Concert promoters hope to grow success at renovated Music Farm

The Music Farm in downtown Charleston is closed for renovations. The property, which is under new ownership, will reopen later this month after renovations.

Call it an encore.

A pair of concert promoters are renovating the Music Farm in hopes of harvesting some cheers and a profit at the 16-year-old venue.

John Ellison, a Charlotte resident who owns a North Carolina club called Amos' Southend, and Marshall Lowe, a Daniel Island resident who co-owns a concert promotion firm called All In Entertainment as well as Headliners, a Columbia music club, paid an undisclosed sum to lease "the Farm" in mid-September.

With a five-year lease in hand, the new owners have closed the building to install a new sound system, gut the bathrooms and overhaul the decor. "It's all cosmetics, but there's just so much cosmetics to take care of," Ellison said.

The Ann Street venue will reopen Oct. 28 with a string of acts including the Avett Brothers, They Might Be Giants and Galactic.

Lowe said he has booked bands at the Music Farm for years and came to know well its former owners, Kurt and Sara Papenhausen. He said they had discussed the sale for at least a year before closing the deal in mid-September.

"I'm not too privy to exactly how it's been doing, but — trying to put it mildly here — it's gotten to a point of disrepair," Lowe said. "We're just trying to fix it up. ... And we're just going to book as many (acts) as we can and try to keep the building as full as we can."

The Papenhausens, who bought the business in 2001, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The original Music Farm opened on East Bay Street in 1991, the product of Carter McMillan, a radio promoter, and Kevin Wadley, a musician. The pair moved the business to its current site between Meeting and King in 1993 before flipping the business in 1998.

Over the years, the former railroad warehouse reverberated with the sounds of legends, including Counting Crows, the Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Run DMC and Wilco. It also helped shepherd local bands onto the national stage.

With a capacity around 1,000, the Music Farm has long been one of the only club venues in the area big enough to draw touring acts. Its brand bolstered by a widespread crop of T-shirts and stickers, the Farm has become known on the live-music scene nationwide.

And bucking local real estate trends, the building will continue to house rockers, not residents — concert fans, not corporate offices.

"I'm pretty excited about it," said Wadley, who now works in the housing business. "There's just something about having a good rock club downtown."

McMillan, who is in the sports-promotion industry, also still has close ties to his former business. He knows its new owners well and has been swinging by to see how the renovations are progressing. "All the memories — you could write a book about it," McMillan said. "I think these two guys coming together are going to give this place a great chance of coming back to what it was."