But we also must tip our hats to a lesser-known band of musicians, those who take the stage only in the presence of an open mic.
Fame and fortune are not in their stars, though for some it should be, yet they step up to the mic each and every week and put on a show like its their last. They deliver fresh sounds and surefire fun every time they hit the stage. They keep us wanting more — and, let's be honest, sometimes less — and for that we applaud them.
"There is such an amazing amount of talent at the open-mic nights," said Brachman, who mans the soundboard at The Mill at Park Circle on Mondays. "And there's such an interesting mix."
From poetry to punk rock, Charleston's open-mic scene runs the gamut.
"We get a little bit of everything," said Reid Stone, who's been running the Monday night open-mic shows at Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ for about a year. "But blues gets pushed a lot."
Open-mic nights in Charleston aren't just for amateur musicians. Places such as Muddy Waters, The Mill, Hometeam, East Bay Meeting House, Upper Deck Tavern, Ice House in Summerville and Sunfire Grill and Bistro not only have regular performers, but regular audience members as well.
Chris Martin, 24, performs every Monday night at The Mill. Over the past few months, he's acquired quite a following — a group of eight or so people who snag the front table and hoot and holler in between his songs.
"The crowd is so supportive. It's so cool and encouraging," Martin said after a recent Monday night performance, during which he covered Jack Johnson's "Banana Pancakes," met with screams of approval by the regulars up front, and a few original pieces.
Venues also benefit from a good open-mic night beyond simply attracting more paying customers. Open mics provide a perfect opportunity for the venues themselves to scout new talent.
"It's a great way for us to find bands to start playing here," said Madison Ruckel, 29, who also works at Hometeam BBQ and leads the Madison Ruckel and Friends open-mic jam on Wednesday nights.
"Our open mic is a great springboard for musicians and bands, and new musicians to town, too." If the guys at Hometeam like what you bring to the stage, they'll ask you back — easy as that.
If you're a new musician looking to get some face time with a live audience, a veteran performer in search of a place to try out new material or a music junkie pining for a fresh sound to get hooked on, look no farther than the Lowcountry.
Preview recently visited two open-mic nights to get the scoop on the talent, check out the vibe and, really, to listen to some toe-tappin'-good tunes.
Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ, 1205 Ashley River Road, West Ashley, 9 p.m. Mondays, 225-7427, Hometeambbq.com
Bluegrass rules at this down-home restaurant and bar. If you're lucky, you'll catch singer/songwriter Kevin Church (myspace.com/kevinchurch) strumming, singing and bringing down the house with his harmonica-filled blues tunes. Hailing from Charlotte, Church is new in town but is quickly racking up gigs all over Charleston. We guarantee that before his set is over, you'll be a devoted fan. Trouble in Transit (Myspace.com/troubleintransit), a talented group of teenagers who attend Charleston County School of the Arts, also frequents Hometeam. They've got a bluesy-rock sound that rivals Nashville's best.
If the sign-up list looks a little thin, Hometeam's own in-house band (including Stone, Ruckel and three other employees — even the dishwasher tickles the ivories and plays the drums) takes the stage. They're usually joined by three or four other blues masters from Moulin Rouge on Rutledge Avenue. "By far the best place to hear blues in Charleston," according to Ruckel.
Hometeam has a great setup: big stage, good lighting and quality soundboard and speakers. It also boasts some of the best barbecue this side of the Mississippi, so grab yourself a plate of pulled pork, collard greens and macaroni-and-cheese, and fill up on good cookin' and great tunes.
Hometeam recently moved its open-mic night from Wednesday to Monday, so people still are adjusting to the new time. If you're a musician looking to get a lot of stage time, this is the place to go — at least for a little while. Once the word gets around, you'll need to get there early because the list will fill up quickly. If you're just looking to jam out with other musicians, head to Hometeam on Wednesday night for Madison Ruckel and Friends. About 20 musicians showed up one recent night, with the repertoire ranging from reggae to punk.
The Mill, 1026 E. Montague Ave., North Charleston (Park Circle), 9 p.m. Mondays, 225-2650, myspace.com/themilllounge
This bar is a hotspot for Navy and Air Force guys. But they don't come here just to drink; they come to jam. Guys watch out: Chris Martin, known as "Marty" at The Mill, is in the Air Force and is sure to sweep every girl in the place off her feet with his smooth vocals and romantic lyrics. He does Jack Johnson better than Jack Johnson does Jack Johnson, and he's got a library of originals that are just as captivating.
There's more of a mix here than most places in town, but again, music that's a little bit country and a bit more rock 'n' roll rules the roost.
The stage is tucked in a corner, but the staff is pretty cool with shifting around tables and chairs to get a better view.
Red leather booths line the bar, and '60s-era paintings of old highways and roadside diners adorn the walls.
As for the people, Monday nights draw a pretty close-knit crowd, Martin said. Which doesn't mean they're not welcoming.
Everyone's encouraged to step into the limelight. "There's no ego battle here," said Brachman, the guy who runs the show. "In fact, it's warm and inviting. No one's booing anyone off the stage."
For the musicians: Get there early, as the list fills up fast. For those looking to post up in a booth and enjoy the talent, Brachman usually kicks things off at 9 p.m. on the dot with a mix of bluegrass and acoustic folk covers and original material; make sure you get there early enough to catch his set. If you're feeling social, pull up a chair next to the regulars at the front table.
They're fun to talk to and even more fun to clink glasses with.
OPEN MIC NIGHTS:
East Bay Meeting House
159 East Bay St.
Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ
1205 Ashley River Road, West Ashley
1026 E. Montague Ave., North Charleston (Park Circle)
Sunfire Grill & Bistro
1090 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., West Ashley
630 Skylark Dr., West Ashley
Upper Deck Tavern
353 King St.
Wings Neighborhood Bar & Grill
2110 Greenridge Ave., North Charleston
585 Rutledge Ave., Charleston (downtown)
Palmetto Acoustic Open Mic Challenge
Muddy Waters Coffee and Bar
1331 Ashley River Road, West Ashley
Wolf Track Inn
1807 Parsonage Ave., West Ashley
Kudu Coffee House
4 Vanderhorst St., Charleston (downtown)
Parson Jack's Cafe
3417 Shelby Ray Court, West Ashley
Momma Brown's (Open Acoustical Jam)
1471 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Mojo's Club & Cigar Bar
975 Bacons Bridge Road, Summerville
The Ice House
104 E. Doty Ave., Summerville
585 Rutledge Ave., Charleston (downtown)