Two years ago, Charles Carmody set a goal: Bring more live music to the Charleston Music Hall, the venue he had just signed on to manage, which has a reputation for outstanding acoustics.
As far as he’s concerned, tonight’s Grass in the Hall show, the first in the Piccolo Spoleto Bluegrass Series, is a bull’s-eye.
Assembling the three local bands on the bill — Cane Creek String Band, Dallas Baker and Friends, and The Bluestone Ramblers — ended up being as easy as picking up the phone, according to Carmody.
“I’ve been heavily investing in the music scene here for the last five years, so I just started meeting all these people,” he said, “And we ended up building around that.”
But Carmody is quick to dole out credit where credit is due. He partnered with Eddie White, who runs weekly folk and bluegrass jams at the outdoor music space Awendaw Green, to get the series off the ground in 2013. At that time, Grass in the Hall operated separately from Piccolo Spoleto.
When Carmody reached out to Scott Watson, the director of the Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, to get the city involved, the series moved under the Piccolo umbrella for the first time.
“Being that it’s a music hall, and given my relationship with Scott and the city, we decided to kind of dip our toes into trying to build a pretty solid music element,” Carmody said. “Thus, the bluegrass music series was born.”
Some of tonight’s players have frequented the barn stage at Awendaw Green. In fact, Dallas Baker, a self-professed “Americana/Lowcountry bluegrass/folk” strummer, sees the gig as a graduation from the more casual jam atmosphere to a bigger spotlight.
“It’s the show of my lifetime,” he said. “I love the Music Hall, and to play under the Piccolo series and to play my own original stuff, it’s way more special.”
Baker’s “friends” in this case will be Fuller Condon on upright bass, Walter Biffle on banjo and David Vaughan on mandolin.
A regular at Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer’s open-mic nights, Baker frequently incorporates well-known bluegrass and folk tunes into his set. But he’s using this gig as a unique showcase for material he wrote himself.
“Let me put it this way: I’m not playing any Grateful Dead,” he said.
Baker said his years-long professional relationship with Carmody helped him land a spot on the bill, and he’s not the only one.
Ivy Sheppard, a banjoist, fiddle player and singer in the South Carolina Broadcasters, taught Carmody fiddle lessons in college. Her bandmate, David Sheppard, has repaired Carmody’s guitar multiple times, Carmody said.
The South Carolina Broadcasters will perform at the series’ second date, June 4, along with Red Cedar Review and The Lowhills. Sheppard, who has since relocated her band to North Carolina, said the gig has special significance given its location.
“Playing at the Music Hall is like a homecoming for us,” she said. “We love the room.”
Along with some overlapping members, tonight’s gig may even include a number that features all the performers on stage playing together. Carmody said that kind of inclusion is representative of the kind of community he’s looking to highlight and continue to foster with this pair of shows.
“That’s what I love,” Carmody said. “That’s what we’ve really tried to build here, that communal feeling, that welcoming feeling of we’re family, and that’s what it’s going to feel like, which is nice.”
Patrick Hosken is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.