501 Hampton Avenue: A Retrospective
For more than a decade an unassuming house in one of Greenville’s classic neighborhoods served as an artistic hub for dozens of local and regional artists. It was a quirky building owned by a decidedly non-conforming landlord-neighbor and inhabited by affable souls. Visits to 501 Hampton Ave were a kaleidoscopic experience. On any given night a person might find a regionally touring act asleep on the couch or Madame Mindy baking any variety of cobblers. One day a guest is discovering a staircase and an entire attic room behind what they thought was a slightly crooked closet door. The following evening they might be using the basement passage to move between apartments like the night manager of a 1920’s speakeasy. The line between visitor and tenant was frequently blurred as last week’s visitor became next week’s new tenant. A former resident’s seemingly forgotten amp stood guarding the corner of the living room like an ancient, tube-powered monolith.
Ownership of the building recently changed hands and so a new history is to be made behind those doors. But for more than 10 years a slightly askew duplex on the corner of Hampton Ave. and Lloyd St. acted as a respite and launching pad for a myriad of Upstate musicians and musical acts.
The Early Days
The story of 501 Hampton Ave (HAM) proper began in February 2010 when Ryan McCarthy (commonly known as Dr. LuvBeatz) accepted a free ticket in exchange for driving a co-worker and his brother to a Them Crooked Vultures concert. LuvBeatz recalls, “He told me all I had to do was drive and pick up his twin brother Grey Thompson and I could go to the show. I picked up Grey from Hampton Ave. and my first thought was ‘I want to live here’” His wish became a reality in mere months when he moved into 501 Hampton Ave in May of 2010. He was welcomed to HAM by local artist and music enthusiast extraordinaire Grey Thompson.
In the adjacent apartment lived a musician, burgeoning sound person, and someday WSBF host by the name of Will Thornhill (Psycho Psycho). Unbeknownst to all, the first threads of an intricate and expansive artistic tapestry were woven at that time. Will and LuvBeatz are both drummers while Grey, a painter, will soon photograph and paint innumerable local musicians and bands. His zeal for live music and desire to support the local scene are almost unmatched and it was from this tripartite friendship the ethos of HAM were subtly born.
Thompson first visited HAM in the mid-aughts to view a MAC Open Studios gallery of Rebecca Jonas works. Jonas was occupying both sides of the duplex with one side acted as a living space/workshop while the other side was used to display her pieces. Grey immediately became entranced by both the location and associated artistic energy. “I was living in Greer and wanted to get downtown so badly,” Grey recalls.
Rebecca was something of a mentor to Grey as he immersed himself in the local music and art scenes. In 2007 Grey, accompanied by his canine companion, officially became resident of Hampton Ave and would go on to become the linchpin of the early years of HAM. At the time he fashioned himself solely a painter but he would soon expand his artistry by becoming masterful with a camera. Building his skill set by photographing numerous Downtown Alive events at NOMA Square, he eventually signed on as the resident photographer at Fete Magazine. Later he would venture into the world of wedding photography after stepping in at the last minute to help avert disaster at the wedding of a fellow Hamptonian. Much of his path and artistic expansion at the time and now are a “consequence of loving the scene.”
Grey mentions that his twin brother Bennett had first befriended Dr. LuvBeatz through work. Grey, with his inherent reverence for artisans, recalls being almost starstruck the first time he met LuvBeatz during a Lionz of Zion show at the Handlebar. Never one to stand on ceremony, LuvBeatz quickly disabused Grey of such notions and they became fast friends. Grey still remembers how wonderfully surreal it was to be at the Them Crooked Vultures show with Bennett and LuvBeatz.
Like many of the former residents, LuvBeatz recalls the fellowship that existed between all of the duxplex’s residents. “I remember a sense of real community. It wasn’t rude to stop by HAM and knock on the door without a text or call. I saw Kelly Jo (Phat Lip, ThunderBoxx) at the stop sign and she was like ‘wanna hangout before my gig?’”
Thornhill says “It was always a good time. I was there through high school and college and into the start of my career as a live sound engineer. Music was always a big thing there and LuvBeatz always brought a good vibe while he was there.”
Grey remembers the weekly tradition of attending Downtown Alive before going to cheer on Lionz, TJ Lazer, and others at the Wild Wing Battle of the Bands. He tells the tale of being mesmerized as Darby Wilcox performed a new song in the living room. He would regularly catch Kelly Jo and Brian Buffaloe duo-ing their thing at various Greenville spots. He says that, so enamored was he of the local luminaries, meeting such people often felt like meeting celebrities.
LuvBeatz shared a story of hearing Thornhill rehearsing on the other side of the wall, accurately deciphering which song he was learning via the drum beat, and confirming his suspicion via text message with Will. For his part, Thornhill says, “I always loved when I’d be on my side of HAM in the attic, which was my bedroom, and would hear Beatz practicing, so I’d hop in my drumkit and trade licks through the walls, oftentimes playing his own stuff back at him.”
Over the years such scenes became a regular happening on both sides of the duplex. One would arrive on Side A to rehearse only to be greeted on the large front porch by whatever band was rehearsing in Side B. “The jam sessions were my favorite. You never knew who would be dropping by. Sometimes it was just the house members getting together to mess around, sometimes you’d have Marcus King drop in and hang. Or the touring band that was coming though town that night. It was always a fun rotating cast of characters,” Thornhill recalls.
Much like a duplex’s residents, a band’s lineup is a tenuous and often evolving thing. In early 2015 the Lionz of Zion found themselves at the end of their particular journey. But, then senior Hampton Ave resident, Dr. LuvBeatz was determined to make it the end of a chapter and not the full story. To that end he secured a block of low-pressure, guest-filled shows at a local venue and quietly started assembling the pieces for the next phase. That recruiting effort eventually led to Lionz of Zion’s metamorphosis into L.O.Z. with the additions of Audrey Hamilton, Sam Kruer, and John Durham to the lineup.
LuvBeatz explains that, “Lots of bands stayed the night there and lots of bands jammed there and I really remember a lot of positive creative energy. Lionz of Zion did a lot of stuff while I was there, and that’s also where we transitioned into L.O.Z. Literally in the living room… was the first time we saw L.O.Z. as an option.” The addition of Sam Kruer (The Peep Show, Phat Lip, Quasi Quasar), Audrey Hamilton (Soul Service, Audrey & The Vibes), and John Durham (April B. & The Cool) helped fuel a busy and expansive era that saw the group releasing their first album in late 2015.
Audrey says that, “We were practicing for the Bob Marley birthday show and after we finished practicing the L.O.Z. guys played me the Fire Love EP songs and asked me to sing. My sister Sarah was there as well and she was pregnant with Opal. It was such an amazing day. I had so much fun and was so excited to hear the band’s original music and to get to collaborate. It’s such a good memory.” She laughs while recalling a time she “slept on the front porch one night after a Craig Sorrells Project gig because we were going out of town the next day and I didn’t want to ‘miss the bus’.”
Concurrent with L.O.Z.’s development was the creation of Local Green. Bringing together the unspoken ethos and deep devotion to the arts that had been so instrumental in the foundation of HAM, Local Green was an attempt to synthesize the energy and zeal that regularly gathered on both sides of the duplex’s dividing wall. Instead of one set lineup, the idea would be to build a collective of compatible musicians, artists, and promoters, rearranging the pieces to best suit the particular show.
The Local Green Family Band, Nala and the Pride (Audrey’s then side-project), and countless other acts worked out arrangements and harmonies in the various rehearsal spots found throughout the duplex. Sets were prepped for multiple Pumpkintown Get Downs. The Family Band gathered there before their Downtown Alive shows, hastily assembling some semblance of order from the disparate but ultimately cohesive performers. Build-A-Band drawings were held at the kitchen table during which dozens of incredible, well-versed local musicians were sorted into temporary bands that were as incandescent as they were impermanent.
Anyone who remembers the days of Independent Public Alehouse does so poorly at best. While no establishment can truly dethrone the Radio Room circa 2015 when it comes to blurring the line between late night revelry and early morning debauchery, Poinsett Highway’s I.P.A. certainly tried its best. Just a few blocks down the road from I.P.A, HAM became the de facto pre/post gig meetup spot. Ryan, “It was close to everyone’s gig so you could swing by before, between, and after the gig. It was almost an open invitation for everyone to ‘head to Beatz’ after the show and stay late or stay the night.” Due to the West Coast circadian rhythms of I.P.A.’s then Head of Production Robbie Boggs, a pre-gig meet-up often meant gathering at HAM around 11p. A post-gig wind down might not start until just before the mid-summer sun appeared in the sky, the musicians’ ears still ringing from the cacophonous levels of the post-post-last call music.
Thornhill would soon become the Front of House soundman at I.P.A. “ When Robbie moved in, I got introduced to a lot more of the local scene thanks to him helping me get involved at I.P.A. That really opened up my opportunities and I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without having that wonderful resource right next-door.”
Wade Bowers (Black River Rebels, The Accuser) “My First visit to HAM was on the B side, I was helping my cousin Robbie Boggs move in with Dr. Luv Beatz. Beatz mentioned that there was another room in the attic that I could rent out if I wanted as long as Robbie was cool with me having to go into his room and into the closet that contained a nearly hidden staircase up to the attic.”
One of the many idiosyncrasies of HAM was the attic access. Not that the layout offered many other options, but the architect’s solution was certainly a Sherlockian one. To reach the third/attic floor one would enter into the front bedroom’s closet, push aside whatever clothes the room’s actual occupant was storing, and walk up a long, narrow, and utterly disguised staircase. There was always a slight hesitancy when one first made their way up to the attic. As if they were about to find themselves walking into another dimension. At the top of the stairs was a domain in which the barrier between squirrel territory and human habitation was often little more than a thin, gnawed piece of drywall. Some years it was the rehearsal room. Other times it functioned as something of a non-musical refuge when music gear spread out across the first floor living room like kudzu.
Enjoy a Hampton Avenue Playlist
Descending from his clandestine attic abode Bowers could be found sharing the stage with a wide variety of Greenville musicians during this time. “I was playing with The Accuser more back then, … we formed H.A.M. (Hampton Avenue Mafia) with the addition of Wes Treadway (Nitegazer). We played two shows and those two shows were the first time I ever played guitar with a band on stage. Burning Nova also had a short reunion in which LuvBeatz, Jack Ryan, and Jason Owens all filled in on drums during different shows. Marcus King even sat in on 2 of the shows with us.”
Bowers echoes the sentiments of many in this profile when he says, “Beyond living with two great humans, the cast of characters that all partied there together was quite impressive. Living in that house brought me close to so many musicians in Greenville and we all at some point have shared the stage together.”
Matt “Crispy” Crisp, then guitarist for the Clemson based Dipping Skinnies, arrived at HAM in May of 2015 and was soon followed by Ben Cook, the band’s drummer at the time. They immediately found themselves enmeshed in the HAM lifestyle and both Cook and Crisp began playing with a variety of Greenville acts in short order. Crisp spent a stint as the bassist for Brooks Dixon and would go on to play many gigs with Vilai Harrington. During his time at HAM Cook formed Dan Fransisco and played the role of substitute drummer for Four14 and Matt Fassas.
Ben Cook recalls a myriad of musical and non-musical events from his time at Hampton Ave. “Rats in the basement that were geniuses and never fell for any of our traps, jam sessions… I moved my drums into the attic one time for a few months and had countless jams with no AC.”
It was during this era that Vilai Harrington became a part of HAM history. Grey remembers first seeing Vilai lounging shirtless on the porch-couch smoking a cigarette. LuvBeatz recalls Vilai serenading Hampton Ave. during the delicate silence of a heavy-for-the-South snowfall.
Vilai, LuvBeatz, and Crisp would soon join forces as the Hampton Housefires, the first of many lineups with which Vilai would experiment. LuvBeatz mentions a show at the SoundBox Tavern during which each member of the Housefires wore jorts as a tribute to their lanky leader. The Housefires eventually became The Hamptones with the addition of Adam Bachman (The Well Drinkers) and further lineup changes.
Befitting its status as something of a sanctuary, there was more often than not someone cooking up some scrumptious dish in one of the two apartments. Perhaps no other era compared with the culinary heights of the year when Matt Crisp and Mindy McCarthy (nee Carlson) were both residents of HAM. The small, frequently crowded kitchens produced a steady supply of cobblers, casseroles, and whatever peculiar but ultimately delicious recipe they pulled from the depths of their, extremely southern, family cookbooks.
When asked about this era the first words of recollection that LuvBeatz used are “Lots of fun, food, and fellowship.” Ben Cook recalls “Matt Crisp always cooking up some good food next door and offering me portions from next door.” One particular memory from Cook exemplifies the surrogate family nature of HAM, “We all did a big potluck thanksgiving with Matt Crisp, Beatz, Mindy, myself, and others I think. It was the definition of wholesome.”
The Expansion of Hamhouse
Josh Forbus (L.O.Z., Nitegazer) had long been a visitor to HamHouse. As an old friend and bandmate of LuvBeatz, he had been a part of the community well before Lionz morphed into L.O.Z. He was also a frequent part of the Local Green Family Band’s ever-changing lineup. So for neither the first nor the last time, a frequent guest became a resident when Forbus and his future-wife Jordan moved into Hampton Ave in late 2016.
As a result, he was well versed in the ways of the house even as the newest resident. He remembers, “All the late late nights we all had. The multiple musicians and artists and fans and people just showing up and hanging out. We never had a single issue there.” He goes on, “I even remember coming back from a gig at 2 am and the front door was wide open. Yet nothing was missing or weird. It was a ‘positive vibes only’ house but organically. Everyone who visited was a friend.”
Precipitating Forbus’ arrival was LuvBeatz and Mindy’s move across the alleyway to 503 Hampton Ave into the apartment above the zany and incorrigible owner of HAM, Brick Hamilton. The set-up and energy at 503 was much the same as at 501 and for a few years post-gig gatherings were as likely to be at one house as the other.
Though far from intrusive, Brick was a frequent presence around HamHouse and wasn’t above keeping an eye on tenant’s HVAC usage. Forbus, “The washer and dryer were outside so in the winter your clothes would freeze. Brick would appear at your back door telling you ‘do not use the water until above freezing! The pipes will burst, they already have once!’”
Like the best of sitcom characters, Brick was mostly off-screen but was part and parcel of the goings-on at HamHouse. If only because he was the one who ultimately allowed such oddities as the shared basement, a fact that on its face seems plausible for a duplex. The oddness occurs when realizing that each unit accessed the basement through a Lewis Carroll-esque hatch in the first floor bathroom. In theory, and quite often in practice, one would travel between duplexes by moving from bathroom to bathroom like some cloaked Clue character. While slightly off putting if really considered, it did help to prevent one from ever being locked out, provided their neighbor could let them into the adjacent apartment’s bathroom.
Like Cook, Forbus recalls “Giant rats and normal sized squirrels walking over the drop ceiling.” He told a story of the day Jordan found a mouse in the sink in the morning and promptly returned home that evening with a new feline roommate. Thornhill echoes the sentiment, “My favorite story, which is completely unrelated to music, is the Squirrel Committee of Hampton Ave. Every morning around 9:30 or so, you would hear all these squirrels running around the roof. It seemed as if they were going from one corner of the house, to the center and then back to the corner. Wade Bowers lived in the attic on the other side and said he heard the same thing. We then concluded that it was the daily meeting of the two squirrel factions of Hampton Ave where they would decide who gets what territories.”
After a long stint as HAM’s senior resident, LuvBeatz departed Hampton Ave in early 2017 as he and Melinda moved to their matrimonial home. Forbus and Jordan would soon do the same and the torch would be passed to Rush Morgan and Jason Newton.
The Last Days
Rush and Jason loaded their half of the duplex with vinyl records and music gear and kept the spirit alive as 2017 turned into 2018. Rush says that “Most of the fondest memories are when we had jams or friends come over to hang. Whether it was just me and Jason, band get togethers, or casual jams with friends. I have a lot of good memories on the front porch just hanging.”
While living on Hampton Ave. Rush played with his own band, occasional gigs with Eli Edwards’ band, and ran sound for a dizzying array of functions. He also wrote stacks of catchy folk-pop tunes. Once again the attic room was converted into a rehearsal spot where bandmates Gavin Glover and Jonny Inman could gather and new sonic worlds could be born.
Even in its latter days HAM continued to add entries to its guest book. As the clock began winding down on the Hampton Ave era, Rush Morgan took up the torch and hosted a series of low-key, low-volume HamJams. Like many events in late winter 2020, the last HamJam wasn’t necessarily intended as an end but fate saw it fit to be so. Gathered around in a loose circle were Ross Krieg (Brooks Dixon Band), Katie D., Sterling Waite, Jill Sprague, Rush, resident drummer Jason Newton, and others. For easily the thousandth time, HAM reverberated with the communal sounds of friends gathered together to share a love of music. Jason Newton (The Hustle, Tailspin) says, “I’ll never forget the sheer amount of music that was played and listened to in that house while I lived there (and even before). That would probably be my best memory. Late night acoustic jams with whoever came home from the show we had been at.”
“It’s the kind of house that made me feel a little more artistic,” Rush says, echoing a familiar refrain amongst past residents. “It’s funny how shitty places tend to do that for people.”
Bowers recalls, “We had some really good times, some of them I remember, most of them are hazy. I loved living at HAM and being a part of such a rich history of musicians and artists that occupied the space.”
“HAM” was just one of many places where the Greenville music scene coalesced during this time. Frequent HAM guests Marcus King and Jack Ryan lived in what is arguably Greenville’s most direct analog to The Allman’s House. So while it may not be unique in this regard, for many years a Greenville musician was almost assured a warm welcome if they were to drop by 501 Hampton Ave. Regardless of time of day or status of invite, there was likely to be someone to welcome you or, at the least, an jimmiable kitchen door and the basement passageway. While that era is now in the past, the animating spirit that kept HAM’s’s proverbial – and frequently literal – torch ablaze lives on in the hearts of dozens of local musicians.
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