The Palmetto State is known for a variety of things — its rich history, its popular tourist destinations and its tropical climate — but there is another, less-spoken quality of South Carolina: its music.
“Looking at the landscape of the state, I think we have more musical talent than we have coverage of it,” Vince Harris, a freelance writer and co-founder of Upstate Music Awards (UMA), said.
A variety of groundbreakers have come to the music scene in South Carolina. There are the obvious people, such as Darius Rucker, Chubby Checker or The Marshall Tucker Band, but there are also new people, especially in the hip-hop and folk genres that often go forgotten, such as Iron & Wine, Shovels & Rope and many other smaller groups and musicians.
The UMA is an annual event that brings recognition to local artists and musicians.
Jeremy Theall mentioned the idea to Wes Gilliam in passing, but Gilliam said it wasn't until months later he actually began on the project. Having forgotten who said it to him, Gilliam turned to Facebook to find out Theall had coined the idea. He reached out, and the Upstate Music Awards were born.
“I was like, 'This is such a good idea; we should totally do that,'" Gilliam, the co-owner of Radio Room and co-founder of the UMA, said.
Although the awards have only taken place once so far — in 2019 — the turnout and sponsorship are undeniable.
“The online reception has surpassed last year. We had maybe around 10,000 votes last year total and now might be closer to double that at the moment,” Theall said.
Sponsorship has also increased drastically. Even with its growth, the award show wants to maintain its local feel, according to Theall.
"As a local award show, the UMA aims to keep it scattered toward the Carolinas rather than a corporate feel," Theall said. "We don't want to turn anybody off, like, give off that vibe too much. We know the vibe, we know what we're doing, but not that it's run by 'suit-and-tie' people."
Theall said he feels the most surprising aspect of what the event has shown him is the rap and hip-hop scene in South Carolina, which was a newfound genre for him and in a state comprised of, one might think, country music.
Based on a voting system of nominees strictly from the 864 area code, which is Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union and York counties, anyone is allowed to enter nominations.
Voting on the website started in January. Once voting ends, finalists of the 12 categories will be announced. The winners will be presented at the award show around May.
Categories include Artist of the Year, Best Album, Best EP, Best Single, Best Music Video, Best New Artist, Best Solo Artist, Best Collaboration, Best Studio Producer/Engineer, Best Album Art/ Visual Design, Write-In Vote and the 864 Award.
Harris said this year blew him away with the representation of the state and the talent he had yet to hear about.
"It was almost a complete turnover of last year's nominees … hundreds of nominees, dozens of musicians that I had never heard of," Harris said.
The event features the UMA red carpet, a photographer, a barroom with vendors and food and the main room, capturing performances and video projections. The actual event is hosted on a big stage with a podium and large screen, with finalists coming on stage to receive their “shiny trophy and the gratitude of the Upstate,” Harris said.
“I think the coolest thing as a music fan is to go out and explore. Find out what you like and what you don't like and because of this I was able to do that on a local level,” Harris said.