A wave of nostalgia made its way through the crowd gathered at Palmetto Brewery on Saturday night. There were some laughs, some tears, some hugs, some beers, and an all around overwhelming support for Pop-Up Charleston and what it has stood for during the past two years in the Charleston music scene.
Starting back in Kevsco Alley in the glory days of 2014, Addi Green, Matt Navey, and Peter Spearman first thought of how to facilitate a house show for Green’s friends Liza Anne and Corey Kilgannon, who were coming down in April from Nashville. The show was to take place in Spearman and Navey’s glorious street-art-backyard-wonderland— Kevsco Alley.
“There was a bunch of graffiti, and it was super punk rock and we’re not really punk rock aesthetically,” says Spearman. “Speak for yourself,” retorts Green with a laugh. Spearman continues, “It was this really cool space that quite frankly gave you a different feel than anything else that’s happened since or before.”
The test-run and very first Kevsco Alley show happened in February with a performance by Joe Southers. “We all just kind of crowded around him and his amp, and that was how we gauged the interest before hosting the show in April,” says Spearman. Six months of alley shows followed, including an epic album release performance featuring Americana-laced She Returns From War and electronic emotional Tiger Hudson, a bombastic display by high-energy folk ensemble Family and Friends, and a statement show by local superstar Steven Fiore.
“That first spring and summer, we had 10 shows, ranging in styles—mostly local—but it started gaining interest and we gained a following,” says Green. “It was so beautiful. Random people would wander down the alley. They thought they had happened onto this magical thing.”
“That’s when we met Katie [Jones],” says Spearman. “Katie is your stereotypical tall person who likes to stand in the front of the room and block everybody, but because she’s that person, we recognized her face. So, we talked to her and brought her on board.” Jones became an audience-member-turned-house-show-planner, who began assisting with the setup, take down, and typical show logistics.
“The initial part of making it a model was really cool, and then seeing other house show groups like Makeout Reef and Butter Complex do the same thing to enhance their community was really cool too,” says Jones. Jones’s initiation into the group was right at the same time that Spearman and Navey’s lease for the Kevso Alley apartment was ending, and some changes were in order.
“We decided we wanted to keep doing the house shows, but we knew it would have to change because of the new location,” says Green. “So, that’s when we came up with the idea of Pop-Up, which would be hosted at different locations. That also would mean we would need more people on our team, because it was going to be more work.” Thus, Pop-Up Charleston was launched with that name in August 2014 with the intention of creating a house show network throughout downtown apartments and houses.
“The name became less about the specific place and more about a name that would be recognized,” says Spearman. “We wanted something where people feel like they belong, no matter what kind of person they are. But, we weren’t even the most established house show scene in Charleston. The hardcore kids have been doing that forever. Ten years ago, they were super strong, and they were the only ones who didn’t really die out. They understand the DIY community, and if you look at them, they’re all really invested. Essentially what we’ve tried to do is bring that kind of feel to it but with a different kind of crowd.”
With the launch of Pop-Up Charleston came a revamped process that involved a lot more commitment from the community, specifically the college and local musician crowds. For Pop-Up to exist, there had to be a network of people willing to host shows at their houses, even when the threats of noise ordinance violations were on the table.
“Apparently, the noise ordinance isn’t actually anywhere defined,” says Spearman. “So, it’s unconstitutional, but nobody’s going to challenge it because it takes time and it takes money. That being said, the police here are really cool about not giving tickets when they’re aware that it’s not a party. That’s been my experience.” There was one ticket given at a Pop-Up show, which started to cause an added stress that eventually wore down the team, though the house show network kept spreading.
“I think it was cool that people were still willing to let us use their homes after that, and I think that really speaks to the community that we’ve happened to fall into here,” says Spearman.
Holden Curran can’t be left out of Pop-Up’s story, however. Curran was brought on in the last six months as a photographer and fresh perspective. “The first time I heard about Pop-Up, I saw an event on Facebook for a Heyrocco show, and Peter mentioned something about Rocko’s Modern Life, and I was like, ‘Oh, I watched that show as a kid,’ and since every Pop-Up show had an episode next to it, I thought it was going to be a party where Rocko’s Modern Life was going to be played out. So, my roommate and I went, but we actually left even before Heyrocco came on,” says Curran. “That’s so funny! I never knew that,” laughs Green. Spearman adds, “You missed the sweatiest thing in the world, dude. My couch got ruined.”
Curran continues, “From there, I came to every show I was in town for since then. I think what I was able to bring was the younger viewpoint- input from the side they hadn’t really seen before or put thought into. I think that helped balance it a little bit.” Green adds, “All of us started getting old and jaded and wrinkly like the creepy guy at the party. Holden was fresh-faced. Still creepy, but fresh-faced.”
When Curran was brought on, the original group wasn’t sure whether they wanted to make Pop-Up their own thing forever or let in a new generation. Green says, “We had all this potential, and it seemed like everyone thought we could really do something with this. And we were very excited to continue to go forward. But then it all sort of hit us one day when we were talking about the different things we could do to make Pop-Up something more than it was, that by doing that, we would be losing what Pop-Up was supposed to be. What we were going to end up turning it into is the thing that we created Pop-Up to combat and resist.”
The decision to end the project was made at Early Bird Diner over a sad group of omelettes and an idea to wrap things up with a finale show to commemorate all the years of music and memories. “We started this because it was fun,” says Spearman. “It was our friends and we were making new friends and I love that. But at some point recently, we all realized it wasn’t really fun anymore.” Jones adds, “After it got too big, it lost the feeling. It was a job, and it was hard. We were all tired and frustrated. It didn’t feel the same at all.”
Pop-Up Charleston has had over 40 shows since its inception in Kevsco Alley, with a goal of hosting at least two shows a month since August 2014. Since that fateful day, something shifted in the local music equilibrium. There was more energy and excitement and a consistent outlet for the younger crowd that hadn’t quite existed before. There was something extremely powerful and inspiring about college students creating a successful music network, and it was something that people were drawn to and clung to.
“I think Pop-Up hosting so many shows consistently has inspired a lot of people,” says Jones. “Like, I lived on St. Philip Street and threw a couple of shows in my backyard, and now my upstairs neighbors throw shows. We don’t feel like house shows are dependent on Pop-Up anymore. People are doing their own shows. That was the whole point.”
As the stars came out over Palmetto Brewery and I sipped on my pint of strawberry jalapeno beer after snapping photos of Corey Kilgannon, Triathlon, Liza Anne, Heyrocco, and ET Anderson, I looked back at the sea of people behind me. These were people who might have never attended a show without Pop-Up Charleston- people who had grown from sophomores at College of Charleston at those first Kevsco Alley house shows to 21-and-up local fans buying tickets at music venues across the state. Without Pop-Up Charleston, that crowd behind me might not have ever existed. And I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write this piece with a true appreciation for the bands I have been able to see live in a graffitied alleyway and random Charleston houses.
Thank you, Pop-Up, for everything. We’ll miss you!
Highlights Throughout the Years
Michael Flint: The Last Kevsco Alley Show
She Returns from War EP Release with Tiger Hudson: Free wine and epic tunes
Heyrocco and Johnny Delaware: Pop vibes
The Soil and the Sun: Most impromptu and the first show the cops came to
Dempsey: Really recent show that kept things going
Steven Fiore: Private, secret show at Johnny Delaware’s house
Prince Rupert and Tedo Stone: Bizarre in the best way possible
Corey Kilgannon and Hunter Park: Last show at the Pink Palace
Nic Jenkins: The weirdest series of events (You’ll have to ask the Pop-Up crew about this one.)
What Pop-Up Has Meant to Charleston
“Pop-Up has managed to get a younger audience excited about going to shows, to really foster a show-going culture. Their shows are always very welcoming, and their organizers have a passion that is infectious.” -Dan McCurry, Hearts & Plugs
“I think Pop-Up helped define the Charleston music scene. It was a nice part of the growth that’s taken/taking place in Charleston over the past few years. Great Yankee has played several Pop-Up shows, and I’ve played one as well. It gave a chance to bands and fans of music to broaden their horizons. They took ‘house show’ to a different level and really provided the people here with good music. I’m sad to see it go, but now look at the music scene here.” -Ryan Alexander, Great Yankee
“To me, Pop-Up means 5 sweethearts doing the Lord’s work by selflessly putting on beautiful shows and cultivating a wonderful music scene in our dear Holy City.” -Brett Nash, Secret Guest
“Pop-Up has been a fun gang promoting better networking throughout the arts community in Charleston. They’ve done good things.” -Nic Jenkins, Infinitikiss
“They cared about the artists and the people who attended their shows. It was always a welcoming atmosphere on both ends. I also met plenty of like-minded people and friends through Pop-Up, whether I was playing or just going to check out any of the shows they put on. The house show we played with Daddy Issues (NC) was such a great time. Playing in a house, that’s our natural habitat, and it’s easier to connect with audiences because it’s such an intimate and special environment.” -Tyler Morris, ET Anderson
“I feel very lucky to have been a part of such a legendary project.” -Thi Lam, Tiger Hudson
“From the network of relationships they’ve sewn between bands that probably would’ve never even met otherwise to the good memories, the Pop-Up kids really created something special. We can only hope somebody picks up the torch.” -Zach Santiago, Dempsey
“I love all of the Pop-Up Charleston folks for giving young people…an outlet to consistently come and have fun and enjoy music with their friends, meet new friends, and meet the bands they love so much. I hope that the last two years of work they’ve all put in will inspire people to either pick up from where they left off or at least to continue to go out and see bands they’ve never heard of or have never seen play just for the experience of going to a live show. I’m very much going to miss sweating my ass off at the Pink Palace with all of my friends.” -Gabriella Natali, Hearts & Plugs
“Pop-Up has been a refuge for original music in downtown Charleston. It has been a great platform for us to reach people who are really hungry for original music, and that not the easiest thing to find.” -John Brooker, Great Yankee
“The entire Pop-Up crew are some of the nicest, most sincere people on this earth. They’re in it for one reason; they love music and will do anything within their means to support artists inside and outside of their community. For the past year, if I wanted to book a show, I texted Peter rather than reaching out to the venues because I knew that I could expect a receptive, attentive audience. They gave Charleston something it hasn’t had in a long time- a real listening room- and the absence of this will not go unnoticed. I think I speak from everyone who’s ever collaborated with them when I say, we love you, Pop-Up Charleston. You will be missed.” -Steven Fiore, Young Mister