In the beginning
As a son in a military family Steve Gibson was constantly on the move, but music was the main stabilizing force in his early life.
“When we were living in Alaska my parents owned a club in Anchorage. His father was stationed there. They would have live bands there and they had a jukebox,” Gibson said. “Since those days I’ve always loved music.”
Gibson has alternative music in his blood. One of the pioneers of Columbia’s alternative music scene, the 59-year-old Gibson, a San Francisco native, has spent more over 40 years in the trenches of the Columbia alternative music scene.
Gibson moved again when his parents bought a steakhouse in Columbia. Gibson attended high school and graduated from the University of South Carolina. After graduating he went to work at the steakhouse his parents owned. Gibson’s wife encouraged him to branch out and find something to do. His mind went to music.
“There weren’t that many venues back then,” Gibson said. “I wanted to create a space for something other than beach music and country.”
He was aware of Columbia’s lack of alternative music venues and with his friend Scott Padgett, decided to take matters in to his own hands.
Life in the music scene
Gibson began his legacy as a Columbia music power player with the club Rockafellas on Devine Street. He started Rockafellas in 1984 with his friend Scott Padgett. Gibson and Padgett had only one goal when they started the club: Bring live original music to the heart of the city.
“You can make good money putting on country shows or booking cover bands,” Gibson said. “We wanted to push new exciting artists.”
The venue quickly gathered buzz as the place to catch all the up-and-coming bands. WUSC, the University of South Carolina radio station, also played a big role in the venue’s early success, he said. In the ‘80s, the main way people heard new, exciting bands was through WUSC. And Rockafellas began bringing in top-flight acts.
“We had the likes of R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Smithereens all come through,” Gibson said.
To Gibson, running the club was like working with family.
“One of the curious customs of the club was when someone graduated or otherwise moved on, we would hoist them on our shoulders and parade them outside at closing and deposit them in the dumpster on their last night,” Gibson said. “Then we would all go back in the club for a shot.”
Rockafellas kept drawing crowds for 13 years, which Gibson calls “an eternity in club years.” But the change in the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 meant less cash was coming in, he said.
“It had become obvious to Scotty and I that we were not going to be able to make the money we had hoped to at the club. We decided to make to best run of it and really make a difference in our town.”
After the club shut down in 1997, Gibson moved on, having achieved the goal he set for himself 13 years earlier, of creating a place for people to gather and celebrate underground music, without sacrificing inclusivity or the talent on stage.
“All people were welcome. The common thread in us all was a love for live music. Inclusion and tolerance were touchstones. Columbia embraced us. “
Gibson moved on to become president of the Five Points Merchants Association, where he was instrumental in creating the St. Patrick’s Day festival. When Gibson started the festival all profits went to local children’s charities, usually just barely enough to put the festival on.
“It started off as a way to promote Five Points,” Gibson said.
He saw the festival as a perfect opportunity to bring alternative music back to the forefront.
“We booked plenty of great underground acts,” Gibson said. “We tried to give people another option other than country.”
What lies ahead
Most recently, Gibson helped put on the first Jam Room Music Festival with Jam Room Recording Studio to help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the recording studio. An annual festival held October on Main and Hampton streets.
Jay Matheson, the head of Jam Room Music Festival, called in Gibson to help put on the festival.
Matheson was initially worried about receiving funding from the city. However, the city answered with resounding positivity, approving the festival.
“I have to say, I think it’s been incredibly easy,” Gibson said. “I actually think the city has been incredibly generous, not only did we get the money they asked for but then they got an extra $10,000.”
In addition to the Jam Room Festival Gibson stays busy by working as a executive chef and food and beverage director at Spinner’s a restaurant by Lake Murray, which of course hosts live entertainment.
Gibson considers Columbia fertile ground for the alternative music scene.
I think there is tremendous opportunity,” Gibson said. “I think Columbia is just booming right now. With the university growing and growing you are going to keep having young kids with disposable income and a curiosity.”
Gibson sees people like Tom Hall of Conundrum Music Hall as the future of the Columbia alternative music to a bright future.
“People like Tom are the kind of people that are going to help this scene grow. He brings in all kinds of acts,” Gibson said. “He is doing it all for the sake of the art, he doesn’t care if he makes a dime.”
Even though he may not know the names of the upstart bands that are filling the Columbia venues, Gibson shows unwavering support for the people walking the same path he paved and with the same simple philosophy he had back in 1984.
“If you’re going to put on a half-ass show, what’s the point in doing it? If you’re going to do something special then let’s do a show.”