(As originally appeared in The Guide, 7/11) — It was a strange feeling last Thursday to be on the way to a concert on Hilton Head Island and considerably excited about it. It was a surreal mixture of emotions, the same feeling you might get if you walked into your elementary school cafeteria one day to discover that instead of cold spaghetti and mystery tacos, they were serving fresh Big Macs and chocolate Fribbles.
This weird cognitive dissonance followed me all the way to the island’s new Shoreline Ballroom to see a concert by Old Crow Medicine Show, a band of young guys who play old-time bluegrass (and with plenty of credibility too — they’re veterans of the festival circuit and spent the following night opening for the Dave Matthews Band in Charleston).
My prior experience with the Hilton Head music scene had been sparse, seeing as there isn’t much of a music scene to experience— which is fine, because that’s not what people come here for. The golf, beaches and restaurants are the big draws, so the island can get away with an overabundance of classic-rock cover bands to entertain vacationers or the occasional Sublime wannabe for the younger crowds.
To find consistently solid live music, the faithful are used to trekking to Charleston (where Bruce Springsteen will be in August), Jacksonville (which hosted Tom Waits last week) and occasionally Savannah (where Cat Power, the Dropkick Murphys and Regina Spektor all stopped recently). It’s called a trade-off, people, and it’s something you come to accept living on a serene resort island. The plays, orchestra performances and art shows are aimed at an older crowd, and the rest of us sit on the beach and cope.
So you’ll pardon the skid marks I left on the ground after entering the Shoreline when I looked at a poster of possible upcoming acts on the wall and saw some names that I assumed were a mirage my brain created after three years in the live music desert.
I rubbed my eyes, and it was still there: Under the heading “In the Works” were several bands I’d not only seen, but actually driven as far away as Orlando to catch live. It was a wishlist, for sure, but the sheer ambition of going after bands like the Drive-By Truckers, Of Montreal, Z.Z. Top and B.B. King is impressive in its own right.
One name stood out as a surely a ludicrous typo: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. These D.C.-area punks have toured small clubs nationally for years, occasionally riding the coattails of a larger band like Pearl Jam on bigger tours. And I was pretty sure that no one outside the small circle of music nerds I know had any idea who they were. But make no mistake, they will rock your teeth back into your skull.
So what would they be doing on Hilton Head?
We asked the Shoreline staff, and they said that there was indeed a good chance the band will make an appearance on the island with slightly more radio-friendly punks Against Me. The staffer we talked to said the owner has experience booking bigger acts in Columbia, and is testing the waters on Hilton Head. “We’re trying to make it a little more exciting,” she said.
When you think about it, it’s not hard to believe the island could sustain a thriving music venue. The island’s crowds are getting younger. Shows could draw from Beaufort and Savannah, which is stocked with a profusion of hipster kids, though the town is woefully underserved by music venues.
Plus, you can sell it to acts as a vacation trip, a quick detour. Call up Leo, and suggest he take a nice beach vacation to rest up from all that power political punk. Maybe throw in some golf, a few steak and seafood dinners, and you’ve got yourself a deal. This would work better, of course, if Ted Leo wasn’t a vegan. Let’s hope he likes the beach.
Related: I interterviewed Ted Leo (and recorded his outgoing voice mail message) a year ago for no apparenent reason.