A shockwave hit the Lowcountry musical community on Nov. 13, as an email hit our inboxes to signal the end of an era.
“Every great story has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” wrote Jordan Ross, co-founder of The Roasting Room, in announcing that the music venue would not be hosting live music events in 2023. “After years of providing high-quality musical performances out of the space above the Corner Perk Brunch Café in sunny Bluffton, the Roasting Room will be ceasing operations on Dec. 23, 2022.”
Ross teamed with Corner Perk owner Josh Cooke to create something that even the most ardent area music fans didn’t think possible – an acclaimed music room that became a must-play destination for both up-and-coming singers across the Southeast and seasoned veterans that treasured the intimate atmosphere, hominess and acoustic perfection of the space.
“The space itself will remain, but The Roasting Room will not remain in its current form. What form it takes is up to those closest to it. That next great book is unwritten,” Ross wrote.
Cooke reiterated that point to patrons, saying there are no padlocks on the space. Corner Perk recently hired a new catering manager who will look to increase the number of special event bookings such as private parties and corporate meetings.
The news came as a surprise to some who had seen shows announced as far out as March 2023. But as it turns out, the Room will have a full-circle moment as the artist who opened the venue in 2015, Angie Aparo, will play two last-hurrah shows Dec. 22-23.
The stoppage of live music bookings is the latest in a bad year for the Bluffton music scene, as The Roasting Room is the third music-boosting business to close in just the past six months. Corks closed in July, followed by the Bluffton Trading Post in September. Lorrie and Neil Ritter from Corks are renovating a building in the Moss Creek bridge-side shopping center complex that will be more music-centric.
But, while Captain Woody’s and Calhoun’s continue to host live music, the Roasting Room closing feels different to many boosters of the arts.
Known-entity artists from Aparo to Tommy Tutone to frequent guest performer Ed Roland of Collective Soul all count The Roasting Room as among the top listening rooms in the country. That alone was an incredible source of pride for local artists to have such a venue to aspire to play.
“Listen, this is a back-to-square-one moment for the scene and for many of the artists,” said Bluffton resident and frequent Room performer Jevon Daly. “People always say, ‘Why do you stay in your hometown?’ There are so many reasons, but I mean, to have this place just a mile away from where I played my first-ever performance in front of people with the school band at the May River Auditorium, that’s something.”
Daly holds the record for most sold-out performances at The Roasting Room, having completed the feat for the eighth time this fall. But he was looking forward to many more artists challenging that record.
“I had never played a solo show before Jordan challenged me to step up to the mic in 2016,” Daly said. That seems unthinkable to fans of his Coligny Plaza kids shows and many solo outings beyond his work with bands like Lowcountry Boil, Silicone Sister and JoJo Squirrel and the Home Pickles. “That’s what that stage means to me. I’m blessed to play all over the area, but The Roasting Room, that was the pinnacle. They treat you like a headlining artist there. The details that went in to a production there … it’s truly special.”
While some of his friends are angry with the closing, and still others sense this as a sign of live music in Old Town on its deathbed, Daly doesn’t buy that sentiment.
“Am I upset? Of course. But above all, I’m grateful to Jordan and Josh and everyone that made this an actual thing. Like, we had this world-class spot in our backyard,” Daly said. “Once a year, I got to hold a party, to feel special, to elevate my game and I’m so thankful for that. If anything, I just wish more folks had taken advantage of it.”
The hardest thing to reconcile is the why. Ross transitioned out of day-to-day operations this year before moving back to his Ohio hometown in July. But Cooke said that while someone like Ross is impossible to replace, many folks stepped up behind the scenes and made it a banner year for the business.
Others point to the countless hours necessary to run a place like The Roasting Room without it running you – the booking, the work with agents and the details of maintaining the acoustic quality of the setting. It would be fair to say that the return on time investment did not compare to the core Corner Perk business, as Cooke is expanding the brand with the company’s first Hilton Head Island location.
Cooke said there is no one thing to point to in making the decision, just a confluence of factors.
“The source is elusive and impossible to pinpoint, as we all know that sometimes a culmination of a lot of little things begin to grow into an unsustainable force that moves us so far away from our original goals that there is no righting what went wrong along the way,” Cooke said in a Nov. 13 email to Roasting Room members.
Cooke said that, like Ross, he is hoping this is simply the end of a chapter in the book, and that he will be there to help inspire the next entity that wants to author the next part of the story.
“This space is not dying, it’s not a funeral. We’ve invested too much in it to just let it go. We own the building, we want to keep the space as vibrant as ever,” Cooke said. “The upside is this opens up plenty of opportunity and dates for those interested in booking events, hopefully many that feature that next incredible artist dying to play here.”
Simply said, while Cooke can no longer be the driving force behind running The Roasting Room business, he is hoping he can be a mentor and the space be the incubator for the next great idea.
“We will be over here waiting for the next spark of innovation, opportunity, the right players and stars to align to see what might fill this wonderful room again,” Cooke said.
It’s the kind of quote that makes many of us morph into Lloyd Christmas holding out hope of dating Mary Swanson in “Dumb and Dumber.”
“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”
Unlike Mary in the movie, Daly believes the odds are far better than a one-in-a-million chance.
“Creativity lives on. Finding that guy like Jordan Ross that takes on such a dream and is so selfless, that’s tricky,” he said. “I mean, he is as talented as anyone that ever played that space. He could have booked himself there once a week, but there was never a Jordan Ross night. So, yes, you need money to invest, but the time and the passion are the real kicker.”
In the meantime, Daly said the opportunities for musicians continue to be stronger than ever in the Lowcountry. The magic of his hometown inspires him daily. He’s working on a song for Bluffton legends Babbie Guscio and Wally Palmer to honor the town’s vibe in the 1980’s and the “Bluffton Buzzards” days under then-mayor George Heyward.
“The biggest thing that any of us want is to keep that vibe alive, to keep Bluffton eccentric, to always honor and foster that energy,” he said.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. firstname.lastname@example.org