Bars, venues within its imprint mixed on West Columbia’s new music festival

Posted 9/13/23

West Columbia is set to put on an inaugural music festival and block party this weekend, but some businesses along the imprint are skeptical about the city’s approach.

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Bars, venues within its imprint mixed on West Columbia’s new music festival


West Columbia is set to put on an inaugural music festival and block party this weekend, but some businesses along the imprint are skeptical about the city’s approach.

The Meeting Street Music Fest will close down its namesake central thorofare between 9th Street and State Street from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, as six bands will play on two stages set at opposite ends of the street from 4 to 8 p.m.

The lineup for the free event is crowned by two national acts in the Billy Joel tribute band Turnstiles and ‘80s/‘90s R&B star Meli’sa Morgan.

“The Meeting Street Music Fest serves as a showcase for the Meeting Street corridor in West Columbia, spotlighting the diverse shops and entertainment venues within the festival’s footprint,” Anna Huffman, the city’s director of public relations, told the Chronicle. “Our team initiated direct communication with these businesses months before the event, discussing festival details and potential impacts on their daily operations. We ensured stakeholders’ readiness through a 15-day road closure notification letter and a comprehensive call-out to businesses and residents within and around the event area.”

Huffman emphasized that “key contributors to the festival’s planning included business owners on Meeting Street, notably Chaye Alexander, owner of Chayz Lounge, who played a pivotal role from the inception of the festival, including bringing the idea of the festival to the city, and Phill Blair, owner of WECO Bottle and Biergarten, who shared his extensive festival organizing expertise.”

But both Blair, who helps organize the annual Jam Room Music Festival in Columbia’s downtown, and Willie Wells, owner of the longstanding Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor, expressed concern about losing what they both said is one of the biggest days of the week for their businesses. Both said that the city’s Kinetic Derby Day soapbox race, which closes down the road each spring, largely wipes out their business for that Saturday, and they’re worried about how another event closing the street and making parking difficult will impact them.

Wells said he’s frustrated that his venue, which holds its popular weekly country music and dancing night on Saturdays, will be hidden behind the festival’s main stage, limiting its ability to engage with the crowd and threatening to limit attendance to its event between 7 and 10 p.m. 

Wells also complained that he wasn’t engaged to help bring a bluegrass/country element to the festival, though both he and Huffman noted that the event plans to have him book a stage at the city’s Riverwalk Amphitheater down the street during next year’s festival. Still, Wells reasoned, the opportunity to plan a free show away from his venue won’t necessarily compensate for losing business that night.

“Little disappointed, but I can see where it’s going to grow,” he said, summing up his feelings. “And we’re just going to have to see where we’re gonna fit in and, you know, and it’s not gonna be a wasted weekend for me. That’s basically what it comes down to.”

Blair said WECO will look to take advantage of the fest, selling beer and wine from its parking lot to the crowd in attendance. But he added that he’s actively evaluating the impact it will have on the bar, noting that if WECO takes as bad a hit as it takes on Kinetic Derby Day, he may consider closing during the fest in the future.

“We know from Kinetic Derby Day that it is not necessarily a boost in business,” Blair said. “But you know, given [it’s the] first time and that we are in the middle of the event, we want to see what happens. We’ll try to navigate as best we can, getting the word out about where our customers can park and get them the same information that the festival has about the shuttles and the satellite parking. Hopefully, it turns out to be a great day.”

Huffman emphasized the amount to which the city collaborated with businesses along the street to shape what the fest would look like. Both Bill’s live music and dancing and cover band Knights of Flannel’s Saturday night performance at Savage Craft Ale Works are included on the festival’s online schedule.

“Our selection of the venue for the Meeting Street Music Fest was a strategic choice aimed at enhancing the vibrancy of the Meeting Street area,” she said. “This location was carefully chosen due to its proximity to numerous music venues in West Columbia, facilitating easy transitions between musical performances and showcasing the diverse music scene in our city. Although we are beginning with a smaller footprint this year, our long-term vision involves expansion, including the addition of more stages to offer an even larger spectrum of musical genres. 

“The festival’s footprint showcases the area’s walkability, emphasizing the convenience of moving from Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor to Savage Craft and encouraging festival-goers to explore local businesses and attractions, ultimately contributing to the overall energy of West Columbia.”

For her part, Chaye Alexander, owner of the Chayz Lounge jazz club, is excited to showcase what the burgeoning nightlife area has to offer.

“West Columbia, it has changed,” she said. “Initially, when I was looking for a new home for Chayz Lounge, I didn’t want to go to West Columbia because I was told, ‘Don’t go to West Columbia.’ But I did, and it’s the best thing I could have done for my business. Period. And I would not change a thing about this move at all. And I want folks to understand that. I want them to see what’s going on and see that it’s a multi-genre, multi-ethnicity affair and city. It’s becoming that.”

meeting street music fest, west columbia business, weco bottle and biergarten, bill's pickin parlor, chayz lounge


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