For 20 years, some of the best live music in Columbia has been happening at the Unitarian Universalist church in Shandon, where the UU Coffeehouse Series has been bringing in national touring acts in a listening room environment. In those two decades, the series has only had a few different people serve as booking agents — founder Jimmy Riddle along with Susan Corbett, and then UU member Mike Paget. With Paget’s move to Kansas City earlier this summer, the stage is now set for Steve Fisher, who takes over the role of Coffeehouse manager with the 2014-15 season.
“I’ve been here in South Carolina 10 years and gone to the concerts for a while,” Fisher says of how he came to be in his new position. “I talked with Mike over a period of months before he passed his duties on to me.”
Fisher is excited about the opportunity to usher the series into a new era as well as serving as a caretaker for the established series.
“I think it can be improved, and I’m looking at any opportunities we can capitalize on to bring in more people,” Fisher says. “It is such an item of value to the area with the top notch national touring acts we bring in, but there are ways to bring more people into the process — like using local restaurants to make it a full night by providing food before the concerts.”
What:Palmetto Sessions with Danielle Howle
Where: UU Coffeehouse, 2701 Heyward St.
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.
More Info: 200-2824, uucoffeehouse.org
The first big change is this Saturday night’s Palmetto Sessions event featuring Danielle Howle + Firework Show and The Ruby Brunettes. A partnership between the series and the South Carolina Music Guide, Palmetto Sessions will produce video recordings from live performances, which will be professionally filmed and edited into a program for broadcast and online posting. Fisher says if the first effort is successful, Palmetto Sessions will record a few more times during the season to create more episodes with prominent South Carolina artists.
Howle is a great choice for the first such program, given her long-term stature as an internationally touring singer-songwriter. The former Columbia resident, now based out of Awendaw, is no stranger to the UU stage, having just played there with the Ruby Brunettes back in February, and she is appreciative of what has been built there over the years.
“The UU has a vast musical legacy that has been carried on by many awesome people,” Howle says. “It’s an honor to participate in a concert series of such consistent high quality. The music team there truly cares, and the audience can trust that each time they go it will be fabulous and different.”
That environment has grown from the side room in the early years with a stage of low risers to now, where the concerts happen in the main sanctuary space to accommodate larger crowds. Typically, a local opening act plays an early set in the side room as people filter in, mingle and patronize the small coffee and snack bar.
UU stage alumni include a long list of national folk luminaries, including Caroline Aiken, Bill Staines, Tom Russell, Eric Taylor, Jonathan Byrd, Chuck Pyle, David Wilcox, David Olney, Ellis Paul, Vance Gilbert, Anna Egge, Nora Jane Struthers, Walter Hyatt, Cheryl Wheeler, Jesse Colin Young, Kate Campbell, The Honey Dewdrops, Storyhill, Ruthie Foster and many more.
This season, several favorites are returning, including storytelling folk singer Chuck Brodsky in October, country/bluegrass singer Shannon Whitworth and sultry torch folksinger Dayna Kurtz in November, and Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion in December.
Howle sums it up when asked if there’s another venue she has played that compares to the UU Coffeehouse series.
“I don’t think I can compare it to anywhere else,” she says. “And that’s a good thing.”
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