Since 2003, South by Southeast has provided music fans a chance to experience artists not heard in traditional venues, earning the group a status of respect around town. Just recently though, their status has changed.
On Nov. 11, the group started by the area’s own Minister of Music, the late Jeff Roberts, announced it had been granted 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status
the Internal Revenue Service.
Myrtle Beach Music: SxSE kicks off its holiday season with a show Saturday (photos courtesy southbysoutheast.org)
While it may not mean much to those without a degree in tax law, the designation is a big step forward for the nonprofit group which has dedicated itself to preserving music and providing instruments to underprivileged youths in the area.
“The thing with this 501(c)3 is we can now reach out and get any businesses around here to help subsidize what we’re doing,” said Sam Hannaford, the group’s president and spokesman.
Hannaford believes the impact will be two-fold in that it will help keep the organization afloat financially, helping them to hold more events and instrument drives, and will also allow them to bring in a different level of musician for their South by Southeast Music Feast concerts.
“If we can get this financial backing and we can bring these bands, I think it can go to another level,” said Hannaford.
But before considering the effect of the group’s latest accomplishment, Hannaford its important to look back at how SxSE became the area’s go to group for providing “The best music you’ve never heard.”
“We started out as a party,” says Hannaford. “Then we decided to do something good and start collecting instruments and helping these kids, and that became our mission.”
“How SxSE got started was Bob O’Connor from The Mullets had a chance to put on Jack Lawrence — this flat pickin’ associate of Bluegrass legened Doc Watson — and have a living room concert.”
Only problem was O’Connor needed $600 to bring Lawrence and another act to his house on a winter night in December 2000.
“So Bob called 35 of his best friends and said to bring $25 and a dish and beer to his house. We cleared out his living room, rented some of those little folding chairs, we set up a little audience with these two guys and it was great.”
That gathering was the spiritual beginning of what would become SxSE, and kicked off a number of similar shows that led to the formation of the nonprofit.
Shortly afterward, Hannaford went to see his old buddy Jeff Roberts, whom he had known from working in the record business together.
Expanding their efforts
“I went to see Jeff at Sounds Familiar, when it was still open. He said why don’t we do what [Bob] did? I know a couple girls from Nashville, Jill Block and Lauren Ellis that want a grand to play.”
Expanding on O’Connor’s efforts, Hannaford and Roberts got on the phone and called 80 people this time, beckoning them to gather in a game room at Aloha Motel on 73rd Avenue North.
“It was February, but luckily it was warm, because we were all packed into this non-heated rec room. But we cranked up the fireplace and had a great show and Lauren Ellis was amazing. She’s like a female Duane Allman.”
After a handful of other shows which included one to open up the Royal Oak Tavern in Murrells Inlet the real genesis of SxSE arose.
“We had a couple hundred bucks left over after we paid the band, and I said ‘If we want to keep this thing rolling, why not do something good with it?’”
Finding a home
“That’s when the New South guys came to us and said ‘Why don’t you start having the shows at the brewery?” And in 2003-04 when had 5 or 6 shows a year at the brewery.”
The final piece of the puzzle when one of the Myrtle Beach city planners attended on of those early shows. Having enjoyed what SxSE was doing, the city offered up the Myrtle Beach Pelicans stadium at no cost for a show.
“We had a beer festival and four bands come in November. Well, it was 48 degrees and let’s just say that didn’t work out so well for us. But because we had gotten hooked up with the city, after that they gave us the Train Depot. And we’ve been there ever since.”
Myrtle Beach Music: Mike Farris performs at the South by Southeast Music Feast in May 2008. Farris will perform at the Myrtle Beach Tain Depot Saturday. (courtesy southbysoutheast.org)
With the death of co-founder Jeff Roberts earlier this year, it’s been a tough year for SxSE, but with the recent shift in tax status Hannaford hopes it will help revitalize the group.
“I still miss him every day,” says Hannaford of his friend of 40 years. “At first we had to push on to honor his legacy, but I wish we still had that energy we had in January now and I think this 501(c)3 will help.”
Hannaford says that Roberts heart and dedication was the catalyst that kept the organization running and admits its been tough for him to pick up where Roberts left off. He says he hopes to step down as president in the near future to get away from the minutiae of day-to-day operations.
“But I’m not giving up. I don’t see why we can’t continue to improve and foster a healthy music scene here.”
On Dec. 4, the group will celebrate its 60th show by bringing in Nashville-based vocalist and guitarist Mike Farris to perform.
The night, will feature food and drinks — the group orders barbecue and pizza for each event in addition to covered dishes provided by attendees — and a great atmosphere for listening aside some of the area’s most devoted music fans.
Hannaford urges those who haven’t been to a music feast to come check it out.
“We just want everyone to come who can,” he says. “We have a motto around here ‘Trust the Frog’ which basically means even if you don’t know the music, come out an experience it and we bet you’ll enjoy it.”
Hear Sam Hannaford talk about SxSE's mission and the impact the 501 (c) 3 status will have: