From an outsider’s perspective you might be thinking, “Does the upstate even have a music scene?” and the answer is a resounding, “YES!” Giving birth to alt-rockers Needtobreathe, metal gods Nile, classic heros The Marshall Tucker Band, and the currently exploding Marcus King Band, of course the upstate has a music scene. But how do you find it? Where should you go? I’m glad you asked.
Greenville Music Scene
We’ll start in Greenville, which is the most likely visiting spot for travelers. A wellspring of original talent, Greenville has an affinity for surprising you around every corner. The first shocker is a place called Radio Room. Starting as a windowless, carpeted venue in 2011, the scrappy spot survived by being the unquestioning hub of budding local talent. Now upgraded to a bigger space (complete with windows!) Radio Room is a local hub with a bigger platform. Booking everything from folk to metal, complete with comedy nights and audience-inclusive BDSM boudoir shows, Radio Room is the edgiest venue South Carolina has to offer. Even nights that don’t have shows will often have music-themed events, as well as a kitchen with a decent menu. All the real ones have been to Radio Room.
If you’re wanting to stay focused on downtown life, you have to check out Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe. With free music events even on off-days of the week, Smiley’s will bring you intimate performances from local talent, as well as open mic nights and even live band karaoke! Just a skip away is The Velo Fellow, my favorite bar in town. While they have music occasionally, they ALWAYS have the perfect low-light atmosphere that keeps local musicians and artists walking through their doors. They even keep some musicians in the kitchen cooking their great food, especially for those Sunday Brunches.
You should also check out Gottrocks, a music hall venue with a bit of a saloon feel that has been serving up live shows since 2000. With a loaded schedule of touring and local acts, as well as open mic nights, Gottrocks is yet another music hub of Greenville. If you’re looking for a more intimate feel, Eighth State Brewing has been booking tons of shows as of late, as well as a nice selection of crafty Brews. Anyone staying out late watching music is going to need some coffee in the aftern…er…morning, and for that I would highly recommend atmospheric Coffee Underground and a walk through Falls Park.
Spartanburg Music Scene
But Greenville isn’t all the upstate has to offer! Nearby Spartanburg, or sparkle-city, also has some selections for your listening pleasure. One of the most unique spots in the state is FR8yard, an outdoor biergarten constructed entirely of shipping containers, set about 8 feet below street level. Boasting live music three to five nights a week, and able to fit tons of people, FR8yard should be on every musician and music fan’s radar.
On the infamous end of the spectrum is Ground Zero. Put on your mean mug and lock your doors, because Ground Zero is a seedy spot that’s essentially a big empty room known to be filled with local and touring punk, metal, grind, and hip hop acts. I’ve been denied re-entry for going to my car, gotten into yelling matches with the owner about band payments, and yet I still keep coming back for more. It’s just that kind of place.
Clemson Music Scene
While Clemson is normally only a destination for students and football games, it has also become a destination for young music fans to check out the hottest new bands around. Clemson’s radio station, WSBF 88.1 FM holds live sessions for tons of awesome bands, and also books several magical events every semester. Parallel, but absolutely not partnered *wink*, is Clemson’s house show scene, currently conquered by Pablo. Attending these shows gives you the same sensation as finding a five dollar bill on the ground. It’s never expected, but when it happens it’s guaranteed to brighten your day and restore your faith in humanity for a bit.
This community has wound up becoming the tastemaker across South Carolina, so pay attention and you just might discover you and your friends next favorite band. If you do make the trip, be sure to check out Taco Boy for authentic Mexican. Or, travel down Clemson Blvd. just past the badasses at Cherry Bomb Tattoo to get to The Smokin Pig. It’s the best brisket this side of Texas.