Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Month: December 2023 (Page 1 of 4)

A new Video Edition of Radio Free Charleston to End The Year

Yes, this is our Sunday Evening Video this week. It’s a new episode of Radio Free Charleston that almost didn’t happen.

I’ve been producing video episodes of RFC since 2006, and even though the show basically went to once-a-year status after I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis in 2016, we’ve still managed to squeak out one full show (or MINI SHOW) each year.  This year I got waylaid by various outside gigs, brief ailments and mishaps of the calendar and almost didn’t get this show done.

Over the course of the year I had more than half a dozen scheduled video shoots get scuttled due to various reasons,and until Friday night, the only new music footage that I shot was The Velvet Brothers’ Cinco de Mayo show at The Red Carpet Lounge. By the time December showed up on my doorstep, after a month of deadline hell writing The 2023 PopCult Gift Guide and a major 2024 Preview article for Non Sport Update,  I pretty much surrendered to the idea of mining the archives for songs from previous years, with one great new recording of The Velvets.

But with a week-long visit to Chicago planned early in the month, I didn’t have too much time to do even that.

Then opportunity landed in my lap. I knew Brian Diller was planning to come to Charleston to do an acoustic show, hopefully in December, and when he was able to schedule a gig at The ROQ on December 29, I figured Mel and I could hit that, record a few songs, and then shoot host segments the next day at The Charleston Town Center, which is big, indoors, and mostly quiet these days.

What I didn’t count on was Mel getting sick the day of Brian’s show. We still made it out and recorded over an hour of the show, but Mel was fading fast (it’s not COVID, so we’re still batting a thousand in terms of remaining unafflicted by the pandemic). Saturday was spent trying to get Mel comfortable. Instead of going out to shoot host segments, we just did them in the living room Saturday evening.

The end result actually came out pretty good. I keep forgetting that, when I was cranking out this show on an almost weekly basis, that most of the shows were slapped together on the fly.

So what’s in the show, you ask?

The title is “The Beatles Story Shirt,” named after one of my Christmas presents from Mel. It’s a button-up shirt with the cover of the 1978 Marvel Comic’s history of The Beatles printed on it, front and back. It never hurts to have a shirt that was pencilled by George Perez and painted by Tom Palmer.

First up in the show we have the trailer for Jake Fertig‘s micro-budget horror movie, Rabidts.  Mel and I got to see this fun low-budget thriller a couple of weeks ago at the Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema  at Taylor Books, and we had a blast. Filled with 80s horror-movie tropes, it follows four extremely unlikable characters who go camping together for no particular reason, and accidentally open up a portal to another dimension that allows alien killer bunny rabbits through to kill people in amusing and creative ways. There is no sexual content, and the gore is slapstick enough to induce laughter more than disgust. Like I said, it’s a lot of fun, and you can buy your own copy on DVD HERE.

Our first song sees the return of The Velvet Brothers to RFC. Back in May your humble blogger did his first video shoot of a band in Charleston in over four years. it was Cinco de Mayo and The Velvet Brothers were playing the outdoor pavillion at The Red Carpet. To give you a little added perspective, it was the first time I’d set foot in The Red Carpet since 1989.

Mel and I went and captured the first twenty minutes or so of the Velvet’s set before the smoking on the Pavillion drove us away. I would’ve loved to have stayed for the whole show, but even wearing my trusty mask, I knew I had to limit my exposure. The boys were in fine form.  Whitney Velvet was sitting in for Dave Velvet, which meant they had a sax instead of a trumpet, and that gave the Brothers V a slightly different flavor for the evening.  From that night, we present The Velvet Brothers performing the Harry Belafonte classic, “Jump in The Line (Shake).”

Following the Brothers, we have animation from my brother, Frank, as he presents Plank Patrol.

Next up we mine the archives for a never-before-edited gem from Trielement. Kenny Booth, Joey Lafferty and Dave Roberts were the trio behind this mostly-instrumental prog-metal band, and while they’re no longer making music together, all three are still active in the local scene. We had the band on the show a few times, but every time they appeared on RFC and The RFC MINI SHOW, they’d always been recorded at The Blue Parrot. Imagine my surprise when I went through my archives and found this great tune, “Noodle Soup,” recorded at the World Famous Empty Glass, way back in May, 2013.

Speaking of our archives…over the course of more than two hundred video episodes of RFC, we’ve had four episodes that have become “lost,” mainly due to hard drive failures. On one of those episodes we ran a very important short film, and now…almost fifteen years later we are proud to once again present, Young Bradley Speaks. 

Then we come to our headliner. Brian Diller is a Charleston music legend. Back in the days of the original Radio Free Charleston broadcast show, his band, Brian Diller & The Ride ruled this town. Brian left for Nashville and other points in 1990, but he’s continued writing music and recenty released his first full-album, covering music he’s created over the last 45 years, and you can read my interview with him about that album, with links to how you can buy it HERE.

On Friday, December 29th, thirty-four years after The Last Ride at the Charleston Playhouse & Tavern, Brian returned to Charleston to perform for the first time in over eleven years.

We took our cameras to The Roq, below the old Quarrier Diner, and captured Brian, with his wife Eliska on percussion, and here, less than two days later, is Brian Diller with “Home,” and “Heartbeat.”

On our way out this time we are sending our best wishes to Kai Haynes, who is in critical condition, battling a serious medical issue. Kai is a legend in Charleston. He’s played with many of the top bands in the area. He was one of the partners in LiveMix Studios, who were our production partners for the first four years of the RFC video show. He’s also a hell of a nice guy, a great friend, and we are all pulling for him. Playing us out, we have Kai, with his LiveMix partners Brian Young and Greg Wegmann, as the band “Elektro Biscuit,” performing “A Latin Tune” at LiveMix Studio, in 2009. Just listen to Kai nail that killer bass solo.

That is the story of Radio Free Charleston (Volume Two) #220. You will hear more of Brian’s show at The ROQ on next week’s episode of Radio Free Charleston, the radio show. I swear, next year I’m going to try to record more bands so I dont have to rush to finish a show between Christmas and New Year’s.

I think I swear that every year.

The RFC Flashback: Episode Sixty

This week we go back to February, 2009 for the 60th episode of Radio Free Charleston. This was our post-Valentine’s Day 2009 valentine to Taylor Books. The host segments, and 60 Second Art Show were all recorded at Taylor Books and/or the Cafe and Annex Gallery one night in February 2009. The music was recorded on consecutive nights in January 2009. For some reason, this episode is called “Viva Mexico Shirt.”

Our music this week was from Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen, Joseph Henry (later Hale, and sadly no longer with us) and John Radcliff.  The 60 Second Art Show features a quick look at the work of Taylor Book’s Annex Gallery regulars Eric Pardue and the late Charles Jupiter Hamilton. Our animation this time is by the mystery man known as P-Dox, and is fittingly enough, set in a bookstore.

Taylor Books, of course,  remains a cultural oasis in Charleston. Original production notes can be found here.

Disco In The 1980s and Teardrops Explode Again On The AIR Friday

The PopCulteer
December 29, 2023

Your PopCulteer is working on a secret project for this weekend, so this week’s PopCulteer column reverts to radio notes mode. We have a hot new episode of MIRRORBALL to tell you about, and a recent and terrific encore of an episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat.

Friday at 2 PM on The AIR, Mel Larch devotes a full hour to intricately curated classics of the late Disco era, post-1980.  The AIR is PopCult‘s sister radio station. You can hear our shows on The AIR website, or just click on the embedded player found elsewhere on this page.

Every song on this week’s show is making its MIRROBALL debut, which is getting really tricky to pull off as Mel prepares to hit her 100th episode sometime in the new year. The focus this week is on the big club hits from the very early 1980s, when Disco had hit it’s commercial peak, but still had more life in it than anybody seems to remember.

It’s a cool collection of dance classics from the end of the Golden Age of Disco, and it’s a great way to say “so long” to a less-than-stellar year.

Check out the playlist…


Zinc “This Is Where The Love Is”
First Love “Love Me Today”
Al Mason “Good Lovin'”
Heaven & Earth “You’re A Blessing”
Dolette McDonald “(Xtra) Special”
Game “Gotta Take Your Love”
Teodo’r “Love Message”
Grey & Hanks “You Fooled Me”
Salazar “Never Gonna Let You Go”
Johnny Mathis “Love Never Felt So Good”

You can hear MIRRORBALL every Friday at 2 PM, with replays throughout the following week Monday at 9 AM and Tuesday at 1 PM and a mini-marathon Saturday nights at 9 PM

At 3 PM we bring you an encore of a two-hour salute to the Psychedelic New Wave band, The Teardrop Explodes on Sydney’s Big Electric Cat from July of this year.  This is a mixtape presentation of tracks from the much-beloved cult band which was the launching ground for one Julian Cope.

The Teardrop Explodes formed in Liverpool in 1978, taking their name from a caption in issue #77 of Daredevil, a Marvel comic book published earlier in the decade.

With vocals and lyrics by Julian Cope, who would go on to reach underground deity status following the break up of this band, The Teardrop Explodes also included David Balfe and Troy Tate, who would go on to become notable record producers.

In these two hours Sydney will play the hits, some deep album cuts and quite a few rarities and live tracks from the recently released The Teardrop Explodes boxed set, Culture Bunker.

Check out the playlist…

BEC 106
The Teardrop Explodes

“East of the Equater”
“Sleeping Gas”
“Rachael Built A Steamboat”
“Brave Boys Keep Promises”
“The Culture Bunker”
“Tiny Children”
“Read It In The Books”
“Camera Camera”
“Bouncing Babies”
“Christ Vs. Warhol”
“Screaming secrets”
“Vox Clements In Deserto”
“You Disappear From View”
“Passionate Friend”
“Colours Fly Away”
“The Tunnel”
“Soft Enough For You”
“All I Am Is Loving You”
“Traison (C’est juste une histoire)”
“Count To Ten and Run For Cover”
“When I Dream”
“Strange House In The Snow”
“World Shut Your Mouth (instrumental demo)”
“Ha Ha, I’m Drowning”

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard every Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon,  Monday at 7 AM, Tuesday at 8 PM, Wednesday at Noon and Thursday at 10 AM, exclusively on The AIR. Classic episodes can be heard Sunday morning at 10 AM.

For New Year’s Eve this year, The AIR will play our usual overnight marathon of The Swing Shift, but rather than bring you our episodes in order, for this week we’ll cherry-pick the very best for youso you can dance into the new year in style. That begins Sunday at Midnight, immediately following an encore of today’s new MIRRORBALL!

That’s what’s new on The AIR Friday, and that is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features every day, and have a safe and prosperous new year.

STUFF TO DO and Kickstart, with Brian Diller and Ginger Wixx

We find ourselves in the curious limbo between Christmas and New Year’s, and rather than let the year slip by without one more rundown of local events, how about I regale you with tales of tons of cool shenanigans to get into around the Mountain State as everybody celebrates running away screaming from 2023, and sheepishly entering a new year that has the potential to be even more messed up.

As I have been doing of late, this a good time to remind you that THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST OF EVENTS.  It’s just a starting point, so don’t expect anything comprehensive, and if you feel strongly about me leaving anything out, feel free to mention it in the comments. Seriously, with New Year’s Eve happening this weekend, there’s no way I’m going to be able to cover everything.

Before we get into that, I have a really cool Kickstarter plug to get in:

Ginger Wixx is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter from Southwestern West Virginia who’s been making a name for herself playing all over the tri-state region and in Charleston. She’s preparing to record her debut EP, and she needs your help.

Ginger has only been performing for a couple of years, but she’s already played over a hundred shows and is in demand all over the region. However, she doesn’t have any officially-recorded music, and is itching to get in the studio and lay down some tracks for the many fans who ask her when they can buy her records (or CDs, or streams…remember, I’m old).

I do have selfish motives here. I’ve never met Ginger, but I’ve been following her career, and would love to have some of her music to play on Radio Free Charleston. You can help make this happen. Twenty bucks gets you a signed CD. Thirty gets you a CD and a very cool poster. Fifty will get you the CD, poster and a limited edition T Shirt. If you’re curious about Ginger’s music, she’s part of a night of singer/songwriters at The Loud in Huntington Friday night. Details can be found in the graphics collected at the end of this post.

Just a reminder here that, while I don’t often toot my own horn about this, I have featured a few artists on RFC before they found big-time success. Sierra Ferrell and Tyler Childers both appeared on the video version of RFC before they made it big on the international scene, and I make it a point to try to promote all of West Virginia’s native talents as soon as I hear about them. We have a remarkable pool of talent here.

You can get in on the ground floor of Ginger’s career by helping fund her debut recording HERE.

We also have a big, big show to tell you about that happens Friday night.  On the 34th anniversary of The Last Ride at The recently-departed Charleston Playhouse & Tavern, Brian Diller will return to Charleston for an acoustic show, his first performance in town in well over a decade.  Brian recenty released his first full-album, covering music he’s created over the last 45 years, and you can read my interview with him HERE.

You may glean the details of Brian’s show at The ROC, below the old Quarrier Diner right here…

Live Music is back at Taylor Books. There is no cover charge, and shows start at 7:30 PM.  Friday the guitar master, Neil Curry takes the stage. Saturday Brandon Costello performs at the beloved bookstore/cafe/art gallery.

The World Famous Empty Glass Cafe has some great stuff this week  to tell you about.   Thursday at 10 PM Mike Selbe takes the stage. Friday Tim Courts plays during happy hour.  Friday at 10 PM it’s New Year’s Eve Eve Eve! with Building Rockets and the J. Hatfield-Brittany McGuire Duo.  Satruday at 9:30 PM country singer songwriter Danny Bo Smith takes the stage.

Sunday join Hair Supply at The Empty Glass to ring in the New Year. The kind folks at the Glass promise, “Costume Contests! Prizes! Champagne Toast at Midnight! Dont Miss this Party!! $25 per person or $40 per couple includes Champagne Toast and party Favors! HAIR SUPPLY, Southern West Virginia based 1980s rock tribute act, formed in 2018 as a vehicle for paying homage to the rock hits and anthems of the most decadent decade in popular music history. Sponsored by the HD Media Family of Newspapers, the boys have garnered a reputation for their stage shows including era-specific attire, tongue-in-cheek stage banter and spot-on accurate covers of the bands and artists that ruled the decade that represented the apex of FM Radio hysteria. HS enjoys recreating the mega-hits of artists like Poison, Warrant, Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Billy Squire, Journey and Loverboy, among others.”


It’s going to be a wild NYE at The Glass, and all over the area, as you’ll see below.

Please remember that the pandemic is not over yet. It’s still a going concern with the ‘rona surging again. And now there are seasonal allergies, the flu, elderly celebrities trying to be the last one to die before the year ends, disgusting fluid-encrusted football coaches, the last remaining hanging chads and other damned good reasons to be careful. Many people who have very good reasons are still wearing masks, and many of us, understandably, are still nervous about being in crowds, masked or not. Be kind and understanding  while you’re out.

Keep in mind that all shows are subject to change or be cancelled at the last minute.

If you’re up for going out, here are a few suggestions for the weekend, roughly in order…



See Red With The Beatles Wednesday

I invite you to tune in Wednesday afternoon, as The AIR brings you a very special episode of Beatles Blast.  You can tune in at the website, or just stay right here and  listen to the convenient embedded radio player lurking elsewhere on this page.

At 2 PM (EDT) Beatles Blast brings you an hour that explores the recently-released expanded edition of The Beatles 1962-1966, AKA “The Red Album.

And music histrorian, Kevin Howlett did all the heavy lifting. This week’s show collects all three parts of the recent audio documentary about The Red Album  that he wrote and produced for The Beatles’ website, with the addition of one Beatles tune, an intro from yours truly, and a bonus cover at the end that sees Dwight Twilly doing his version of the final track on the remastered version of the album.

Howlett’s documentaries include interviews with all four Beatles, as well as with folks like George Martin, Brian Wilson and others.

The Red and Blue albums were the first compilations released by EMI/Captiol under a new contract negotiated by Allen Klein in 1973.  For many people who weren’t quite old enough while The Beatles were making new music, these two 2-LP sets were their introduction to the band.

The new reissues, along with the improved sound quality, also expand the track listing of each album by 50%, correcting some of the more glaring omissions from the original release.

Next week Beatles Blast will kick off the new year with Howlett’s look at The Blue Album.

Beatles Blast can be heard every Wednesday at 2 PM, with replays Thursday at 11 PM, Friday at 1 PM,  and Saturday afternoon.

At 3 PM (EDT) on Curtain Call, Mel Larch brings you an encore episode from five years ago, to tie in with Wednesday’s new Beatles Blast.  In 2018, tied in with the week of the late Mark Scarpelli’s massive Beatles Marathon, where his band, Rubber Soul, joined by dozens of guest musicians, covered every song that The Beatles released. In this episode of Curtain Call, Mel brings you the rare cast album of Beatlemania, from 1976.

Curtain Call can be heard on The AIR Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 8 AM, Friday at 10 AM, Saturday at 8 PM and Monday at 9 AM. A six-hour marathon of classic episodes can be heard Sunday evening starting at 6 PM, and an all-night marathon of Curtain Call episodes can be heard Wednesday nights, beginning at Midnight.

Also on The AIR, Wednesday at 11 PM,  The Comedy Vault brings you the final new episode of the year, with a vintage collection of Kermit Schafer’s (mostly faked) Bloopers.

Schafer was the master of collecting bloopers, and if he couldn’t find them, he’d just go in the studio and “recreate” them, with little regard to whether or not they really happened.

He sold a ton of records on the K-tel label via TV ads, and growing up, I don’t know anybody who actually bought one, but probably the funniest thing about his records is that so much of them are obviously faked. So enjoy the fake foul-ups tonight on The Comedy Vault.

Remembering The Charleston Playhouse On A New RFC

Tuesday finds a bittersweet Radio Free Charleston on The AIR.  Our all-new first hour of  Radio Free Charleston is accompanied by a two hour mixtape of vintage Charleston Playhouse-centric music and hijinks, to observe the demolition last week of the beloved, but short-lived local music epicenter.  You can read what I have to say about that HERE.

To listen to The AIR, you simply have to point your cursor over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay here, and  listen to the cool embedded player found elsewhere on this page.  

You can hear Radio Free Charleston Tuesdays at 10 AM and 10 PM, with tons of replays throughout the week.

Our first hour opens with “The Finding,” a newly-released tune by Brian Diller, who will be returning to Charleston for an acoustic performance this coming Friday at The Roc, below the old Quarrier Diner.  Then we hear a great tune from our “Chicago Connection,” as Radio Free Honduras continues their mission to salute the music of Charlie Baran  with  an incredible Latin sound.

The rest of our first hour continues with great local and independent music. Then we devote our second and third hours to some audio artifacts of the magic that was The Charleston Playhouse & Tavern.

You’ll hear actual recordings from the Playhouse, as well as studio tracks from some of the bands who played there as well as a few snippets of the original broadcast version of RFC.

Check out the playlist below to see all the goodies we have in store. Live links in the first hour will take you to the artist’s pages  so you can find out more about them, buy their music and find out where to see them perform live. Don’t expect that in the third hour, though…

RFC V5 156

hour one
Brian Diller “The Finding”
Radio Free Honduras “Pero Te Olvidare”
Aristotle Jones “Best Nest”
The Alright Maybes “Come On Charlie”
Novelty Island “1102”
The Settlement  “Do It For You (Live at Sam’s)”
Nu Mutants “Undertaker”
John Inghram & Bud Carroll “Father Christmas”
Audrey Smiley “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
Pallas “This Haunted Christmas”
The Dollyrots “Fairytale of New York”
Corduroy Brown “Medicine (Live at The Shop)”
Ann Magnuson “Live, You Vixen”
Hello June “Honey I Promise”

hour two and three The Charleston Playhouse & Tavern Archives Mixtape

Alan Griffith unplugged at the Playhouse with the unfortunate participation of The Stunning Janice and Rudy Panucci
Go Van Gogh Live At The Playhouse
Mad Scientist Club “Thunder and Lightning (Studio version)”
The Swivels “Cinnamon Girl”
Go Van Gogh “Shut Up, I Love You (Studio version)”
The Tunesmiths “I Don’t Want To Be Your Hero (Studio version)”
Brian Diller “Don’t Stop At Anything (Studio version)”
Three Bodies “The Trax (Studio version)”
Stark Raven “There’s More To Life Than This (Studio version)”
The Velvet Brothers “Savannah Moon (Live, but not from the Playhouse)”
Strawfyssh “Graveyard Shift (Studio version)”
Three Bodies “Treehouse”
Meandering rant
Sexy Coughing
David Friesen “Festival Dance”
Some Forgotten Color “Restrain”
Johnny Rock and Rudy in the studio
Cranky Old Men (Rudy and Brian Young)
Clownhole-Excerpts from “The Last Fart (live at the Charleston Playhouse)”

You can hear this episode of Radio Free Charleston Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM on The AIR, with replays Wednesday at 9 AM,  Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 9 AM, Saturday at Noon and Midnight,  and  Monday at 11 AM, exclusively on The AIR. Now you can also hear a different classic episode of RFC every weekday at 5 PM, and we bring you a marathon all night long Saturday night/Sunday morning.

I’m also going to  embed a low-fi, mono version of this show right in this post, right here so you can listen on demand.


After RFC, stick around for encores of last week’s episodes of  MIRRORBALL at 1 PM and Curtain Call at 2 PM.

At 3 PM we offer up a new mixtape episode of The Swing Shift.  The plan is to record this show, which will open with a new track from The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, after I write this (on Christmas Eve, no less), so there won’t be a playlist but rest assured, it will Swing. I promise to include some Cab Calloway, Tyler Pedersen and Royal Crown Revue, though.

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 8 AM, Friday at 10 AM and 8 PM and Saturday afternoon, only on The AIR . You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Monday Morning Art: Respect

Why the title?  It’s “a wreath-a,” get it?

Sorry about that. Anyway, it’s Christmas Day. Above you see a quick and sloppy acrylic painting done on paper for pens and inspired by a big wreath in the Northbridge Shopping Center in Chicago. It’s not based on a photo, just on my memory, so any resemblance is purely amazing.

To see it bigger try clicking HERE.

Meanwhile, Monday  on The AIR,  the Christmas programming begins its last day this year as we devote one final big marathon to celebrating the holidays with special episodes of our regular programs, plus huge comglomerations of holiday music, radio plays, weird Christmas stuff and more. That runs until 7 AM Tuesday, when things get back to whatever passes for normal in this blog. I hope whoever might be reading this is having a great holiday and isn’t just browsing the web because there’s nothing else going on.

Annual Christmas Video Post

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and whatever good tidings fill your bill from PopCult and the Larch-Panucci household.

2023 has been a year. We’ll stay positive and leave it at that while running our traditional holiday greeting…

‘I hope that everybody can find some peace and well-being on this special day, and that the new year brings us all new happiness, joy, good health, and justice for the Democracy.”

As is our tradition on Christmas Day, we bring you Melanie Larch singing “Ave Maria” from the very first Christmas episode of Radio Free Charleston.

Let’s follow that up with the 2014 Christmas treat that saw Melanie backed by the late and much-loved and missed, Mark Scarpelli…

And we’ll continue with Mel’s 2009 Christmas song with Diablo Blues Band…

Let’s go back to Chicago, in 2019, for one more…

Wishing you and yours the best-

Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Sunday Evening Video: So Long Playhouse

Above you see episode 165 of Radio Free Charleston (from 2012), where I take Kitty Killton to the site of The Charleston Playhouse to introduce a video of my old friends, Clownhole, performing there in 1989.

I’m running this here because last week, sadly, the building that played host to The Playhouse was demolished.  It’s a fun video, and it’s a nice way to remind everyone that Clownhole, who last performed together at The Playhouse in 1989 have new music coming out soon. But it also gives me a chance to run an “obituary” for the building that was home to The Charleston Playhouse.

While it sucks for those of us who have fond memories of the place, the demolition shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone. The building was originally “Don Emilio’s,” a Mexican Restaurant, built in the 1980s, which was long out of business by the time a group of artistically-minded friends decided to have a go at The Charleston Playhouse in that location.

The Playhouse opened in 1989 and closed in 1990, but it left a huge mark on the lives of the people who went there.  I met my wife there. I also met dozens of people, including some of my closest friends there.  Radio Free Charleston became what it is there. I have far more attachement and fond memories of the Playhouse than I do of High School. It’s where I became an adult, at least socially.

Post-playhouse, the building was mostly vacant. It was briefly an attempt at an upscale Italian Restaurant from the folks who own Graziano’s, and for a few years it was a Mimi’s gambling den, before they relocated that to the vacant Wendy’s next door.  However, I’d say that for the 33 years since the Playhouse closed, the building was probably empty close to 25 years.

At some point in the last few weeks, someone broke in and stripped the wiring, plumbing and took anything valuable from the building. It is said that over a million dollars of damage was done, leaving the owners no option but to finish the job and tear down the building.

The toxic sludge that is angry Republicans in Charleston on Facebook are trying to say that this was the work of homeless drug addicts, who get to roam free in Kanawha City thanks to Democratic Mayor Amy Goodwin. They seem to have forgotten that the exact same thing happened to Top O’ Rock during the term of Republican Mayor, Danny Jones.  They also don’t seem to realize how implausible it is that homeless drug addicts would be able to descend on a building, strip it in hours, and leave undetected.

I’m not saying that homeless drug addicts are not capable of committing crime. I just think it’s a bit ridiculous to suggest that they’d be so efficient and organized about it. I’ve seen photos of the damage. This was done by people trained in demolition, using professional tools, and who had to have the means to quickly load up and transport what they stole far, far away to avoid being traced.

Why would they pick a vacant building in this area of town?

Well, because that area of Charleston is dealing with a lot of unhoused people, and whoever did this knew who would be blamed, and that no serious investigation would be conducted.

That negativity aside, it’s best to remember The Charleston Playhouse as the magical place that it was.

I used the Charleston Playhouse as a sort of second base of operations for the Radio Free Charleston radio program, recording many acts on the stage for broadcast on the show. Clownhole was one of the most requested bands on Radio Free Charleston, with songs such as “Heads On Fire” and “Old Man Jumping Over A Fence.” And they were also really good friends of mine.

One sign of how close we were is that in this video, you will see Sham Voodoo wearing a hideous canary yellow sport jacket. He actually borrowed this from me. For some unfathomable reason, I thought it would be cool to attend this show dressed in the most idiotically garish combination of primary colors possible: a bright blue shirt, bright red tie, canary yellow sport jacket, fingerless gloves, and round sunglasses. It may be hard to believe for my PopCult readers who were not yet born at this time, but in the 1980’s and early nineties, you could actually dress like this in public without being socially ostracized and even still have the faint possibility of hooking up with members of the opposite sex.

The Charleston Playhouse was where all of Charleston’s artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers and the occasional voodoo priest met and mingled and collaborated. I used to sit at a table and do jam drawings on the tablecloths with the late Charley Jupiter Hamilton. I wound up onstage more than a few times, which is amazing when you consider how much I hate performing live in front of an audience. I was comfortable enough there to join in and sing, emcee, do improv or just goof around.

All the creatives at The Playhouse had interesting things going on. The rock and roll faction was responsible for the legendary Tuesday night jam sessions and weekend concerts. The theater crowd put on some of the best shows Charleston has seen–from “True West” to “Side by Side by Sondheim”. The art crowd encouraged creativity by providing paper table cloths and crayons at each table. For its short life, the Playhouse was a nexus for all things cool in Charleston.

Where else could you find Sondheim, Sam Shepard, Brian Diller, Clownhole, David Friesen, Duke Robillard, Go Van Gogh, Eraserhead, Danny Boyd’s movies, and drunken Reggae renditions of the “Beverly Hillbillys” theme, all on the same stage?

One night early in 1990, if I recall correctly, I knocked off work early at WVNS, and rounded up my buddy John “Sham Voodoo” Estep, because he was going to host a Thursday night acoustic jam at the Playhouse. The Tuesday jam had been a huge success, but we wanted to try something a bit quieter.

The problem was that nobody told us that the Playhouse had already been booked that night.

Morgantown film maker Jacob Young and Michael Lipton had arranged for a performance by the then-unknown “dancin’ outlaw” Jesco White to take place.

It was quite a shock. After getting over the disappointment from the cancelled jam session, Sham and I found ourselves mesmerized by the unique dance styling of the Boone county legend. I had my camera (loaded with pretentious artsy-fartsy black and white film) and snapped the photo you see at left.

At the time, I chalked it up as just another night of Charleston Playhouse bizzaromania. I also remember that the stage at the Playhouse was never the same after Jesco had at it with those cast-iron tap shoes.

Everybody who went to The Charleston Playhouse has a memory (or dozens) like that. I remember hanging out with all the top bands in town, meeting new people, and most importantly, the night of the Stark Raven CD release party where I met my wife, Melanie Larch.

It had long been a lottery dream of mine to buy the building, restore it to its former glory, and reopen it as an all-ages club with a state-of-the art sound system and robotic cameras to capture bands playing on the stage.

Now that dream is dashed. If I do ever win the lottery, it’ll save me a fortune. Aside from the magic and wonderfulness, The Charleston Playhouse was in a lousy location on the ass-end of Kanawha City, just past the Interstate entrance. In fact, it was located right off the off-ramp, and you had to pass it turn right, then double-back to get to it.

That played a large part in why it was only around for a year. It was too far from anyplace else for bar-hoppers to hop, parking was cramped, the lot was not well-lit, and it was in a part of town that most people never bothered to become familiar with.

I loved the layout of the building, but I would’ve loved it even more if it had been more conveniently located.

Now it’s located in my memories…and those are way more rich because of it. Everyone who ever went there will carry a little piece of it with them.

The RFC Flashback: Episode Fifty-Nine

This week, the RFC Flashback heads to February, 2009 for an episode of our video program devoted to the Contemporary Youth Arts Company production of the Dan Kehde/Mark Scarpelli opera, “Lincoln.” This production of the show featured performances by Dan Khede, Tonya Dillon-Page, Jonathan Tucker, Maddy Gourevitch, Alicia Renae Lewis and a large and talented ensemble.

This episode also contains some other Lincoln-centric entertainment as we bring you the musical montage, “Funky Lincoln” and a President’s Day rebuttal by George Washington, animated by RFC Big Shot Brian Young and voiced by our host, Rudy Panucci. An additional honor for our 16th president is that this episode is named “Pittsburgh Steelers Shirt,” after his favorite NFL team. Original production notes can be found here.

Also, I did not intentionally try to dress like Dick Tracy. Sometimes these things just happen.

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