In one of its biggest musical weeks since the pandemic hit, Township Auditorium has three concerts on the schedule this week: '90s alt-rockers Collective Soul and Better Than Ezra on Oct. 7; outlaw country/Americana star Cody Jinks on Oct. 8; and the iconic R&B/pop group Earth Wind and Fire on Oct. 9.
With the arguable exception of the Columbia Speedway in Cayce, the Township remains the sole venue in the Midlands of its size — The Senate is the closest step down with a capacity of 1,200, and going up means the 18,000 seats of Colonial Life Arena. So outside of a few superstars or multi-artist packages, it’s the primary stage in town for big touring draws.
And as the concert schedule begins to repopulate in post-COVID-19 pandemic earnestness this fall and winter, the three shows booked this weekend emphasize the particular kinds of shows that Columbia draws, with true contemporary A-listers like Jack White (2014) or Future and Migos (2017) appearing few and far between.
Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that Columbia is simply a secondary market, lacking the size of nearby metropolises like Charlotte, Atlanta or Raleigh-Durham, or the built-in tourism draw of Asheville or Charleston. Plus the Southeast as a whole often gets short shrift because it is often easier to route a tour in the Northeast or on the West Coast.
Hence, our concert scene also feels a tad scattershot and underwhelming, despite having a growing youth population, a large university and the kind of vibrant arts scene that might make us seem like a more favorable landing spot for a wide variety of musical acts.
Still, it’s difficult to deny that the city does have particular penchant for the '90s radio rock also-rans: if you wanted to make a weekend of it, you can catch Collective Soul and Better Than Ezra on Thursday and Everclear at the Senate on Saturday and it will feel like WARQ never switched formats. Rosewood Crawfish Festival capitalized on this trend for years, well through the 2010s, and acts like Tonic and Third Eye Blind still frequently return to the city.
The degree to which that’s simply nostalgia being a reliable draw or some kind of a distinctive throwback culture due to the city’s musical identity being tied to the true kings of 1990s commercial rock, Hootie & the Blowfish, is both debatable and somewhat beside the point.
Earth, Wind & Fire obviously harkens even further back, with innovative and infectious hits beginning in the '70s and carrying through the next decades as the dexterous group spun R&B, soul, and funk sounds into gold.
The group is also indicative of another resilient strain of Columbia bookings in that both retro acts and tradition-minded R&B as a whole tends to do quite well here. And while nobody would accuse EWF of being at the center of music culture today, there’s no denying their massive legacy and the ways in which their songs have lived on via hip-hop sampling.
Cody Jinks, though, is a more contemporary figure, and he illustrates that Columbia tends to do best on the contemporary music level at drawing country and Americana acts.
This definitely has something to do with regional dynamics in that these types of artists are more likely to route extensive tours through the Southeast in general given where their fan bases are, our city does support a wide and diverse array of roots-oriented music, both in the country radio vein and otherwise. Jinks is one of many Americana-leaning artists, like Jason Isbell or Tyler Childers, who has returned frequently to our city to play larger and larger venues.
So while music fans in Columbia might long for the stacked offerings of the nexus of Live Nation venues just 90 minutes to the north, it’s the same as it ever was in our city, for (truly) better or (often) worse. Rock on.