I’ve been writing about the Upstate music scene for 10 years, and in some ways, 2017 was the most promising year I’ve seen in awhile. There’s a crop of great young bands writing, recording, and playing shows — bands like Hugger Mugger, Tom Angst, Apricot Blush, and Phat Lip. There are more places to play, thanks to the opening of the Tipsy Music Pub and the Velo Fellow’s new listening room. And Sit N’ Spin studio moved into a state-of-the-art new recording space but made it a point to keep their services affordable. Here are the best overall musical moments and places of 2017. I hope there’s more to come in 2018.
Best Album (Local): “Hugger Mugger,” Hugger Mugger
There was no better expression of pure emotion than Hugger Mugger’s debut, released just as 2017 was coming to an end. A maelstrom of guitars and electronics swirls around singer/guitarist Cassie Posey’s raw, passionate wail and the torrential music reflects the lyrics’ themes of confusion, exhilaration, and pain. If it’s possible for music to serve as an unfiltered expression of a person’s state of mind, it’s happening on this album.
Best Album (Regional): “…& I’m Fine Today,” SUSTO
SUSTO’s first album, a collection of cosmic country rock infused with a sense of dark mystery, was so great that following it up was going to be a challenge, but singer/songwriter Justin Osborne rose to the challenge by going big. “…& I’m Fine Today” brings in elegant strings, layered backing vocals, and the occasional bit of electronics, all of which serve a group of outstanding songs that rest comfortably at the crossroads of country and rock. If it isn’t a masterpiece, it’s damn close.
Best Artists (Local): Jim Rollins and Matt Reynolds
Sometimes it takes the tragic, senseless death of someone for people to realize how truly remarkable they were, and the Upstate got an unwelcome double dose of that realization this year. Both Jim Rollins (banjo player and vocalist for the West End String Band) and Matt “Curfew” Reynolds (a singer-songwriter who also served as a roadie for the late Col. Bruce Hampton and tour manager for the Dark Star Orchestra) died unexpectedly, leaving a couple of deep wounds in the local music scene and nationally, as well. Both men were beloved by many, and they will be missed enormously.
Best Artist (Regional): Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
I keep waiting for Amanda Anne Platt to run out of perfectly crafted alt-country gems about heartache, hope, and love, but she keeps turning out song after song that will take up residence in your head and your heart. The band’s self-titled album from earlier this year was no exception, and Platt is reaching Lucinda Williams/Steve Earle territory as both a songwriter and storyteller.
Venue of the Year: Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Highway, Greenville
Wes Gilliam, David Raghib, and Geoffrey Cannada are not going to give up until the Radio Room is Greenville’s equivalent of Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern or Charleston’s Pour House. In other words, they’re going to keep bringing in adventurous national bands and supporting the local scene in their new location. The work they did this past year, both in terms of their relocation and their booking, has been fantastic.
Best Show (Small Venue): Phat Lip EP release show, Gottrocks, June 2
This show was a perfect combination of a dynamite band (Kelly Jo Ramirez’ new Latin pop project, Phat Lip), a red-hot crowd, and the perfect setting. A packed house spent a joyous couple of hours dancing to a tight band with one of the best singers in the Upstate, and the show was one of the best possible examples of what a local music scene can be.
Best Show (Large Venue): Ann Wilson, Peace Center, March 23
Ann Wilson is without question one of the best singers in the history of rock music, and she proved it again at this show, which featured a generous helping of Heart hits like “Alone,” “Barracuda,” and “What About Love,” along with a selection of her favorite songs by other artists. When she hit that cathartic, roof-shaking “YEAH!” toward the end of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” she brought the house down.