Luther Battiste had been doing the same thing almost every Thursday for 17 years. After he finished up at work, he headed down to hear jazz at Hunter-Gatherer’s long-running Thursday night workshops, started and, until recent health issues arose, hosted by local saxophone colossus Skipp Pearson.
Now, Battiste has to find something else to fill his Thursday nights. At the beginning of May, Hunter-Gatherer pulled the plug on its live music offerings, essentially ending one of the most popular and enduring music series in the state.
“Hunter-Gatherer had become an iconic institution in Columbia for jazz and attracted one of the most diverse audiences in Columbia,” Battiste says. “It was truly a special place.”
Hunter-Gatherer owner Kevin Varner stresses the decision to end live music at Hunter-Gatherer was motivated solely by economic factors.
When Pearson started his residency, Hunter-Gatherer was more of a bar, Varner says. Now, the bulk of his business comes from his kitchen, and the crowd coming on Thursday nights wasn’t coming for the food. Thursday night sales were dropping, and Varner didn’t want to enact a hefty admission charge to cover the gap. The decision, he says, was “inevitable.”
“I’d love to do both,” Varner says. “But they just didn’t mesh together anymore,” and Hunter-Gatherer simply could no longer accommodate music. And once Skipp Pearson, who has been undergoing treatment for bone cancer, stopped hosting, the decision to close down jazz night got a little easier.
“Naturally, it was a disappointment,” says trumpeter Mark Rouse, who led the jazz workshops in Pearson’s absence. “But I was thankful for it being there as long as it was.”
Hunter-Gatherer booked the occasional rock act, too, but its offerings, mostly restricted to late sets on Friday nights, haven’t been steady in years. Henry Thomas, the Can’t Kids bassist who booked Hunter-Gatherer’s Friday night calendar, says there hasn’t been music on a Friday night since early April, and most of its featured acts had been locals. While losing a unique room like Hunter-Gatherer is a bummer, so long as New Brookland Tavern shores up its roof and Music Farm opens on schedule, Columbia’s rock scene will survive unscathed.
It’s the jazz scene that will be more adversely affected. Though it lacks a dedicated, seven-days-a-week home, jazz nonetheless appears relatively healthy in Columbia, with spaces like Speakeasy in Five Points and Pearlz in the Vista offering regular programming. So, too, does the Skipp Pearson Foundation’s Le Cafe Jazz, which sits atop Finlay Park. Conundrum Music Hall, just across the bridge in West Columbia, also books plenty of jazz, but its offerings skew experimental.
Despite these valuable rooms, Columbia still lacks a dedicated jazz venue, and the number of places offering live jazz is slowly shrinking. Blue Martini closed three years ago, and Hunter-Gatherer’s Thursday night sessions represented a large part of the local scene’s remaining infrastructure. Without it, Columbia now lacks its biggest home for traditional jazz, and one of the few events that brought in a crowd mixed in both race and age.
But Hunter-Gatherer’s jazz night didn’t just offer dividends for aficionados. It was equally critical to the city’s jazz players, providing young musicians a learning space and a proving ground. Bassist Reggie Sullivan cut his teeth during Pearson’s workshops; he’s since become one of the most prolific musicians in Columbia’s jazz and rock scenes, touring with luminaries like Joe Sample and The Jazz Crusaders.
Saxophonist Chris Andrews started attending jazz night as a teenager; Battiste remembers Andrews’ mother bringing him there when he was just 14. Andrews now heads up the jazz program at Claflin University in Orangeburg.
Rouse says he’s currently looking for a new venue to host the jazz workshop. But for now, at least, Battiste still has to find something else to do with his Thursday nights.
“I went [to Hunter-Gatherer] every Thursday for more than 17 years except if I was out of town,” Battiste says. “It will be truly missed.”
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage is offering 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
New Downtown Dessert and Coffee Bar!
Tony’s Italian Eatery has teamed up with Southern Charm Sweets to bring you the highest quality dessert selection in the downtown area. 1120 Washington St., Suite 2. Find us on Facebook!
Tax-Free Weekend at Best Mattress
With big savings from July 31st-August 2nd, you can afford handcrafted quality. Free bed frame and pillows on any Full, Queen, or King set $599 and above! Click for locations and hours.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Columbia’s Largest Sidewalk Sale
Shop local this tax free weekend! Devine Street and Five Points are teaming up for a massive sidewalk sale featuring great in-store specials from all your favorite retailers and a Saturday art stroll. Read more hereand here!
A Healthy Happy Hour
4-7 p.m at Good Life Cafe on Main St. Try our $4 local draft beers, $4 organic wine, 1/2 off select bottles of house wine and $5 handcrafted house cocktails with juices cold pressed and made daily. Click here for more info.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
Concord Park From the $150’s. Off 12th St. Extension. 803.419.2227. mungo.com
Click here for more real estate.
GABLE HILL APARTMENTS 1, 2 & 3 BR’s available with many amenities. Surround yourself with Southern comforts at Gable Hill Apartments! Bring in our ad in Free Times for $50 off your application fee. 310 Ross Rd, Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
ST. ANDREWS COMMONS APARTMENTS 1 & 2 BR’s available with many amenities. Close to everywhere YOU WANT TO BE! 1200 St. Andrews Rd., Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
WATERFORD APARTMENTS 1 & 2 BR’s available with many amenities. Prime location, and plenty of space. Live large at Waterford Apartments. Bring in our ad in Free Times for $50 off your application fee. 1340 Longcreek Dr., Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
Donate Plasma Today & Be Somebody’s Hero For Life. You could earn up to $400 a month! Program and fees vary per location. Contact your local center today. 803-736-5888. Click here for more info