A little after 9 p.m. on the first Friday in July, a crowd of college students, young professionals and other assorted youth began to gather and attempt to fit into a living room of a house on Hanover Street.
The crowd had come to hear two musical acts, the new local acoustic duo Ali & Aly and folk band Look Homeward out of the Chapel Hill, N.C., area. Though few members of the audience had heard of the musical acts before the show, most had come simply because of the name attached to it, Pop-Up Charleston.
Before Pop-Up Charleston officially began back in August 2014, the same day that two of the four cofounders of the house show series moved into their new home on Hanover Street, Matthew Navey and Peter Spearman were hosting shows outside of their apartment in the Kevsco Alley at 293 King St. The shows there became popular among young downtown locals who packed the narrow alley to hear whatever artists were playing on a given night. Best of all, the shows were always free. The following was so strong that the two roommates knew that they had to keep their concert series going. So along with Addi Green and Katie Jones, Navey and Spearman created Pop-Up Charleston.
“The name kind of came out of the idea that we would ‘pop-up’ wherever,” said 21-year-old Spearman.
Pop-Up, which will have its first anniversary in August, is not limited to just one venue. Instead, people volunteer to let the Pop-Up crew host shows at their homes. The shows are often announced with little notice, only a week or two in advance at best. However, the team always manages to bring a crowd that fills whatever downtown backyard or living room has been provided for that night.
Besides a few warnings from Charleston police about noise, the team of four have managed to operate their shows without any incidents.
“We were all best friends and it ended up with all of us thinking that this was a good idea,” Spearman said. “I feel like everybody brings something different to the group and (the shows) wouldn’t really happen if one of us weren’t involved.”
Both young men graduated from the College of Charleston in May. Navey, 22, majored in English and Spearman double-majored in theater and English. With their undergraduate careers complete, the two of them are ready to start the next chapters of their lives. This next chapter includes leaving the Pop-Up team.
Since the shows are primarily aimed toward a college-age crowd, it makes sense that the two graduates would retire from their roles.
Though they admit that they would like to still occasionally allow Pop-Up to host shows at their house, they are ready for what may come next.
The first Kevsco Alley show went down simply because Green wanted her singer-songwriter friend from Nashville, Tenn., Liza Anne Odachowski, to come visit her in Charleston. Having her play a show right outside of Spearman’s and Navey’s apartment was an excuse for her to make the trip. People enjoyed the show and requested that the crew host more of them. The then-college students sought out other local musicians to keep the ball rolling.
Fast forward to the present, Spearman woke up the morning after the July 3 show to find three messages from people wanting to know if Pop-Up could do a show at their homes. Meanwhile, he also has a waiting list of around 20 different artists requesting to play at Pop-Up’s house shows.
Pop-Up has brought bands from neighboring states and as far as Michigan and California. Its work has helped create not only a name for the four founders, but also helped people get more involved in Charleston’s music scene.
“Pop-Up Charleston is consistently well attended by college students,” said 20-year-old Jones. “We introduce them to bands that perform in the area and are cultivating a future adult who goes out and enjoys the music around them. I kind of think of us as the training wheels for the Charleston music scene.”
Besides having an atmosphere that Jones describes as “homely,” part of Pop-Up’s success is the fact that all the shows are always free to enter. At the end of every show, one of the team members always asks the crowd to make a small cash donation, all of which goes to the artists. The team has yet take a cut of the money. Artists and bands also sell their merchandise at the shows.
“Sometimes house shows can be just as lucrative as a club show because there is no cut being taken and the people are really generous. The people who come to these house shows love and want to support live music,” said Wilson Greene, the banjo player of Look Homeward. “You get to hear a lot of songs. Afterwards, you get to hang out with everyone. (The house shows) are like a party. I get to make a lot of friends. They are a really great atmosphere.”
Though Pop-Up has hosted many indie and folk acts, it also has promoted shows for electronic, hip-hop, acoustic, grunge and rock bands. The shows often bill artists of different genres together, allowing people to hear music they might not get otherwise due to their own preferences.
“I think that’s how its helped (the local music scene), just getting people to listen to local stuff that they wouldn’t have gotten to,” Spearman said.
Navey added, “Also bringing in artists from out of state who may not get a venue here because they wouldn’t normally have an audience here.”
“I’m sad to see them go but excited for their new adventures,” 21-year-old Green said about her team members leaving Pop-Up.
Navey and Spearman will officially resign in August, the anniversary of the house shows that they have helped create. Neither are really sure what they plan to do, but both plan to stay in Charleston for at least another year and remain roommates. With a light schedule now, they might even have time to go to other shows as well.
“We’ve been so stuck on Pop-Up that we just don’t really go out and see other bands,” Navey said. He laughed and added, “I also haven’t had the money for it.”
Though Green and Jones do not have anyone in particular in mind to replace the two College of Charleston alumni, they plan to create an application process for people who are interested in filling the empty spots. The positions will be open to current students.
“(Spearman) is a master networker and charms his way through every challenge we’ve had. (Navey) is a social media wizard and knows so much music. Pop-Up will change with these boys leaving us,” Jones said.
The current team members hope that Pop-Up will continue to improve, both in how it operates and how it cultivates music lovers. Jones admits there are some “back of the house” things that need some work, but she wants the look and feel of the shows to stay the same.
“Innovation can’t happen if it’s the same people doing it over and over,” Navey said.
The two roommates spoke confidently about their fellow Pop-Up team members keeping the shows running without them. Spearman and Navey are thankful for the experience of running a small organization and having the chance to leave a mark on local music here in Charleston.
“Not very many college students get to book bands or deal with venues,” Spearman said. “Not many college students get to deal with what we did, outside of an internship. We (ran Pop-Up) on our own and the students that Addi and Katie bring in to replace us are going to continue to do it on their own.”
To find out what shows are coming up next, got to www.facebook.com/popupcharleston.