Inside the rebranding of Columbia’s Music Farm
“The atmosphere is electric,” says Bob Franklin, the CEO of Tin Roof, when I ask him to describe The Senate in his own words.
And honestly, you can’t argue with that.
But on August 10, at one of The Senate’s first fall shows since rebranding from its Music Farm name, I only count around 75 people. The opening act was a local group called Garrow, whose “about” section on their Facebook page only offers the word “doomgaze” as a description. I look around to find that more people are patronizing the outdoor bar than the inside of the venue, and with a nervous glance towards the roadies, who have started moving instruments, I’m feeling a little nervous for the sake of what could arguably be called Columbia’s main music venue. An actual cobweb is hanging from the corner of a post, threading itself onto the gate of a newly erected seating area, almost like some ominous sign of total emptiness.
And then, when Ume hits the stage, I’m met with a huge feeling of relief. An avant-garde rock group hailing from Austin, they manage to drive inside most of the outdoor drinkers and the smokers who’ve been standing on the sidewalk. Their lead singer and guitarist, Lauren Larson, is short and blonde, and looks like the kind of person you’d expect to see looking up avocado prices at a Whole Foods. But onstage, she’s a ravenous powerhouse of a frontwoman. Nearby, a 10-year-old girl in attendance with her dad had been head banging and nodding along to Garrow’s music. Now, she stands stock still, mouth agape like she’s witnessing what her entire future could be. By the time the main band, The Sword, appear with their Black Sabbath-esque riffs, the entire venue is packed; I can barely even make it across the room to leave when the show is over.
“We brought Music Farm out of Charleston,” says Franklin. What started as an initial three-year service and licensing agreement with the Charleston venue ended with the decision to turn the Columbia franchise into something that would be more unique to the city itself rather than to a chain brand. “Those guys [with Music Farm] are concentrating more on their Charleston venue and some of their festival business. So that’s kind of how this reinvention is coming up.”
It’s worth noting that one of Franklin’s main goals for the reinvention is to turn Senate Street into Columbia’s own “Live Music Block.” While Tin Roof is known mostly throughout the city as a late night bar, featuring cover bands and local artists, Franklin looks forward to creating a sense of connectivity between Tin Roof and The Senate.
“We’ll have more events where you can bounce back and forth between the two venues as well as more outdoor events in shared spaces,” he explains. “Like the Jon Langston concert, before the USC vs. Georgia game on Sept. 8, or the Vista After 5 concert series in the fall.”
He also mentions weekly events that will be implemented into The Senate’s calendar.
“Every Friday and Saturday night, we’ll be hosting Disco Load Out. It’s a live DJ dance party that starts at 10 p.m., or after a concert ends. We’ve added the ability to shrink the room size down to a more intimate capacity, and we’ve added a new dance floor lighting package and PA to create an awesome vibe.”
In terms of concerts, AEG Presents is now the exclusive promoter handling the bookings at The Senate, along with Nashville-based Madison Entertainment, which sticks to Tin Roof’s own Nashville roots. AEG’s status as a well known international organization allows the venue to have the opportunity to book national acts that might have skipped over the Music Farm market beforehand.
So does this mean we can expect to see bigger acts coming to the Midlands?
“‘Bigger artists’ is a bit subjective, and is in the eye of the beholder,” Franklin defends. “But yes. The volume of national touring acts has and will continue to increase.”
In fact, you can expect to see an incredibly diverse array of artists and bands coming through The Senate in the Fall calendar, which boasts Riley Green, The Breeders, Lauv, Toro Y Moi, and even Cannibal Corpse.
“You never know which act coming through will be playing stadiums and festivals next year, so it’s a great combo.” Franklin says.
After the show, I stand back a bit and look at the venue. Aside from a new paint job and the removal of the indoor marquee sign, I realize that not that much has actually changed about Columbia’s premier rock club.
But I’m still buzzing from the show. Electric.