Of course, Greenville’s music scene isn’t exactly flourishing compared to our neighbors to the north and south. That’s not a secret. Despite that fact, there’s great artists and bands located right here in our hometown that deserve attention.
I had the privilege of sitting down with three local entrepreneurs who are working hard to help boost the Greenville music scene and provide a platform for our local bands. Literally.
David, Geoff, and Wes are the owners of local music venue and dive bar: Radio Room.
Before moving to Greenville, David ran around with several bands down in Charleston. As he became familiar with the local venues and touring with the musicians, he fell in love with the local music. After deciding that college wasn’t for him for the time being, he moved to Greenville. He began bartending in the establishment where the Radio Room would eventually be located. At the time, it was known as the Tipsy Gipsy.
This is where David met Geoff, a regular at Tipsy Gipsy. They quickly became friends and then roommates. As they grew closer to one another, they began discussing opening a business together. Geoff was interested in running a bar while David was interested in operating a music venue. As time went on, they started getting serious about their business ideas. “I always had entrepreneurial thoughts growing up, but I never acted on it,” David said. “I started taking my ideas seriously around 26, and 28 is when we took over.”
Things fell right into their lap when they learned that the owner of the Tispy Gypsy wanted to retire. David and Geoff were able to borrow the amount needed from an investor to purchase the venue. Incredibly, they were able pay their investor back within six months!
“We put everything we made back into the business,” David said. “We didn’t want to be in debt, and I think that’s a big part of how we became a success. The opportunity we had was rare- we were at the right place at the right time. I planned on doing this, and I knew working in the right circle of people would get me to where I wanted to be. We were super lucky. Everything started so fast we didn’t know what we were doing initially. There was a lot of weird circumstances that pieced together and made things work.”
In the meantime, Wes was a freelancing artists and helped them book shows. “I was mostly just doing it for fun,” Wes mentioned, “I was doing it while waiting tables and just making ends meet.” David and Wes had run into each other at the Tipsy Gypsy. “I didn’t take him seriously initially,” David laughed. “But it turns out he was really good at booking and had some great connections.” A few months later, Wes joined the team as a talent buyer and eventually became a part owner with David and Geoff.
“I knew I wanted to have a low scale rock-and-roll environment,” David said. “ I wanted intimate shows where you don’t want to have to have binoculars. I wanted the place to be small enough where the band is pretty much forced to hang out with you. We wanted original artists… if we saw a band had a lot of cover songs on their setlist, we knew they probably weren’t for us. We do have tribute bands and karaoke from time to time, but we want to focus on showcasing local talent.”
“Now we have a lot of Indie rock for the lack of a better term,” Wes said. “Punk and Metal tends to be our bread and butter, but we like to do everything. At the same time, we’ve had bands like American Aquarium, which is an alt-country band.”
David continued, “When we first opened, people already knew who we were and knew the building, so bands started playing and would recommend the place to other bands. We experienced a lot of organic growth. We treated the bands well, made a point to make them happy and pay them well. That word spread and everyone wanted to play.”
“It’s incredibly important to us that we help grow the Greenville music scene,” David said. “We want to be constantly edifying it. While we technically compete with other venues, we want them to succeed as well.”
“From day one, Geoff and I wanted to have a place for up and coming tiny acts,” David said. “At the same time we didn’t want to be pretentious about it. So there was an internal back and forth- we don’t want to be come across as a ’look at what we’re trying to do’ type of place. We wanted to be humble about it.”
“Greenville is a weird town for music,” David said. “ I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to talk trash or bitching about it, but there are good and bad parts of it. It ebbs and flows. It’s not uncommon for the talented artists to reach a peak and leave to a bigger and better scene. We can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that leaves us standing around, and it’s frustrating. It’s a struggle to find local support for really interesting bands that want to play. There’s no control over it, really. The only thing we can do is continue cultivating it by getting bands interested in other bands and encouraging people to come to shows. Step outside of the comfort zone and go to shows you wouldn’t usually go to!”
Wes added, “Everyone wants a bigger venue, but why not fill the one we have now? Be a steward of what we have now. The roots will grow deeper once we have a well oiled machine then we can talk about that. We are focusing on growing the community around us and being part of it.”
After 7 years of being in their original space, this summer Radio Room moved to a slightly larger building, allowing for double the amount of seating and with a kitchen they’re able to incorporate bar food. Despite having a bit more space, they’re still able to keep their identity as a dive bar.
“The definition of a dive bar varies and I want to keep it that way,” David said. “Generally, the idea is that it has a lot of character. It’s not pristine, the people there have stories and are interesting like a museum. The concentration is more on the atmosphere and not about how it looks. Geoff and I set out to make it ‘divey.’ We let it grow organically and develop its character. We encourage bands to put stickers up and let the ‘moss get on the rock,’ so to speak.
“We’ve always been dependent on after-hours business. Before we moved, there were several stories in the news that put us in a negative light, even though they took place in a couple different bars down the street. We didn’t want to be associated with that, and that’s part of what initiated our move. Our crowd has primarily been service industry people coming from downtown after their shift. It’s frustrating to hear people who’d never even been to our venue talk negatively about it. If they hung out here and actually took the time to experience it, they’d realized that it’s just your regular music venue.
David continued, “We are very welcoming and proud of it. We’ve found that the LBGQT community feels comfortable at our place. I’ve even had people ask me if we are gay bar. No, we just like interesting, different people. We don’t care if you look different or have a different lifestyle. It’s huge when you can get over preconceived notions of people. If you just take the time to hang out with people that are different than you, you’ll realize that they’re actually good people.”