Columbia’s Getting a Music Farm, and It’s Coming in September

Preparing to Harvest
By Patrick Wall
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Under construction: Music Farm at Tin Roof | photo by Jordan Lawrence

It’s a hot Thursday in early May, and clouds of dust puff into the air from just behind Tin Roof.

Trae Judy stands on the side of Senate Street, and nods toward a husk of a building.

“Welcome to the Music Farm,” he chuckles.

When it’s done, Music Farm at Tin Roof will be a sizable concert hall, but right now, it isn’t much of anything. In December, when Free Times first reported the City Center Design/Development District’s approval of the plan by the Nashville-based restaurant chain Tin Roof and Charleston-based Music Farm Productions to renovate the vacant building next to Tin Roof’s Senate Street location into a concert hall and beer garden, Judy, who works for Music Farm, guessed that it would be open by summer. But the new venue, a sister club to the Music Farm operating in Charleston, is still under construction. It’s slated to become a much needed midsize music room, something Columbia has done without for more than a few years.

While Judy emphasizes that there’s no date set for the venue’s official opening, he indicates that the room will be open by September.

Inside, about 15 workers buzz. Some install wiring; some place insulation; some carry out the ongoing demolition. They’ve torn up the floor a few times already, most recently to install a new drainage pipe: Water streamed down the steep hill that runs from the State House, flooding the floor.
“We’ve basically gutted the whole room,” Judy says. His voice is hard to hear over the din of construction around him: the whining whir of circular saws, the percussive bursts from jackhammers. “Everything’s going to be new, from the toilets to the bar tops. Everything.”

In the next seven days, the framing for the bars should go up. Then the dressing rooms and bathrooms. In two weeks the entire place will look completely different.

Despite the obstacles presented by the space, Judy says that the Vista is a perfect location: It’s right across from the Hilton, which touring acts will like. The nearby parking garages will ostensibly alleviate parking jams during bigger shows. But the club offers just as much to the local bands looking to grow their audience and for promoters looking to bring in top-flight acts.

“Now, there’s nowhere I would do shows,” says Dave Britt, a longtime fixture of the local music scene. Britt, who books the annual Rosewood Crawfish Festival, is a former club owner, too, of The White Mule on Main Street and Headliners, which he co-ran with Judy. “I’ve had to turn away a lot of things because there wasn’t anywhere to put it.”

It’s still too early for Judy to predict the venue’s exact capacity, but he estimates it should hold upwards of 1,000 people. But that capacity will be flexible: Rows of mobile decking installed on the building’s Pendleton Street side will be used to shrink the capacity for more intimate shows.

That flexibility will likely be a boon for Music Farm, Britt says, as it will provide local bands a bigger room without forcing them to play to a mostly empty hall. With a capacity of 400, New Brookland Tavern is currently the city’s biggest rock club.

“If a band grows past NBT, where do they go?” Britt offers, adding that the expected support opportunities on big-time tours will help bands grow their local audience. Charlotte’s Junior Astronomers, a frequent Columbia visitor, recently opened a date for Modest Mouse in their hometown, the kind of chance Music Farm might provide.

Judy says that Music Farm at Tin Roof already has shows booked for its September and October calendars. And he’s fielding offers for tour packages that run though other cities where Music Farm Productions books shows, such as Charlotte and Charleston.

But without local support, Judy knows it won’t work. And he knows he’s facing a city with an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it attitude. Outside, by Tin Roof’s roll-up door, he nods. He doesn’t have a venue yet, but he does have one promising thing.

“We got dust now,” he smiles.

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