Pete Ledbetter may not have reached widespread fame in his lifelong career as a folk musician, but in Charleston, he was a legend — at least to his group of best friends and fellow musicians in town.
“Pete was legendary in that circle of friends, not only for good reasons but for some bad reasons, too, you know,” said Carroll Brown, laughing. “He was one of the more gifted songwriters I ever knew... He didn’t have the best voice, he didn’t have the best guitar style, but you were looking at something very real … what he’s singing about is what he’s lived, that kind of a guy.”
Brown, a singer-songwriter who’s been involved with Charleston’s music scene for decades, and many other longtime Lowcountry musicians, are putting together a celebration of life on Sunday for Ledbetter, who died of cancer on Aug. 17 at age 58.
Ledbetter played acoustic guitar and harmonica, and while he usually performed solo, he was known for his collaborative spirit.
According to friends, he started to make a name for himself around town in the ‘80s at musicians’ regular hang out spots such as the Back Market Cafe, the Radio Room, Soft Rock Cafe and several other downtown establishments.
Back then, many bars stayed open all night, so after playing gigs, musicians could all meet up for jam sessions that would often last until sunrise.
“(Ledbetter) was always a welcome addition to any ensemble we put together back then,” said Hunter Hill, another local musician. “He always had a smile on his face. Just a fine fella’ and a very good musician.”
As time went on, Ledbetter enjoyed bringing together the whole community of musicians. Brown said he hosted one of the first songwriters’ nights in town at Ocean Song Cafe on Isle of Palms.
“And then, a whole circle of songwriters came to know each other, and that circle of writers are still going today,” Brown said.
As downtown’s nightlife scene changed in recent years, many of the group’s favorite hangouts closed, and their opportunities to get together became fewer and further apart.
But when one friend had a life-changing situation that forced him out of town a couple of years ago, Ledbetter again illustrated his knack for bringing people together. He called up all their friends and fellow musicians, and held a series of jam sessions at his house as a sort of send-off gathering.
“Pete facilitated us being able to get together in the last two to three years, and I’m very thankful for that,” Hill said. “As bad as Pete was obviously feeling at that time, of course he wasn’t complaining. He just wanted to help our mutual friend in need.”
In a fitting tribute, Ledbetter’s friends will reunite again on Sunday to play music together and share fond memories as a way to celebrate his life. His longtime partner, Kathy Korda, will hold a reception from 2-5 p.m. at Felix C. Davis Community Center at 4800 Park Circle, North Charleston. The celebration continues at 7:30 p.m at Water Dog Grill ,1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant, where friends will get on stage to perform some of Ledbetter’s original tunes.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail