(Above left) Ear for Music’s Rob Lamble at The Refinery with Lindsay Nevin, the owner/developer of downtown’s newest outdoor amphitheater on upper Meeting Street; (right) Jess Franklin of Tishmingo at Drifter Fest 2023.
An office complex may sound like an odd place to see blues legend Taj Mahal, but The Refinery never intended to be conventional. Its first floor is home to The Whale, a bar that sports one of the city’s best craft beer selections (and an impressive whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling). Just outside, an amphitheater with a covered stage easily accommodates 2,000 attendees and has a VIP rooftop deck overlooking it all.
Behind the stage, a 1950s rail car appropriately sets the scene—train tracks connecting the port to downtown Charleston run just beyond the venue. Inside the 80-foot rail car are two green rooms for performing musicians, complete with showers, lounges, and bars.
Patrons also enjoy special amenities, such as ample parking, air-conditioned bathrooms, and drinks and eats from The Whale and visiting food trucks. Sweet Grass Vodka Distillery shares the building, and later this year, the team from Daps Breakfast and Imbibe will open Cleats, a sports bar, in the complex.
The synergy of local businesses and the summer evening vibes make The Refinery a promising new venue. “Apart from occasional shows at Brittlebank Park and Joe Riley Stadium years ago, the peninsula has never really had a great outdoor space,” says Lamble. “It’s filling a void for the downtown area that’s been long overdue.”
Key Shows: Taj Mahal & Los Lobos, June 3
Lettuce & Steel Pulse, July 3
The Infamous Stringdusters, July 15
Stephen Marley, August 6
Yonder Mountain String Band & Keller Williams & The Keels, September 21
1640 Meeting St. Rd., therefinerychs.com
Firefly Distillery’s expansive property off Spruill Avenuet.
It’s hard to remember life before sweet tea vodka. Firefly Distillery’s marquee product launched in 2008, ending a multi-decade run for Grand Marnier as the go-to spirit at Charleston bars. Even before distilling that pot-of-gold bottle, Firefly and the local music scene were deeply integrated. Cofounder Scott Newitt grew up outside New Orleans, so marketing decisions like wrapping a Sprinter with Firefly branding and lending it to touring bands like Sol Driven Train and Leslie (the former project of Sadler Vaden, now the guitarist with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) were obvious. “We’ve always supported local musicians, and they’ve helped promote Firefly since 2009,” says Newitt.
During early 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, that music-driven mind-set spurred the growth of the new distillery as a music venue. Firefly opened on Spruill Avenue a few months before the world shut down. They had initially intended to host the occasional festival, along with business meetings and events. But as people yearned to get back out, they created the “Safe Sounds at Firefly” series, marking off 10-by-10-foot squares where attendees could safely see music within their pod. After hosting about a dozen shows, they realized the post-COVID viability of using the five-acre field as a permanent venue. The site, situated in a scenic spot on Noisette Creek, has parking for 500 cars, with free shuttles running from nearby satellite lots. There’s also plenty of room for food trucks, so attendees can grab dinner at the show.
Last year, the venue hosted acts such as Whiskey Myers and The Flaming Lips. This year, they’re shooting for 20 concerts. They’ve also added a whiskey bar called Bend & Steal in an Airstream and staffed 40 bartenders for most shows. A permanent stage is in the works.
“Our capacity, up to 5,500 people, allows us to book another level of artist, like My Morning Jacket,” says Newitt. “We’re a unique size venue, and we’re pretty much in the center of the Charleston area. The idea is to create a festival feel, with additional assets and amenities—and you get to try all of our spirits and beer during a show.”
Key Shows: My Morning Jacket, June 16
Fleet Foxes, June 24
Dirty Heads, July 30
Shakey Graves & Trampled by Turtles, August 3
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, August 13
4201 Spruill Ave., North Charleston; fireflydistillery.com
(Clockwise from top left) The Riviera Theater; Upgrades at Credit One Stadium on Daniel Island allow the venue to draw big names like Elton John (inset) and country star Dierks Bentley; Since “The Riv” reopened its doors last year, locals and visitors alike have queued up for shows, such as The Revivalists and Jewel, and enjoyed its amenities, including an outdoor bar and terrace overlooking King Street.
“I remember it vividly,” says Casey Lavin, president of Beemok Hospitality Collection, about his first time seeing The Riviera Theater. “I walked in, and there were two engineering guys looking up at this Italian mural on the wall that was hidden for decades behind panels. Then there’s this huge old movie projector on display and the old ticket booth out front, and I could imagine someone in there taking tickets.”
Built in 1939, The Riviera was Charleston’s first movie theater. Its Egyptian Art Deco style gives it the feel of a miniature version of Atlanta’s Fox Theater or the Beacon in New York. For most Charlestonians’ entire lives, The Riviera has been an iconic corner on King Street, but little else. Beemok acquired the room in 2021 as part of their purchase of Charleston Place. Lavin calls it “the crown jewel” of the deal. The new owners began booking shows such as Jewel and The Revivalists, and the 600-seat venue’s acoustics proved equally adept at hosting a pin-drop-quiet singer-songwriter concert as a rocking New Orleans 10 piece.
“The Riv,” as the new management dubbed it, also includes a rooftop terrace overlooking King Street. It’s steps away from restaurants like 167 Raw and Le Farfalle, setting up an ideal evening out. “It’s part of the reanimation that’s bringing people back to this part of historic Charleston” says Lavin.
By people, Lavin means locals. Lower King Street isn’t lacking for foot traffic, but The Riviera gives Charleston residents a reason to return to a tourism-driven part of town. After this summer’s run of shows, Beemok will spend the winter renovating the theater to assure it can remain a staple among the city’s music venues. With its elaborate tapestries, mahogany seats, and the tone-setting mural of a pastoral Italian village, it’s also one of the most unique.
“It’s intriguing; there’s this dramatic element as soon as you walk in, where you’re kind of taken aback by the sight of it all,” says Lavin. “Then you start to think about how many people came to this space to see a movie or a show back in the day. It makes us very proud to be its stewards.”
Key Shows: Parliament Funkadelic, featuring George Clinton, June 16
Donna the Buffalo, September 8
227 King St., therivierachs.com
Daniel Island’s tennis center has experienced several rebrandings over the years, but none as dramatic as its transition to Credit One Stadium with its acquisition by Ben Navarro’s Beemok Hospitality Collection. Anyone paying even peripheral attention in 2022 noticed that the number—and gravity—of the concerts there skyrocketed. The name Elton John says it all. Shows of that caliber were made possible by the addition of close to 5,000 seats, raising the capacity to nearly 12,000. That allowed the venue to secure larger acts that, in the past, chose between the North Charleston Coliseum or (often) another city.
“Last year put us back on the map,” says Chris Meany, general manager of Credit One Concerts. “Now we’re able to do these really big shows, and the feedback from artists tends to be, ‘Wow!’ They walk out on that stage and can’t believe how close everybody is to them.” This year, several big name acts like Dave Matthews Band, Kenny Chesney, and Widespread Panic will return to the stadium, building on positive experiences during prior visits.
Both bands and audiences have lauded the outdoor venue’s acoustics. The $50-million renovation, including new, more comfortable seating—as well as backs for 500 seats in the bleacher section and cup holders in every seat in the lower section—has also elevated the experience. The venue’s six existing concession stands are now complemented by portable bars throughout the concourse and dedicated spots for food trucks, making it possible to eat a quality dinner inside the show and faster to grab a drink.
“There were little things that were missing before,” says Meany. “The new ownership made it possible to bring the facilities up-to-date and be truly state-of-the-art.”
“Now we’re able to do these really big shows, and the feedback from artists tends to be, ‘Wow!’” —Chris Meany, Credit One Concerts
Key Shows: Dave Matthews Band, June 2 & 3
Eric Church, June 29 & 30
Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, & Allen Stone, July 13
Tyler Childers, August 19
161 Seven Farms Dr., Daniel Island; creditonestadium.com