Let’s get a couple of things out of the way right off the bat, just to quiet down the rumor mill: Yes, The Firmament, a 9,300-square-foot, 825-capacity venue on Market Point Drive in Greenville, will open March 2.
Yes, there have been some delays; the venue was supposed to open this past October.
No, the first band playing at The Firmament, Southern Avenue, is not an electronic dance band. Owner Andrew Peek is part of a collective of electronic dance music DJs also called The Firmament, but he and his business partner, Chad Hendricks, are smart enough to know that they have to book a variety of music to be successful. Southern Avenue is, in fact, an award-winning blues-rock band from Memphis, Tenn.
And yes, The Firmament is located off Woodruff Road near Sticky Fingers and La Parilla restaurants. But there’s a back way to the venue that bypasses Woodruff completely.
So, with those points out of the way, let’s talk about how we got here. Andrew Peek started out as an insurance salesman for his family’s company, but has had a lifelong love of music. He sold his first policy at age 19 and did that for about 15 years before he’d had enough and decided to pursue a career not just as a DJ but also as an event organizer and promoter. He’s put on several EDM festivals at the Saluda River Yacht Club, but he’s long had an eye on something bigger.
“I knew that Greenville needed a bigger music venue,” he says. “When we lost The Handlebar in 2014, I made my decision that that was my goal. And it took a little while, but we got it taken care of.”
Hendricks became involved after one of the Saluda River festivals.
“I got talked into it about two years ago, I guess,” Hendricks says with a laugh. “I knew Greenville needed it, but I wondered if we had the money to do it. We did a Lazy River Festival at Saluda together, and I said, ‘If this does well enough, we’ll talk about the venue,’ and it did well enough to talk about it.”
The search for a venue began with Peek and Hendricks taking a long look at the old Indigo Joe’s on Market Point Drive, largely because of its location.
“We looked at a couple of different spots and they just weren’t feasible,” Peek says. “They were located next to churches, or the ceilings were too low, or there were schools or shopping centers nearby.”
Meanwhile, Peek and Hendricks kept driving by another property on the same street: a building that formerly housed Blue Fire Grill.
“Our Realtor was the same guy who was handling that building, and I asked what was going on with it,” Peek says. “And he said he didn’t think the tenant was going to be there much longer. So we put in an application right away and got approved. And literally the day we signed the papers there were three different offers on the building.”
Thus began a long series of renovations, most notably the removal of the restaurant’s massive kitchen from the dead-center of the building. The projected opening date was October 2017, but that date passed while Peek and Hendricks had to reconstruct their 30-by-20-foot stage.
“After building the stage out of wood, the city came back and asked us to use steel-stud framing, and we knew we weren’t going to have that ready in time,” Peek says. “We moved all of the shows we had booked, and stopped booking completely for a while; in fact, we just recently started it back up.”
It’s reasonable to ask, as the months went by, whether Peek and Hendricks ever got discouraged by the delay.
“Which time?” Peek asks with a laugh. “We thought we were going to be able to get in here in October! We never thought it WASN’T going to happen, but we didn’t know how on God’s green earth we were going to MAKE it happen.”
As their calendar comes together, the two have been conscious of booking a wide variety of acts, including progressive rock groups, metal bands, and country music, along with local-music showcases. Peek says they chose Southern Avenue to open the venue after researching music festivals around the country.
“I was looking at the lineups and going through names we hadn’t heard and doing research on them,” Peek says. “I really dug their music and thought they were a really fantastic group for Greenville and for our opening night. They’re blues and rock ‘n’ roll, not the EDM everyone was worried about!”
The Firmament will also boast a state-of-the-art sound system by PK Sound, a 140-decibel monster that Hendricks says will provide the best sound in the region.
“We thought it could be a good selling point, too,” he says. “You go to a lot of venues and they have outdated sound systems, and they don’t really think about it, but I do.”
“I think it was a priority from the get-go,” Peek adds. “We wanted something that would stand out above the rest, and that added a dynamic push that it’s just unlike anything else.”
Peek says that working with the city on building codes and zoning as they renovated was a positive experience. “I walk into their offices now and the people say, ‘You’re the guy doing the Firmament!’” he says. “They’re happy to see me. They’ve been a lot of help; their concern is the safety of the citizens of Greenville County, and we certainly understand that. Everyone seems very encouraged.”
As for the social media chatter about the music, the location, and the likelihood of them opening that seemed to start the second they made the initial announcement, Hendricks gave Peek a solid strategy for dealing with it.
“I had to tell him, ‘STOP READING IT,’” Hendricks says.
Southern Avenue w/ Phat Lip, Feeva, and Forte
When: Friday, March 2, 8 p.m.
Where: The Firmament, 5 Market Point Drive, Greenville