A party has been happening every week in Aiken since April, and everyone is invited.
Amp the Alley is a destination for free live music in the downtown area, and it’s been going on every Thursday since its inception. The music series goes back to when the city closed the Alley to work on a streetscape, doing things like tearing up the road and removing trees to improve the area. After the area was under construction during a recent summer, the bars and restaurants in the area were having trouble getting customers to come back in like they were before.
One of those business people was Mellow Mushroom owner Shawn Ledford.
“Once it opened back up and they finished everything, Jeffrey Jordan at TRIO approached me about doing things in the Alley — maybe on just different nights or whatever would come up,” Ledford said. “And so we started talking, and started working on it in February of this year. The first Amp the Alley was going to be a spring music series in the Alley, and it started Masters Week. It was supposed to go on for four weeks, but it had such huge success that people wanted more. So, we have not missed a Thursday night since that first month.”
With the music series’ growing success, Ledford and the other organizers (the owners of TRIO Bar and Kitchen, Takosushi and the Alley Downtown Taproom) saw that they probably should meet with the city, to take care of things like noise ordinance rules. The city of Aiken replied that they’d love to contribute to Amp the Alley.
“They bought rocking chairs and gliders and different tables for right behind the municipal building, and they also offered up the city stage, which they put up every Thursday,” Ledford said. “They also pay for security because they have allowed us to have open containers in the Alley area. So we can go from restaurant to bar or restaurant to restaurant with open containers (of alcohol). So that made it really fun, something different. People can just kind of mill around in the Alley, and also the city wanted to show off their new streetscape.”
The music scene has existed for quite a while in Aiken, in the form of festivals and music at different locations. Ledford said with that support of music in the community, Amp the Alley grew quickly and hasn’t backed off. He and the other organizers foresee more growth, and they are seeking sponsorships — whether it be for just one Thursday or an entire month.
“We hope to get more sponsorship, and that way we can get maybe even some regional bands every now and then, with a little bit higher cost,” he said. “But this is always free to the public, so we’re really footing the bill here to create this scene in the Alley.”
The Alley is in the center of Aiken, surrounded by Richland Avenue, Newberry Street, Laurens Street and Park Avenue. The restaurants and bars in the Alley have a good working relationship, which is part of what makes Amp the Alley work so well.
But Ledford said what especially makes Amp the Alley successful and popular is the Aiken community.
“It’s just the people and the setting,” he said. “It’s a neat town when you can ride a bike into your downtown and dine for the evening and just kind of mill around and see people. So you kind of have that community feel; it’s really that. In Augusta, it would be hard to do, because it would get so big too quickly. Here, it’s just a small setting and you’re in the Alley behind buildings, and it’s just a really neat feel.”
Organizers mostly keep the music local, but they also are looking for regional bands to keep a fresh mix of musicians coming through. Some of the names that have played Amp the Alley include local favorites Phillip Lee Jr. and The Kenny George Band.
Amp the Alley is open to all ages — Ledford said attendees commonly see kids all the way up to older folks dancing and having a good time.
The music series likely will take a break after the end of October, partially because of the upcoming colder months, but also to possibly focus on fundraising for when it gets back into full swing in the spring. However, Ledford said that, depending on weather, they might still have some events during the winter.
“My experience is, Aikenites are not scared to put on a jacket and still get outside and enjoy activities,” he said. “So, weather permitting, we will do some different events, but I’m just not sure we can sustain every single Thursday through the cooler months.”
The schedule for Amp the Alley through the rest of October includes: Mike Frost Band & Friends on Thursday, Oct. 12; DJ Bob Bonnett with a Shag Party on Friday, Oct. 13; Bethany and the Southside Boys on Sunday, Oct. 15; Third Time Charmers on Thursday, Oct. 19; and Scarlet Begonias with a Spook-tacular Halloween Bash on Thursday, Oct. 26.
To keep up with Amp the Alley, follow their page on Facebook at facebook.com/ampthealley.