Once a wallflower, Rock Hill native now a powerful force in SC music scene

David Stringer films an acoustic performance by Columbia musician Brian Robert at Papa Jazz Record Shoppe. He has been filming “Papa Jazz Sessions” once a week for a year. He plans to film in other locations across South Carolina soon.
David Stringer films an acoustic performance by Columbia musician Brian Robert at Papa Jazz Record Shoppe. He has been filming “Papa Jazz Sessions” once a week for a year. He plans to film in other locations across South Carolina soon.

David Stringer was once the resident wallflower at local concerts. Now, he is the reassuring voice for local musicians trying to make it in an increasingly competitive industry.

The 32-year-old Rock Hill native started one of the first music blogs in the Palmetto State in 2008 with help from his sister, Meredith, after the two moved to Columbia after high school. Now that blog has become not only a must-read to learn about innovative, new music but also a launching place for musical careers.

It all started during a lunch meet at Groucho’s Deli in Columbia where the siblings were inspired by an interview in the arts section of the Columbia City Paper, a now defunct weekly, urging readers to support the local music community.

Stringer left the deli, went back to his office and created a blog – SceneSC.com.

“They (political blogs) were really taking off in 2008. And I thought I would just start a music one,” Stringer said. The only other media outlet covering the music scene he recalled at that time was Free Times, a South Carolina weekly that still provides music coverage.

As a teenager in Rock Hill, he spent his allowance on CDs at Woody’s Music. And when the bell sounded at Northwestern High School, he spent his afternoons strumming guitar and singing for a band called Iron Kid. The band’s first album was even recorded by Bo White, a then-Winthrop student who has become label chief of Charlotte’s Kinnikinnik Records.

Stringer created social media accounts for the blog and started publishing content, quickly gaining a reputation in the music community.

“Back then there just wasn’t a whole lot. You really had to dig for it. And I think there was a hunger for South Carolina music. So it was really important at that moment and time for Scene SC to exist,” said Kyle Petersen, managing editor for Columbia’s Jasper Magazine.After reviewing shows and albums for four months, Stringer had gained only a few readers and was getting discouraged. But a chance encounter with Mike Rogers, the former bass player of the Texas rock band All Get Out, motivated him to continue the blog. Rogers was adamant that Stringer’s work was making a difference.

“If this one person is telling me it matters and means so much to them, then that’s all that matters to me,” Stringer said.

Becoming a voice for musicians 

Stringer has become a voice for musicians across the state. He started compiling songs from South Carolina bands into free albums. The albums, released every year since 2010, can be found at Papa Jazz Record Shoppe and Drip Coffee in the Five Points area of Columbia.

Some bands consider the blog and its sampler albums to be turning points in their careers.

“David is the guy who kick started my career. He got us booked into Artisphere, and he got the word out about us. And as soon as I finish a song, I send it to my band mates, my mom and David Stringer,” said Taylor McCleskey, lead singer in Charleston band Beach Tiger.

“He really was the first person to post something about us, and we’ve been fortunate to play for a bunch of people since our first show. And I think a lot of that is directly correlated to David,” said Tyler Morris, lead singer in Columbia band ET Anderson.

The creative mind behind the blog doesn’t take the credit, saying he only plays “matchmaker,” bringing bands together for shows in hopes of getting their music heard.

“I don’t take responsibility. I just tell people about their music … their music is already great. I’m just trying to shout it from the mountain,” said Stringer, who makes a living working as a manager of mail marketing strategies at a Columbia print shop.

Stringer tapped into a Southern region rich in talent. South Carolina has produced greats like the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown and The Marshall Tucker Band, a country rock band from Spartanburg. But it’s a state that doesn’t receive much recognition as a hotbed for musical innovation. Stringer saw fertile ground where some saw a wasteland.

As he continued the blog, readership grew and it gained traction in Columbia. Stringer was interviewed and featured by Free Times in 2008, and was most recently listed as an up-and-coming person of influence by the newspaper.

With popularity came the need to grow. Stringer recruited writers and photographers, eventually garnering more than 20 contributors from around the state. He also recruited graphic designer Nate Puza, best known for his work with Hootie and the Blowfish, an iconic South Carolina band, and the Dave Matthews Band.

“David has a hell of a work ethic. I mean, we live together and he’s constantly working on something. It isn’t just some extra thing to him. It sort of defines him and he sort of defines it,” Puza said.

Three years and hundreds of stories later, the blog started to become something more. Stringer was playing the long game. He wanted it to be a brand.

Becoming a brand 

Stringer, who had friends working local music venues, started holding shows every Tuesday night in Five Points. He also started inviting local musicians to perform acoustic shows in his living room called the “House of Softcore.”

“We would have people from all over. There would be 30 to 40 people and we would always cook food and make it real hospitable. We always put the couches around the edge of the house and we would talk to the artist after they played. It was kind of like a storyteller time,” Stringer said.

Stringer discontinued the acoustic shows after selling his home and gradually slowed down his booking gig to focus more on the blog, even if it meant moving into uncharted territory.

Partnering with the South Carolina State Fair in 2013, he curated a series of free shows that featured only local musicians and bands. The annual shows happen during the first week of the fair.

He also put his focus on different regions of the state.

Starting in 2010, Stringer became a consultant for the city of Greenville, helping the city’s special events manager, Will Young, choose bands for the “Fall for Greenville” festival.

“I was looking for regional acts and I found that in the sampler. I actually probably booked half of that sampler. And it was so great because I could reach out to those bands through David,” Young said.

Stringer started sponsoring the annual festival in 2014. He also became a sponsor for the “Hey Look! Music Festival,” also held yearly in Greenville.

Expanding the blog was a success, but Stringer still wanted more. He decided to buy a JVC video camera from Circuit City and began filming acoustic performances around Columbia.

“Our first acoustic sessions were in the bathroom at New Brookland Tavern. And that’s where it started. We got kicked out a lot,” Stringer said. “But thank goodness for Papa Jazz.”

Stringer hasn’t exactly slowed down.

The 2016 sampler album was released on March 25 and featured various South Carolina bands, including Brave Baby and Hermit’s Victory, both from Fort Mill. The sampler album has garnered positive reviews from Columbia’s news outlets.

Stringer is also looking to expand the map for his “Papa Jazz Sessions.” He is currently looking to record acoustic sessions at Cabin Floor Records and Horizon Records in Greenville and The Vinyl Countdown in Charleston.

The mission to turn the blog into a brand continues as Stringer hopes to hold his own festival.

“It’s going to work at some point because all of these bands I’ve been creating relationships with are getting more popular and popular. And they’re always going to be by my side. We grew up together really,” Stringer said. “It might be this year, it might be next year, or it might be a 10-year anniversary. But it’ll happen and it will be awesome.”

Plans have been made but the future is uncertain for Stringer and his blog. One thing is for certain though – he isn’t giving up amid change.

“I think it could eventually not be a website for all I know. It could be a booking company or a record label someday. It’s kind of like it’s growing up. And it kind of just finds it way. It will always be what South Carolina needs in the music scene. That’s what Scene SC is to me,” Stringer said.