Foreword by Tim Brennan – Charlie Mosbrook is a folk singer/songwriter out of Cleveland, OH. He’s been hosting open mic nights at coffeehouses for about 25 years. These events have helped spawn some of the region’s best artists. While maintaining these traditions around town, he has also been honing his own craft. No Depression magazine correctly stated, “The guy has a rich, worldly voice that sounds like it was broken in slowly, like a well-loved instrument.”
Almost taken for granted in his hometown, it wasn’t until a degenerative spinal condition left him partially paralyzed in 2010 that the critics started giving him his just rewards, bestowing upon him the honor of “Best Singer Songwriter” in 2011. Many who know him have recognized his talents for decades. The spinal condition was doubly troubling. Not only did it risk his ability to be a musician, it stopped his athletic pursuits – he had raced Ironmans and Triathalons before this injury.
However, the injury renewed him in a way. He has released three CDs since becoming partially paralyzed, each CD more beautiful than the previous. Unable to tour like before, he relies on public transportation and the kindness of old friends scattered around the country.
House concert tour through the Carolinas – by Charlie Mosbrook
It had been 20 years since my last visit to the Carolinas. That visit was to bury my Grandmother. During the trip, my music was only a thought when I would meet one of her friends. They were all told by my Grandmother that I had a quartet. While this was true, I got the feeling that she had chosen her description very carefully in an attempt to give her grandson’s music career a greater air of sophistication. Prior to that, I had performed at a talent show while attending a retreat in high school at Montreat. Our act was to be an acrobatic routine utilizing chairs. When it became clear that our choreography would not be ready in time for the show, we switched out cassettes in the moments before we went on, and smashed 3 chairs to the tune of The Who’s My Generation, until the organizers shut us down. We received a standing ovation from our peers, and I was hooked on live performance. While my life as a performer since that day may never have risen to the level of cultural grandeur of my grandmothers colorful description, I like to believe that it is more thoughtful and better rehearsed then my debut in the Carolinas.
My most recent visit to the region was built around a small tour into the southeast where I would focus on House Concerts as a solo singer songwriter. I had established some good contacts in the region including three musicians that had appeared on a compilation project featuring my music.
These days I prefer the house concert model. I find that these small intimate shows enjoy more support and the presenters are genuinely concerned with making my visit a positive experience. Without a label and tour support, it is easy for a small artist to become overlooked. Traveling across the country to perform requires a huge leap of faith. Knowing that you will have an opportunity to connect with local audiences is key in making the decision to visit an area. House concerts are presented by individuals who choose to do so because they are fans of an artist. Their recommendation and invitations to friends goes a long way as an endorsement. Hosts also take very good care of a traveling musician. Food and lodging are often provided. The events are very community friendly. The success of the show is not dependent on ticket or drink sales.
I like to use public ground transportation when ever possible. I find buses and trains to be less stressful to my body, mind, and budget.
My first stop was in Asheville, North Carolina. I arrived at the Greyhound station outside of town following an all night trip from my home in Cleveland, Ohio. The first part of the trip was an 11 hour ride on the Megabus. This trip took me to Knoxville Tennessee. It cost me $1.50. After catching a cab from the transportation center to the Greyhound station, I had a 4 hr. wait for a 6 am ride across the smokies and into Asheville. I slept for the first hour, but woke in time to watch daylight grow as the bus traveled along a foggy mountain highway.
Once in town, my host and friend Sera met me and we found some good coffee and a mountain view of the area before heading to her home. Sera lives on the outskirts of town with her partner John and their dog Serius. They gave me the guest room and an air mattress for my two night visit. I showered up and we all went out and explored the city. Most of what we took in was beer. A variety of very good beer. The city is a beautiful town with all the best features of a college town while lacking the things that ruin big school towns. An appreciation for the arts and music was evident, and folks were warm and welcoming while maintaining a worldly mindfulness. I never had a sense that this was a small town that wished to live secluded from the rest of the planet. In many cases I got the feeling that residents were looking beyond ours and were open to many new worlds. Any pre conceived notions I had about southern attitudes were quickly being amended as great evidence of cultural diversity appeared in abundance.
Sera went to work while I changed guitar strings and drank coffee with John out on the porch. We made sure that the PA was in place and got ready for the show. This night I would perform at All Souls Pizza. Sera manages the place and thought it would be the best place to do a show. With a big Friday night crowd, great weather and a large patio, she was right. John helped me set up the sound and aided me throughout the night with stage management. I felt my performance started a little clumsy, but everyone else was enjoying it and seemed to truly like my music, so I kept my mouth shut. Midway through the first set, I was playing up to my own expectations. I was having a lot of fun, and could have kept going, but we ended the show at ten to let the staff get the place clean and closed. Next to the patio is a big field where John started a fire pit. We all moved to this area with wine and guitars. The loose campfire jam lasted till 1 am. Tired and buzzed, we went back to the house to sleep. My next bus was scheduled to leave for Columbia at 9am.
I woke up early so that I could shower before getting on the bus. Sera was up shortly after, and we headed out for coffee. When we arrived at the station, I attempted to check in. A gruff older man sporting an unlit cigar clenched in his mouth looked at the e-ticket on my ipad and told me “we don’t do that here, this is a small place.” I went straight to the bus and showed it to the driver. The bus line, South Eastern Stages, is not prepared to accept the pdf version of their tickets on an ipad. After a short phone conference, the driver said they would make an exception this time, and I would b
e able to travel. All the other riders were amused and amazed by the lack of technical understanding demonstrated by the bus company. A few jokes were shared, Sera saw me on to the bus and we rolled out of town through the mountains and down into South Carolina.
Upon arrival in Columbia I noticed palm trees along the route. The sun was bright and I was reminded of California. The bus station was old and dirty. My friend Dave Michelson met me and we climbed into a van and raced across town to a small festival. It being noon on a Saturday in September, college football gave the city a sense of celebration and lots of color. We, however, were headed to the Rosewood Arts Festival. Dave had a gig with Tom Hall and the Plow Boys. An exceptional and inspired guitarist, Dave rocked with the band for the next 75 minutes mixing rock, country, zydeco, and french fiddle tunes. I sat in the hot sun and listened with a beer.
Once finished at the festival, we headed into West Columbia where Dave lives with his wife Kelly, son Mason, and dog. We relaxed for a few hours and got ready for the house concert later that night. The plan was to start following the Gamecocks game. Our stage was at the lip of a big garage that Dave uses as a workshop. Filled with vintage audio gear and beat up guitars, it provided a nice backdrop. The audience was seated beneath a big magnolia. Kelly made up some chili and potato soup and Dave opened the show with a set of his own. I had always enjoyed his music. In Cleveland he had won a big talent contest I had produced called the Open Mic awards. He had learned the Blues from Robert Lockwood Jr, and in South Carolina he had been a musical partner with Danielle Howle. His talent always pushed me to play my best, and tonight would be no exception. My set followed, and the neighbors and friends filled in beneath that old magnolia. When I thought it was getting late and time to shut down as to not disturb the neighbors, I was informed that they were all listening. I finally rapped up with my signature version of Joseph Spence’s I Bid You Goodnight. The evening ended for me around 3am following a late round of good bourbon.
I woke with a sniffle or two. I wasn’t sure if I was getting sick or suffering allergies not known yet to me, but I took precautions and had some OJ. My next show would be Tuesday, so I needed to fight the possibility of getting sick.
One tradition I have developed while on tour is to attend a local baseball game. Usually these are minor league games, but MLB was in it’s last day of the regular season. My team from Cleveland could clinch a wildcard spot with a win, so I was following that game on the ipad. We did have a local game however, as Mason and a roster of 8 year olds were playing in a fall league at the local little league complex. He plays for the Pineview Braves. That Sunday afternoon, the team knocked out it’s first win. Back in Cleveland, the tribe got back into the playoffs and the Browns won their second in two weeks. I was a happy fan. We had shrimp for dinner and Dave and I talked till late in the evening before I headed to bed.
I woke to a full blown cold. It was an off day, so I treated it as a sick day and we took it easy. I did my best to nurse myself to good health anticipating the coming day of travel and a radio show.
Though not perfect, my health was greatly improved and Dave put me on a bus for Chucktown. I was again riding with Southeast Stages, but they were better equipped to handle technology in Columbia. Our bus carried a few folks still wearing prison clothes. While I was excited to see the low country and the ocean, I can’t imagine the excitement of those just regaining their freedom. I have to assume there was some ambivalence, but if there were new beginnings riding to the coast that afternoon, I hope those men enjoy freedom for a long time to come. They all looked tough, but were all very polite.
Once in Charleston, I caught a cab to the radio station. Remarkably the fare was equal to my bus ride. The radio station was a internet station called Kinetic HiFi. It was housed within a cooperative cafe and gallery. Tim Brennan, who was a one time bandmate in Cleveland and now Charleston area musician and writer, met up with me. I did a half hour segment that included a performance and interview. My voice was regaining strength, but I stuck with tunes that would not be stressed while still recovering from the cold. It all went well. The host Brian Castengera, and Brad the producer were good folks. Following a late dinner of bbq and bourbon, Tim took me to the small house he uses as a studio/office. This would be my private residence while in Mt Pleasant.
Tim and I spent the day sight seeing. The city is beautiful and it had been too long since I have touched my toes into the Atlantic. While the scenery was incredible, the time spent with Tim was the best. One of my greatest joys in this type of touring is the time spent with old friends. This tour had been rich with these opportunities.
Late in the afternoon, we headed up to Awendaw Green for the barn jam. I was the first on, and opened to a sparse crowd. By the third song, the seats before me were filling in and a full blown outdoor music festival was under way. All this on a Wednesday night. I had a great set and was asked to play again later in the evening. Apparently this doesn’t often happen. Following my final set I had some of the signature stone oven cooked pizza prepared by Danielle Howle, who I had heard so much about from Dave. She was every bit the person he had described. The pizza was great and Tim and I headed to his place to watch the Indians end their playoff run by failing to drive runners home. Tim, however, did not fail in that goal, and got me back to my little temporary home so I could sleep.
The big plan was to prepare for the nights house concert at Grassy Creek. Tim was tickled at the show name, Mosbrook at Grassy Creek. I appreciated it too. The show started with a short set by Becca Bessinger. She had recorded a song with Tim for the compilation Coverage CD. She opened the set with one of my tunes. I was thrilled to hear her do this. She also played her own tunes which I really enjoyed. This was our first meeting, and I hope it will not be our last.
My set got going quickly. My cold was mostly gone and I felt I was in good voice. The guests, maybe 30 strong all seemed to enjoy the night as a whole. Many stuck around for a while following the show. This was a great little community event. My merch kit was a lot lighter when it ended too. Following the show, Tim and I found a bar showing a rare Thursday Night Cleveland Browns game. Unlike the tribe the night before, the Cleveland team won. We made some noise. Our team allegiance was obvious.
I had a ticket for the Amtrak scheduled for 9:30pm. We had lunch on the ocean before Tim headed out on a boy scout camp out with his son, Declan. His wife, Rachel took their daughters Erin, Caitlin and I out for dinner, one last view of the Atlantic, and down to the train station. I boarded at 10:15, and the 98 disappeared into the night.
The train bumped up the coast and I watched the sun rise over the Chesapeake. We arrived in DC for an 8 hour layover. I met another friend for lunch at Union Station, got a gift for Annie, my girlfriend, and caught the Capital Limited home to Cleveland. The final trip was enjoyable. I ate in the dining car, drank some whiskey and fell asleep after Pittsburgh. Arriving at 3am, a friend picked me up and got me home where I fell asleep next to Annie.
This was a great trip. I felt I had enough time in each city to spend time with friends and see the area. The people were warm and inviting. Everywhere I went was highlighted by hospitality. From the smokies to the ocean, the Carolinas are beautiful. I am happy to report that no chairs were destroyed this time. None of my grandmothers friends saw my concerts, though they might have been disappointed because there was no quartet.
Charlie Mosbrook is a songwriter based in Cleveland, Ohio
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.