Learn about the successful Around the Bend outdoor concert series and what’s to come
Charles Carmody was just 23 when he convinced Charleston Music Hall (CMH) owner Michael Bennett that the venue could attract more shows and stronger talent. Since taking the helm of the downtown venue, he has filled the 965-capacity room with 200-plus shows a year, including such big-name acts as comedian Dave Chappelle and singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton, as well as local favorites Charlton Singleton and Shovels & Rope.
Nine years into his run, the executive director says going into 2020, the Hall was on the verge of reaching its full potential. On March 13, he was at lunch with Larry Frank of Frank Productions, the concert promotion company that CMH had recently signed on with, when the world—and live entertainment—came to a halt.
And while the lineup of outdoor socially distanced shows at The Bend last fall and this spring have been a success and the Hall has hosted more than 40 250-capacity shows, Carmody craves a return to a full house, which he expects to happen this August. Here, he reflects on how Charleston Music Hall has navigated the pandemic and looks ahead.
CM: Tell us about when you first realized that CMH was going to have to shut down.
CC: We got taken over by this new company Frank Productions on February 1 that I was so excited about. We were going to get more and better acts, and we were going to have the best year ever. I was sitting at lunch with Larry Frank and his wife at Leon’s when he got a call saying, ‘Hey, this is not looking good.’ They were in town for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that night, March 13. We ended up canceling that concert.... On March 12, we had a sing-along for Little Shop of Horrors. I usually intro those nights, and I said, ‘Thanks for coming to the last show of the year,’ which was a horrible joke, looking back on it. We were trying to figure out what the heck was going on. We said, ‘Let’s sit tight, and we’ll come back in two weeks.’ Two weeks turned into 14 months. We had to cancel or reschedule 100 shows.
CM: At what point did you decide to consider outdoor shows?
CC: July is when I started thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, are we going to actually make it through this? We’ve got to figure something out.’ I started looking for properties to do outside concerts. I had known Susan Pearlstine for a while. I’d talked to her about The Bend in the past. I met her there, and it was the perfect site—a beautiful, open space with plenty of room for parking. We could build the infrastructure we needed to keep it socially distanced, so we quickly pivoted and started trying to book shows.
CM: Tell us about the first show.
CC: The band hits. It’s Charlton Singleton. You have this wave of relief and excitement, and this feeling that this is what we should be doing, validation that this is really important for us and for the artist and for the patron. We need this joy and this light to get us through. That’s what we’ve really been missing. Live entertainment is crucial; as humans we need to gather, celebrate, mourn, and learn. That’s a huge loss right now.
CM: What’s your vision for returning to normal?
CC: Most people are ready, it seems. The Bend will run through June. Tedeschi Trucks will be one of the last Bend shows in this podded format. In August, we come back strong with a normal-ish looking fall—full-capacity concerts, mask optional. Don’t worry: we’ll be announcing sooner than later, but it’s going to be a great roster.
CM: Other than COVID, is managing Charleston Music Hall turning out how you expected when you took over?
CC: Where we were at the end of 2019 going into 2020, my dreams were coming true. We had just come off our strongest year yet. We were with a company that was going to do some great renovations and infuse this creativity and this network. I would have accountants, marketers, and talent buyers. 2020 was going to be a crowning year for us; it finally felt like the venue was at its full potential. I think this is why this whole thing hit me so hard. So much work just destroyed overnight—not destroyed; let’s call it paused.
CM: What’s going to be different moving forward?
CC: The printed ticket is gone. It’s time to move into the 21st century. Mobile ticketing is so easy; it’s more scalper safe. and it’s easier to transfer. If you love a ticket stub, you can pick one up at will call or print one at the box office. I think we’re going to see a lot of ordering ahead and different mobile app orderings for concessions... During COVID, we removed our orchestra seating and made it removable seating. I’m thrilled about the idea of doing a general admission standing room in front of the stage with seating in the back of the theater and the balcony. It’s going to blow the doors open for what we can do as far as genres and diversity and getting a younger audience in. Even the shows with an older audience where half of the people want to stand and half of the people want to sit, we now have a way to do that. It’s going to be awesome!
CM: You’re a new parent. How has that changed how you go about your job?
CC: That was the best thing about COVID for me. My son was six months old when we closed, and I went and worked from home for the next six months. Seeing him grow and being with him every day was one of the best things. It was a gift that I could never have gotten. There were some positives in that it showed me how unhealthy my work-life balance was. I was working 60-to 80-hour weeks and didn’t need to be. I had a team that I needed to delegate better to. After having a kid when 5 or 5:30 p.m. hits, I want to go home and be with my son. It’s completely changed my world.
Education: English major and art history minor at College of Charleston
Lives: Wagener Terrace
Family: Wife, Becca Barnet, and one-year-old son, Cassius
What he’s listening to: Dua Lipa, Moses Sumney, Lucy Dacus, Run the Jewels, and local band Babe Club
Dream show at CMH: Sufjan Stevens
Read our May 2013 Q&A with Charles Carmody just after he started managing the Charleston Music Hall here