Saturday I had a lot more SMES events, including two panels to participate in, but I did manage to get down to Murrells Inlet for dinner on the Marshwalk at Captain Dave’s Dockside. I was especially impressed with their unusual hushpuppies- they had no onion, and were served hot with raspberry-honey butter. They’re rather addictive, actually. The fried grouper was also excellent. In the evening, after the panels, however, finding coffee was rather difficult. I eventually found a Starbucks on Myrtle Beach’s northside that was still open, but getting there proved tougher than I had expected because of a large outdoor festival in downtown that had Ocean Boulevard closed. There was a SMES afterparty in the downtown area as well, but I knew that I had a long drive back to Memphis the next day, so I went back to the hotel instead.
After breakfast at the Eggs Up Grill, I took advantage of the sunny weather to spend some time on the beach and in the Atlantic Ocean, and then finished up with a trip to the whirlpool.
The SMES events really didn’t get underway until the evening, so I spent the afternoon driving up to Barefoot Landing, a large outdoor shopping area built around a lagoon. Although it was fun to walk around, I didn’t find anything there to purchase, so I headed down into the town of Murrells Inlet to eat dinner.
Many of the restaurants there were built on a boardwalk called the Marshwalk, which had been built over the marsh that separates the mainland from the islands. Before dinner, I decided to walk the length of it, so I did, noticing an island covered with goats, and behind me to the north there was a rainbow against the darker sky where it had been raining up in Myrtle Beach. One of the restaurants along the walk had a statue of an African-American man in a cook’s uniform, whom I surmised might have been a deceased former employee. I decided to eat dinner at Bovine’s, a fine-looking establishment famous for steaks and wood-fired pizzas, and I was not disappointed there.
Afterwards, I went across the street to a gift shop called the Lazy Gator, and there I found just the right birthday gifts for my mother, a book about the Carolina coastal country, and a coffee mug.
When I got back to the hotel, beat battles and rap battles were taking place, some of which I was asked to help judge, but the real fun took place in the informal discussions that developed out on the patio furniture in front of the lobby. There panelists and conference attendees alike sat down and had fascinating conversations that as often as not drew a crowd to gather around, listen and occasionally join in.
After breakfast at the hotel, I spent the morning driving around to Savannah bookstores looking for a book on the civil rights movement in Savannah, but nobody had it in stock, so I drove across into South Carolina, touring a resort called Palmetto Bluff, which had been built to resemble an old coastal town.
I had wanted to take the ferry over to Daufuskie Island, the Gullah island made famous by Pat Conroy in his book The Water Is Wide, but there wasn’t time to do it. Instead, I stopped briefly at Bluffton, where the downtown area on Calhoun Street was closed off for a farmers’ market, and then I continued northward into Charleston.
After browsing through CD’s at Monster Music and Video, I headed into downtown on King Street. I browsed a used bookstore and then headed around to the Charleston Market for a steak dinner at T-Bonz. Next door, the same owners run Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe, and I enjoyed some coffee and a slice of peanut butter chocolate cake before heading on across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the sunset, headed for Myrtle Beach.
By the time I got to Awendaw it was dark, but still warm. The area was fairly rural and remote, but with a few gatherings, around the occasional black church or juke joint.
Once I got to Surfside Beach, I checked into the Holiday Inn, and quickly ran into some of the people from the Southeast Music and Entertainment Summit, but it was late in the evening, so I didn’t go out anywhere.
I woke up early to another beautiful day, and I almost wished I wasn’t checking out until Monday. The SMES Awards would be held later in the day, but the whole point of my checking out early was to first of all see Charleston for the first time, and also to not have to drive all the way back to Memphis in one day. So I checked out and drove over to Eggs Up Grill on Highway 17, where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast while all the talk on the TV screens in the restaurant was about the congressional bailout bill to try to rescue the US economy and to prop up failing banks like Wachovia. I drove into Murrells Inlet, which billed itself as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina”, and found it to be a rather sleepy fishing village except for the elegant waterfront restaurants along the main road.
Further down the highway pulled away from the coast and crossed over a drawbridge into the town of Georgetown, South Carolina. Georgetown was very old, with a number of historic buildings and homes, as well as a charming riverwalk along the harbor behind the downtown buildings. Here too there were a number of restaurants, mostly seafood, and a lot of yachts anchored in the harbor.
The trip from Georgetown to the Charleston area seemed to take forever, but eventually I came to the road that led to the Isle of Palms, so I headed down that way and into the little resort island, which had a hotel, a small downtown village of shops and a few beachfront restaurants. The beach was actually quite crowded, perhaps due to the warm, sunny weather. The island road crossed a small pass onto Sullivan’s Island, and there crowds of people were eating outdoors on decks in front of the restaurants. The main street was named for Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently had been stationed at a fort on the island.
Another causeway took me back onto the mainland and into the town of Mount Pleasant, where there was a beautiful creek called Shem Creek which was lined with restaurants, lounges, boat docks and a hotel. I took a number of photos there, but I resisted the temptation to eat there, and drove on through Mount Pleasant and into the city of Charleston itself.
Many of the restaurants and shops I had seen on my iPhone were on Market Square, so I immediately headed in that direction when I got into Charleston. The city was far more like New Orleans than I had realized, with an old brick market several blocks in length, which reminded me of the French Market in New Orleans. There was a French Quarter in Charleston also, although it was a residential area and not a tourist destination, and many of the Black youths in downtown streets were speaking a patois not unlike the unusual New Orleans accent. (I was later told that this slang/patois in Charleston is called Geechie or Gullah.)
On either side of the market were restaurants and gift shops, but I soon found that parking (at $1 per half hour with no daily maximum) was quite expensive. I knew I would have to pay it to enjoy the city on foot (and that’s about the only way to enjoy Charleston), so I paid and parked my car and then began a walking tour of the area, snapping photos of nearly everything. While trying to snap a picture of the old US Customs House, I nearly backed into to a bellboy of what turned out to be the Market Place Hotel behind me. Seeing that they had a rooftop bar, I decided to ride the elevator up there, and found that the view of the old city from there was beautiful beyond description. The weather was downright hot, but the bar was crowded with people sitting around the rooftop pool, and I took pictures of the city, and of Mount Pleasant’s yacht harbor, visible to the north beyond the amazing bridge that I had crossed into the city over earlier.
I walked down to Meeting Street, noticing a lot of youths in military outfits who were cadets at the Citadel, and then I made my way back to the Charleston Crab House restaurant, where I enjoyed a shrimp dinner. The T-Bonz family of restaurants had a dessert cafe called Kaminsky’s across the market from the Charleston Crab House, so I walked over there foran after-dinner dessert and coffee. I instantly noticed a chocolate-peanut-butter torte, which proved to be moist and delicious, as Kaminsky’s only serves fresh desserts each day. Thoroughly relaxed and contented, I sipped my cappuccino while hearing rousing cheers from the T-Bonz next door where people were apparently watching a pro football game.
As I drove up Meeting Street, I stopped at an Exxon for gasoline, and then continued through some rough and ramshackle ‘hoods into North Charleston and on out Highway 78 into what truly was a primeval wilderness, broken only by the occasional small town. Some of these were a little bigger than others, and Branchville proved to be a rather good-sized place, where I stopped for a cold drink. The town was in a state of excitement due to some sort of fair and street festival, and crowds of young people were everywhere.
It was thoroughly dark by the time I got into Beech Island, and I called V-Tec who agreed to meet me at the T-Bonz on Washington Road in Augusta. I was still heavy from dinner, but I ordered some cheese fries that were quite good, and he and I hung out watching an NFL game, while a jazz group was playing in the restaurant. I considered checking into a hotel there in Augusta, but, wanting to get closer to Memphis, I decided to head on towards Atlanta. Gasoline was still hard to come by in Augusta, but I found some, and headed west, passing through Atlanta into Douglasville. I had picked up a coupon book for hotels in Georgia, and had been heading to a Quality Inn in Douglasville, but when I got there at almost 2 AM, that hotel had rooms whose doors opened to the outside, a security nightmare. So, even though it was slightly more expensive, I opted for the Comfort Inn next door instead, and as soon as I got into my room, I went straight to bed.
There had been an afterparty until 2 AM the night before, and I was convinced that people wouldn’t show up for the conference panel I was supposed to speak on at 10 AM, but I was told that it would go on as scheduled, so I decided that there wasn’t time to eat breakfast away from the hotel, and I went into the restaurant there for breakfast instead.
When I got to the conference room, however, I learned that it had been rescheduled for 7 PM, and there were several rap artists there waiting for me who thought it would be held at 10 AM as scheduled. So we held a little panel discussion about distribution in the foyer in front of the ballroom door, and afterwards, I decided to spend some time in the whirlpool. The sun was out, the wind had died down, and the weather was much warmer.
At noon, I drove down to the River City Cafe in Surfside Beach’s little downtown, since I was told that they had the best hamburgers on the beach. The place was crowded and cute, with an upstairs view of the Surfside Beach pier and beaches, but the burgers, which could have been really great, were only mediocre because of a South Carolina law that requires burgers to be cooked to medium well or above. So, needless to say, my burger was grey throughout, and dry as a bone.
Afterwards, I used my iPhone to locate an internet cafe around the corner, where I ordered a latte, and then I headed back to the hotel for the performance showcases. These ran longer than expected, however, and the 7 PM panel didn’t get under way until nearly 9 PM. By the time it ended at 10:15 PM, it was much too late to go to the Crab House at Barefoot Landing, where I had planned on eating dinner. In fact, to my surprise since Myrtle Beach was a resort area, I soon found it was too late to go anywhere at all. Most restaurants closed at 9:30 or 10 PM, even on weekends, I was told, because this was the off-season. I finally found that TGI Friday’s in Murrell’s Inlet was open, so three rap artists that had been at the panel discussion rode with me and we rode down there to eat a late dinner.
Upon our returning, we learned that there had been a fight outside the hotel, but on the hotel grounds, and the Surfside police had been called. Once again, alcohol seemed to be the catalyst, and the individual who had gotten the worst of the incident had threatened to bring a weapon up to the conference and kill the person who had whipped him. After things had calmed down, there were some conference panelists and attendees in the lobby talking about the Obama candidacy and hip-hop versus gangsta rap. But I was tired, so I headed up to the room and to bed.
When I woke up, everything hurt. Especially my elbow, which had hit the pavement hard when I fell. I managed to get up, get dressed and head out to breakfast at Omega Pancake House, which I had seen the night before as I was going to the hotel. After breakfast, I went back to the hotel and registered for the conference. Since I wasn’t scheduled to speak until Saturday, I spent some time in the whirlpool on the pool deck, and then I walked down onto the beach. There was nobody in the water, and after testing it with my feet, I learned why, because the water was icy cold. I started walking south along the beach, noticing birds and shells as I headed down toward the Days Inn hotel to the south.
The weather was cool, but overcast and quite windy, and I walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I had scouted out a place called the Liberty Brewhouse at Broadway at the Beach. The restaurant was a brewpub featuring steaks, and was owned by T-Bonz out of Augusta, so I figured it would be good. Getting to Broadway at the Beach proved to be more difficult than I had expected, however, since traffic was backed up for miles because of an incident in front of a McDonald’s where a car had struck a child on a bicycle, and everyone was stopping to look as the ambulance was pulling up. Broadway at the Beach proved to be an elaborate outdoor shopping village built around a manmade lagoon full of catfish, other fish and ducks. One of its anchors was a Hard Rock Cafe built in the shape of a pyramid, and there was a Kiss Coffeehouse (the name and logo licensed from the band), a Tripp’s Family Restaurant, a Crab House, a Key West Bar and Grill, and many interesting shops. I decided to walk around a bit before eating dinner, and I walked through nearly all of the facility, stopping in a few shops to look around. In addition to the shops and restaurants, there were entertainment options like Dragon’s Lair goofy golf, and some sort of Adventure Quest laser game, and a theatre. I soon walked right to the Liberty Brewhouse, and, to my surprise, had no trouble getting a seat. The Liberty Brewhouse brewed their own root beer, which was excellent, and the steak and lobster dinner was really good as well.
Afterwards, I stopped into a Kaldi’s Coffee Bar for a latte, and then drove over to Ocean Boulevard, to drive that way along the Grand Strand back to the hotel. The sun was going down red to the southwest, and I stopped to take a number of pictures. When I arrived back at the hotel, showcases were still in progress, with artists performing and being critiqued by some of the panelists. After that, a beat battle and a freestyle battle were held. Unfortunately, liquor was flowing freely from the hotel bar, and a fight was narrowly averted when one young man who had lost in the freestyle battle complained that another man nearby kept staring at him. Altogether, however, day one of the Southern Music and Entertainment Summit went very well.