Inside the lives of our local musicians.
Story by Barry Kaufman
It could be Tuesday at The Boardroom. Or Friday at Big Bamboo. Or just a Sunday Funday at The Tiki Hut.
Wherever it is, whenever it is, odds are good that if it’s happening on Hilton Head Island, there’s a band playing. If there’s not a band, there’s at least one guy there with an acoustic guitar and a playbook stuffed full of Wagon Wheel and Tom Petty. It’s practically a requirement (Don’t quote us, but we’re pretty sure it’s written somewhere in the town’s bylaws).
Live music isn’t just a big deal on Hilton Head Island. The explosive growth of Bluffton has given rise to a slew of new restaurants and bars, each with a full weekly lineup of live acts.
So what is it about our area that makes it so friendly for musicians? And more importantly, who are these people working day in and day out to keep us entertained?
“You want to know what it’s like being a musician around here? It’s hot,” quipped Jevon Daly. Depending on the night, you might see Daly playing a fiddle as part of a Lowcountry Boil, or rocking a set of spandex leggings and a wig as part of Silicone Sister, or playing in any of four other bands that now count him on their roster. And like most musicians around here, he usually finds himself playing outdoors at the peak of summer. So, yeah, believe him when he says it’s hot.
But hey, no matter how hot it gets, sunshine beats the alternative. “Most places you play around here are outdoors, so if it rains you’re out of luck,” said Brad Wells, who left a career in radio to pursue music full-time. He’s been playing around nine years now, six locally. What makes Wells unique is that in a scene filled with guys who make their money during Hilton Head’s summer tourist season, he plays most of his gigs in Bluffton.
“People in Bluffton are very supportive of music and they’re loyal,” said Wells. “On an average Friday night in Old Town. There are probably 7 to 10 musical acts playing, and every new business is realizing they need live music to get locals out.”
And this is where the Lowcountry shines for musicians. There are the summer gigs, plentiful and lucrative that can build a nest egg for the cold winter months. But there are plenty of ways to fill those months with paying performances.
It was attractive enough to draw Bobby Magyrosi away from one of the most legendary music cities in the country. Before he was performing at venues across Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, Magyrosi worked the club and bar circuit in Detroit, the birthplace of Motown. He made the move south a year ago and hasn’t looked back. “Down here it’s different, and better in the sense that there are so many places to play,” he said. “Everyone does live music here and, especially for a solo guy, you can keep really busy. Plus, you don’t have to drive 45 minutes to every gig.”
These guys seem to be living the dream – playing music and living in a paradise most people only visit for vacation – but make no mistake, this is work. While some are able to make ends meet and keep everyone fed on music alone, many work day jobs to keep the lights on and allow them to pursue their musical passions.
Groove Town Assault is one of the most sought after bands on the island right now, with a new album, a rabid fan base of locals and a touring schedule running through three states. When he’s is not scratching a tuntable for the band, D.J. Brian Eason can be found working at a lumber yard. “I’m up at 7 a.m. every morning, even after playing until almost 2 and getting home some time after 3,” he said. “On week nights when we play, I try to take at least a one- or two-hour power nap after my day job at ESPY Lumber, then hit the bed as soon as I get home from the show.”
Despite his schedule, as soon as those lights hit, Eason is a whirlwind behind the turntables, fueling GTA’s high-energy stage shows.
Some of the hardest-working people on the island are playing music. Probably the best example of this work ethic is Cranford Hollow frontman John Cranford. Since forming the band six years ago, Cranford hasn’t stopped. What was a four-piece band playing local bars has become a national touring phenomenon, with five albums under its belt and music showing up in ads for Progressive Insurance. While Cranford’s ambition and the relentless talent of the band are largely responsible for that success, he also points to Hilton Head’s role as an incubator for musical talent.
“On any given Friday, there might be two dozen people you can go see playing music,” he said. “For a community of 40,000 people, having dozens of musicians playing all the time, it’s very lucky.”
And the island that does so much to support local musicians has been exceptionally kind to its homegrown rock stars. “No matter what we do or where we go or what we put out, we always have a home on Hilton Head to play and pay our rent, and this amazing fanbase that comes out and sees our shows,” Cranford said.
Living the dream life of a Lowcountry musician can be hard, sweaty, thankless, Wagon Wheel-filled work, but ask any of these guys and they wouldn’t trade the area’s music scene for the world.
“Thank God you can make a living playing music around here,” Daly said. “Because between all the Big Bamboos, Tiki Huts, Frosty Frogs, Calhoun’s, Captain Woody’s, Roasting Rooms and Fat Patties, there’s a lot of opportunity.”