New event combines two Charleston obsessions: barbecue and bluegrass

The Post and Courier

Feb. 15, 2017

Much of the national culinary chatter about Charleston has lately centered on barbecue, which has gone from a local favorite food group to a significant driver of economic development. But what’s rarely reported beyond the city is how bluegrass music has become the soundtrack of the restaurant scene.

A new Southeastern Wildlife Exposition event this year will celebrate picking of both pigs and strings, giving attendees a true taste of the area’s current preoccupations. According to spokeswoman Kimberly McCollum, the Lowcountry Social at Brittlebank Park will feature the contributions of the Bluestone Ramblers, Home Team BBQ and Sam Jones BBQ.

Unlike the other participants, Jones is not from around here. Although he’s a frequent visitor to Charleston, his family has been based in eastern North Carolina for generations. His grandfather, Pete Jones, in 1947 opened Skylight Inn in Ayden, N.C. That restaurant famously wears a capitol dome, in honor of a barbecue title that downtown Charleston as of 2017 has at least half a dozen reasons to claim (Count ‘em: Home Team, Smoke BBQ, Poogan’s Smokehouse, Lewis Barbecue, Nick’s BBQ and Cumberland Street Smokehouse, with Rodney Scott BBQ coming soon.)

Still, Jones is an ideal choice for the event, sponsored by Williams Knife Co. and YETI: The pitmaster and owner of Sam Jones BBQ is a gospel drummer who can carry a tune. While there’s no guarantee he’ll make a move for the mike at the Lowcountry Social, he did serenade guests at a Charleston Wine + Food Festival dinner a few years back.

While Jones is tending to the collaborative menu of brisket, wings and whole hog, music duties will be handled by the Bluestone Ramblers. The Ramblers, who take their name from the content of Charleston’s sidewalks, in 2016 became a fixture of the food-and-beverage scene.

The Ramblers’ front man, Sandy Nivens, says the appeal of bluegrass music has nothing to do with the area’s heritage: Bluegrass evolved from mountain traditions, and the Lowcountry lies around sea level. Instead, he says, restaurateurs are drawn to the genre’s lack of drums.

“It’s just sonically not as loud,” Nivens last year told The Post and Courier. “We can be background music, and we can put on a show at the same time.”

Multiple restaurants have scheduled weekly bluegrass brunches, including High Cotton, where the Bluestone Ramblers serve as the house band. Between that new assignment and an unprecedented number of requests from culinary event organizers, the Ramblers last year played almost twice as many shows as they did in 2015.

Scheduled for the evening of Saturday, Feb. 18, the Lowcountry Social is limited to 250 guests. Tickets are priced at $125; in addition to the food and music, the fee includes beer, bourbon and a YETI mug with a SEWE insignia. For more information, visit sewe.com.