How an abandoned church in rural SC became a concert destination

Feb. 5th, 2020. By Kalyn Oyer –

Warren Bazemore and Shane Williams have been playing music together for 20 years, ever since they first formed a band at the University of South Carolina.

After signing a record deal and touring for several years, they took some time away from music to start families. For three years, Warren didn’t touch his guitar.

But when the two South Carolina boys moved their families to Pawleys Island, they began playing a few shows together, this time under the name Finnegan Bell. And when they moved to Charleston six years ago, they wanted a space where they could create their stark, emotional acoustic ballads.

 Though Charleston had several small venues, it lacked a true listening room.

“We were wondering, ‘Where is there a really good songwriter-focused, stripped-down place for us?’” Warren shares.

There was The Royal American and Tin Roof, both intimate spaces but catering to a chatty bar crowd. Warren and Shane wanted something similar to Eddie’s Attic in Georgia or Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, spaces where listeners silently hone in on the artist for a whole acoustic set, no texting or talking allowed (or desired). They craved a space that allowed the artist moments between songs to share intimate stories.

So, they decided to create one.

A chance discovery

“Whenever we tried to be the new hip thing, it didn’t work,” Warren says with a shrug. “So we said, ‘We’re going to create something that makes sense for us, that we would want to be a part of as artists.’”

They stumbled across the perfect space for their idea by chance. They were attending a church service one Sunday morning, and it just so happened to be at an abandoned sanctuary — cozy and historic — in the Francis Marion National Forest off Cainhoy Road. The church was only being used a few times a year for meetings and weddings.

The Old Brick Church (also called the White Church or St. Thomas and St. Dennis Parish Episcopal Church) was built in 1819, on the same site of an older parish building constructed in 1706 and burned down in 1815. During the Reconstruction period, the church was the scene of the 1876 “Cainhoy Massacre,” a deadly race riot. A cemetery that allegedly has some of the oldest graves in South Carolina sits adjacent to the small, unassuming facade. In 1977, the church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Immediately, Shane and Warren knew it was the perfect space to host the intimate concerts they sought.

“There’s no religious imagery or stained glass,” Warren says. “So for folks who aren’t comfortable going to see a concert in a church, right, it still has this thing that works for whatever reason. I think people come in and feel the reverence of the place.”

Situated a little more than a half-hour away from downtown Charleston, the Old Brick Church now hosts a handful of performances a year by artists looking for something off the beaten path.

Under the moniker STAC House Shows, Warren and Shane have booked John Paul White of The Civil Wars, country artist Lewis Brice, Jim Avett (father of The Avett Brothers), The Blue Dogs (Bill Murray attended that show) and singer-songwriter Edwin McCain (of “I’ll Be” fame).

A magical escape

Bayou soul singer Marc Broussard and his father Ted are playing a sold-out show at the Old Brick Church Feb. 8.

“I rarely get the chance anymore to play an acoustic show to a small crowd,” Marc says. “Given the opportunity to perform in such an intimate, historical setting with my dad, is such a special and fun thing to be a part of.”

Warren says there’s just something about the aesthetic and the experience that he knew would work for both the artist and the audience.

“People see it, and they get it,” he says. “It’s something special. It’s a room that will bring out whatever the best parts of you are.”

It almost forces it out, Shane offers.

Artists tend to be more vulnerable in that space; it feels as if they are the only one in the room, Shane says.

“There’s no fourth wall,” he adds. “It’s not a concert in a vacuum. It’s shared communion between the performer and the audience.”

A single microphone picks up both vocals and guitar, adding to the enchanting acoustics.

“It’s like playing an old guitar,” Warren offers. “There’s just something magic that happens with wood.”

Sound beneath the steeple

For a performance, all the audio equipment and the infrastructure to host around 100 people are brought onto the grounds. Eddie White of Awendaw Green helps supply the PA system, lighting and tents, and Matt Zutell of Coast Records runs sound.

Shane and Warren rent out an Airstream RV as a mobile Green Room for the performers. Food trucks and drink vendors are on-site. For the Feb. 8 show, there will be a VIP spread from Palmetto Cheese.

Zutell, who typically runs sound in a bar setting, says that the one condenser microphone set up for each show is hardly even needed in the echoing church; the natural reverb of the sanctuary carries the sound. He mixes sound on an iPad connected to a sound board, allowing him to wander the room, past rows of candle-lit church pews filled with people eager to soak in every vibration.

“The beauty of this place is you can hear everything, and the tragedy of this place is you can hear everything,” Zutell says. “So be respectful of the space and don’t talk during a show.”

Zutell says Warren and Shane have done a wonderful job curating artists who connect to the audience and respect the environment. The Old Brick Church lends itself to deep, heartfelt storytelling.

“There’s been performances where I’ve straight up started tearing up during a song because I was just so moved by it,” Zutell shares.

Even though it’s just a few minutes from civilization, the site itself is remote enough that you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Cell phone coverage is spotty, which might encourage patrons to unplug and enjoy the present. A show there can be memorable. Most sell out.

Will Hoge will perform March 7, and VIP tickets are already gone. General admission tickets are $35.