I've been covering music in this town for almost twenty years, and in that time I have seen some pretty amazing local and regional artists come and go. For every act like Hootie & The Blowfish or Edwin McCain that have made it to stardom, there are a couple dozen acts just as good that never truly got their due. Jump, Little Children is a great example. While that stellar band got a record deal and released a great collection of songs, they ultimately never caught on nationally and eventually disbanded. It wasn't really the band's fault. Jump had a crazy amount of talent among its members, but these days making it in the music business is a lot like playing the lottery, although honestly it sometimes seems like the Powerball offers better odds. Heck, even Michael Trent and Carrie Ann Hearst played their hearts out for years as solo artists. Both are insanely talented, but it wasn't until the husband and wife joined forces as Shovels & Rope that they started really turning heads outside of Charleston and a few other markets. Now they're traveling the world, playing at festivals, being interviewed on NPR, and getting a little taste of success. They certainly deserve it.
Among the most tragic "shoulda been huge" stories from the Lowcountry music scene, in my opinion at least, is Crowfield. For a few glorious recent years, that Americana/rock band ruled the Charleston music scene, traveling anywhere they could play. The band even scored a brief record deal, but ultimately walked away from it to maintain its integrity. In the end though, even with three solid albums of music under its belt, Crowfield folded.
That band's lead singer Tyler James Mechem, has a combination of gifts that is rare among musicians. He's charismatic on stage, writes amazingly catchy and deeply emotional songs, and he sings in a huge voice that still gives me goosebumps when he hits certain notes. After the demise of Crowfield, Mechem formed the Dubious Battles, a short-lived local supergroup, and then turned to working on solo material under the name Tyler James Mechem and The Flood. He also went through some major life changes in the past couple of years, including getting married and welcoming a son into the world. They say that parenthood changes you as a person. I can certainly vouch for that. As the father of two young boys myself, my life priorities have definitely shifted. I live to make sure my kids have a happy, secure life. Sure, I still pursue my hobbies, like music and writing, but all night writing jags and wild nights hanging out with bands after a show have been replaced by being home to kiss my boys goodnight and meeting my oldest at the bus stop. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Mechem seems to feel the same way. I had a chance to talk to him earlier this week as he was on his way to a rehearsal for his upcoming show this Friday at the Pour House on James Island. "I love (fatherhood)," said Mechem. "They say it changes everything, but you don't know how much until it happens to you." Mechem's son is now five months old, and he, like most new parents, marvels at how quickly his child is already changing and growing. He also admits that, while music is certainly very important to him, his priorities have changed with becoming a father. That's a big part of what makes this Friday's show at the Pour House so special; it will likely be the last chance Lowcountry fans have to catch Mechem live for the foreseeable future. In January Mechem and his family will be moving back to Indiana, where he grew up. He came to Charleston a few years back with his friend and former Crowfield partner in crime Joe Giant, and the pair of musicians found steady work in the bars and clubs around town almost immediately. Now with a family to take care of Mechem says that the return to his home state is mostly about wanting his son to grow up surrounded by family. "Indiana is where my family is, and we want our baby to grow up around that family," said Mechem. "On paper Charleston has everything a person could want. I love it here, but if you don't have family it's hard." Mechem plans to work for LM Products, a company started by his grandfather in the 70's and currently run by his father. The company makes things like guitar straps and supplies large companies like Fender. The decision to move back home was made about a month or so ago. Mechem and his wife, Anna, made the announcement right around the same time he opened for Michael McDonald at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center earlier this month. "Opening for McDonald was a great experience," said Mechem. "The crowd was really receptive, they seemed to love the stories between the songs, and when I came out into the lobby afterward there was a line of people waiting to buy my CD. I sold every copy I had with me."
For Friday's show Mechem will be joined by David Ellis from Explorers Club, Ben Scott from the Luke Cunningham Band, as well as former Crowfield cronies Whitt Algar and
Ben Meyer. The Tarlatans and The Bushels will open the show, which starts at 9pm. Mechem says he plans on playing a couple of Crowfield songs, some Dubious Battles material, and his new solo work. He also promises a surprise or two during the show. Tickets for the show are $8 in advance, $10 the day of the show.
It's the first real show Mechem has played with The Flood in its current form, and he joked that it would be the band's "debut and departure," given that he would be returning to Indiana after the new year. Mechem isn't the only local musician to leave town recently. Earlier this month Mechem's former drummer from Crowfield, Parker Gins, moved to Nashville to seek other musical opportunities. Local producer and musician Josh Kaler also lit out for Music City last month after a final show with Slow Runner. Does Mechem think that the recent departure of those musicians signal that something is lacking with the music scene here in Charleston? "I don't think those people leaving is representative of any downturn in the Charleston music scene," said Mechem. "Moving to Nashville is a fork in the road that any musician could consider, but in terms of loyalty and support of local music, I think Charleston rivals any city I've been in."
Mechem still plans to pursue writing, recording, and performing music in Indiana, and he hopes to be able to come back to Charleston to visit from time to time. As someone who considers Tyler a friend, as well as whose music I became a fan of from the first listen, I wish him and his family well and look forward to his future musical endeavors.