Wes Gilliam | Credit: Will Crooks

Two weeks ago, an article ran in the Greenville Journal highlighting the fact that Greenville didn’t have a mid-sized venue comparable to the Orange Peel in Asheville and suggested we were worse off for it.

While I do wish that we had a larger venue here in town, it’s not going to keep me from supporting the local scene we already have.

We once had our beloved Handlebar here in town, but I rarely saw shows that I wanted to see come through there. Maybe twice a year, I went and saw a show there, but I personally like a lot of punk rock/indie rock, so that’s fine by me. I get it.

There’s been many different emotions surrounding Brad Willis’ article, most of which have been outrage. The piece seemed to negate the efforts of everyone in the area who didn’t fit into the Orange Peel mold of what the author appeared to want.

While this view may be a bit harsh, it’s generally how most people in the music community took it. There’s a lot of us here, so that didn’t simmer into a peaceful resolve. Instead it re-opened a lot of wounds, especially for me.

You see, about two years ago there was another push for a bigger venue in Greenville. But at the end of the day, even though everyone pined for a larger room, no one was willing to break out the checkbook. 

Fast forward two years, and the song remains the same.

So why hasn’t Greenville gotten a bigger venue? To borrow from The Smiths: “Baby, you just haven’t earned it yet.”

Even though we’re rapidly growing and expanding, we’re still relatively new to the Top 10 lists we all love and recite like gospel.

People love to cite the radius clause with us being so close to Asheville, and, yes, while that may be a detriment to some shows, it’s not to all of them. So that’s one strike against us, one mark in the “con” column if you will.

So why not focus on the pro’s? Like how we’re outside of the range of radius clauses for Charlotte, Atlanta, Athens, Columbia, Charleston, and even Augusta. I-85 gets a lot of traction, and a lot of acts aren’t trying to go too far out of their way when they’re already hitting the Fillmore in Charlotte and the Tabernacle or Masquerade in Atlanta.

There’s an old saying: “You can have things good, fast, or cheap, but you can only have two of those things.” To me, that’s where Greenville seems to be.

The city has put tons of money into making Greenville a family-centric safe place with tons of restaurants and a big push for tourism. That’s their priority, and it seems to be working for them. It does leave some of us music-minded people feeling a bit left out in the cold though.

But wait. Doesn’t Greenville host an annual weekend-long festival that brings tons of national artists through every year called Fall for Greenville? And host a weekly series throughout the summer bringing music through called Downtown Alive? What about Artisphere? It seems Greenville is doing a pretty good job at bringing music to us already, so why complain so much about the lack of mid-level national acts? It makes us seem like a petulant child in some aspects.

Last year at Fall For Greenville, I got to see Cloud Nothings for free, and Jeff the Brotherhood for free the year before that. While I know these aren’t household names — and I like music only slightly more obscure than the average person — I’m still super grateful they played.

Do I wish there were more eclectic/more obscure artists brought through? Yes, but these are events provided by the city, for all people in the city, and so they’re trying to cover their bases while still providing entertainment for people of all ages.

So it’s safe to say I don’t lay blame on just the city for us not having a stronger music scene.

And to clarify, yes, our music scene could always be stronger. Every music scene could always be stronger, and everyone involved at the ground level usually thinks that their scene sucks, at least for a fleeting moment or two. So let’s try to move forward in a positive manner.

also want to point out that places like Horizon Records and Cabin Floor Records also have lots of acts playing there, and Record Store Day (Sat. April 22 this year) at Horizon Records is always the place to be. The year before last had Jason Isbell play for free. I’ve also seen Rhett Miller (Old 97’s) play there. Adia Victoria, Marcus King Band, and countless others have played there for free also.

Even local radio stations such as X98.5 have made an effort to bring in artists for unplugged shows at Upstate Craft Beer Co. in recent months. Last week, Dreamers played there, and acts like Judah & the Lion as well as Barns Courtney have been brought through in the last three to four months alone. All of the bands listed above are national acts who play venues across the country similar in size to the Orange Peel.

One overlooked local company that constantly brings national high-caliber and quality acts through on a regular basis (usually every three to four weeks) is Karma Grooves.

While the average Greenvillian may not be an EDM fan, there are still plenty of others who are, and frequent these shows. Tony Parks and his team have built a strong following, and others have started falling suit. Kudos.

Also for those who love country music, the Blind Horse Saloon has been bringing in — usually to sell out capacity — many notable country acts. Yet they are often overlooked as well.

The point I really want to get at is this: We don’t have a large venue in town that brings us a constant rotation of up-and-coming larger artists or national artists at a 500-1,000 person level — yet.

Maybe one day it’ll happen, maybe it won’t. But we really need to get away from this “grass is always greener” mentality. It accomplishes nothing.

So in the meantime why don’t we go out and see a local show here in town? That’s usually generally affordable. And if we don’t like the band playing, then leave. Or even better yet, do a simple google search and see who’s playing before we go out.

“Siri, who’s playing tonight in Greenville?” has got to pull up something.


Wes Gilliam is the creator of the Hey Look! Music Festival and HeyListenMusic.com. Correspondence can be directed to Wes@heylookfestival.com

  1. We need a larger venue. Most of the bands I’m into will only hit Atlanta or Charlotte. We have a strong music scene, but a larger venue is a must.

  2. I totally agree. We need some place to go see bigger music makers. Build it and they will come! Even if its an out door venue. Greenville has so many NEW hotels and high rise condos and apartments ITS RIDICULOUS! Its hard to move around downtown. Give us music lovers a place to go enjoy ourselves.

  3. Its certainly not just a new venue that will solve the problem of not booking national/larger regional acts. When selecting stops for a tour there are lots of things to consider… One of the most important ones is: “How well is my target demo/audience represented?” Aka can we attract a crowd and sell tickets and merch? Not rocket science right?

    While lots of bands may be able to check off the box for Greenville if there’s a great venue in town, can most acts really expect to do better there than in Charlotte, Ashville or Atlanta? Because they would probably have to pick it over one of them. That would be a risk that many bands can’t afford. Despite recent growth, Greenville is still a relatively small city still and a pretty tame place. It’s very conservative, deeply southern and family oriented. That is fine, but these are not exactly the qualities that come to mind in cities with a vibrant music and arts scene.

    I remember once several years ago Dave Matthews said he would never come back to Greenville again because of the lack of enthusiasm in the crowd at the Bi-Lo center…really?! The music industry is small and that kind of thing is horrible for a city’s credibility.

    Greenville, I hope you’ll prove me wrong! Turn out to see live music as often as you can. Pay the cover, get excited, be a good crowd when bands come… Like the author said, EARN it! Otherwise don’t complain & wonder why when they pass you by for other cities.

  4. The kind of defeatist attitude laid out in this article is incredibly disheartening.

    Greenville has many talented musicians, and many attractive things to offer. A music scene however, it most certainly does not.

    You can’t install high rises and boutique shops and say “look at our culture.”

    Greenville needs a space for the arts.
    Greenville needs a larger venue.
    Greenville needs to foster creativity.

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