A new street music series enhances downtown Spartanburg’s cultural district

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Drummer/vocalist TJ Jeter will perform in the Chapman Cultural Center’s Street Music series in September, along with Marc Higgins, Salti Ray, and more. Photo provided

Back in 2015, the South Carolina Arts Commission named the four-block area that runs from Barnet Park to the Spartanburg Community College’s downtown campus, the Grain District and Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium a “cultural district” — and with good reason.

Within that area are 21 indoor live performance venues, 43 art galleries or exhibit spaces, 38 murals or public art displays, and five museums, all hosting a total of over 1,300 events and festivals annually.

The drive for the cultural district designation was largely spearheaded by the Chapman Cultural Center’s Culture Counts initiative, which began in 2013. The Chapman Cultural Center, a nonprofit partnership of seven different performing arts organizations, created Culture Counts as an effort to use the creative arts as a way to boost Spartanburg’s economy and revitalize the downtown area.

And while walking through the district enjoying the galleries, arts vendors, and other cultural attractions, what could be better than a little browsing music?

That’s the inspiration behind the Cultural Center’s Street Music series. Various musicians will play largely acoustic “pop-up” concerts at four different intersections within the district, with performances running Wednesday through Friday afternoons from 5–7:30 p.m. until Oct. 28. There will also be Saturday performances from 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.

“We have a lot of local musical talent in the Upstate,” says Rachel Williams, communications director of the Chapman Cultural Center. “And one of our goals at the Cultural Center is to make sure that we’re putting musicians to work and giving them an opportunity to make a living with their artistic endeavors.”

The street-corner performances so far have featured Upstate music scene veterans like Matt Fassas, April Bennett, and David Ezell. The Chapman Cultural Center has also created a registry on their website to help them seek out talent to fill the rest of the dates.

“The registry also allows us to act as a referral service for local musicians,” Williams says. “We get a lot of inquiries at the center from people looking for a jazz ensemble or a singer/songwriter for parties or events happening around town.”

Many of the initial performers on the schedule, which kicked off in early August, came from the Cultural Center’s Sundays Unplugged singer/songwriter series, and not every band will fit the bill.

“We want people to be able to walk from the East Side to the West Side of Main Street with musicians spread out so that as you walk, you’re going to hear all kinds of different music,” Williams says. “But it’s more about creating an ambience and a vibe to accompany what’s going on in downtown Spartanburg. It’s basically like getting a mini-concert every block you walk.”

In other words, they don’t mind if you stop for a song or two, but the performers are meant to be part of a larger experience, so make sure to keep moving and check out all the musicians (leaving tips along the way, of course), along with the galleries and shops.

“We want to elevate and enhance the experience of shopping and eating in our downtown area, but we don’t want to intrude on anything that’s already taking place,” Williams says.

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