On Wednesday June 17 Charleston, SC was changed forever due to an unthinkable act committed by an individual who seemed to have some pretty sick and twisted ideas about how the world should work. In the days after that tragedy unfolded, this grand old Southern city demonstrated that while that one person’s worldview might be exclusionary, the truth is that we’re all in this together. Thinking about and talking about solidarity is one thing, but the people of this city have gone further; putting those words and ideas into action. The outpouring of love and the various ways folks here in town have dreamed up to execute those actions has taken my breath away. There is the almost constant stream of mourners at the Emanuel AME church on Calhoun St. who deposit colorful flowers in an ever-deepening pile, adding more and more beauty to a place that saw such ugliness just a few days prior. There is the crowd, estimated to be 10,000-15,000, who joined hands across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in a show of community support. Then there are the local musicians, who came together this past Tuesday night at the Pour House on James Island in a truly beautiful display of unity and caring.
Billed as “Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart,” a reference to the Grateful Dead tune “Shakedown Street,” the event started taking form over the course of last weekend as a way for the Pour House and local musicians to raise some money for the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund. As the hours passed, interest in the project exploded, not only from the musicians who were tapped to donate their time to perform, but also local businesses that wanted to help raise money and local music fans who wanted to donate to the cause. After more than 2,000 people RSVP’d to the Facebook page for the event, the decision was made to sell tickets this past Monday for the Tuesday night show. The tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale.
I arrived in the early evening in time to catch acts such as Dangermuffin and HoneySmoke perform on the Pour House’s deck. As the sun went down patrons enjoyed beverages on the deck and visited the booths out back adjacent to the parking lot, where a dozen or so businesses were pedaling their wares, with all proceeds going toward the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund. In addition, all of the Pour House staff was working for free that night, with the bartenders even donating their tips to the fund. As 9pm approached, those lucky enough to purchase tickets to the main event inside presented their wristbands and entered the venue. What unfolded was a night of music that won’t soon be forgotten. I could try to go through a rundown of the bands that played and the songs performed, but in reality there was such a sense symbiosis going on that trying to list and categorize everything would be futile. Instruments were shared, this musician would hop up on the stage to play with that band (keyboardist Whitt Algar probably sat in with the most acts, as far as I saw), and the result was a gorgeous grab bag of local music. Some of the highlights included The Manny Praise Team taking the crowd to church with some serious gospel chops, Chris Hyatt’s beautiful covers of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror,” Gaslight Street with Reid Stone absolutely owning “People Get Ready” and “To Love Somebody,” Sol Driven Train channeling Paul Simon on “Late in the Evening,” and Dead 27’s debuting a new original song, “Emanuel,” inspired by the past week’s events. Each band played for about 20-25 minutes, and the changeover between acts was virtually non-existent. In the end, it was announced on Thursday that the event had raised $30,000 for the church. Not bad at all for an event that was just an idea in a few people’s heads a few days prior.
To be fair, the musicians in this town have always been the charitable type. The same night that the shindig at the Pour House was happening, other musicians in town were doing their part at other venues. For example, Lily Slay and Kain Naylor were able to raise $300 during their set at the Tattooed Moose. The best part is that it all goes to support a building and a congregation who have faced tragedy in the past and stayed standing. I have no doubt that the Emanuel AME church will only grow stronger after this sad event, thanks in part to the selfless acts of the community that surrounds it.