Archive

South Carolina

For many years, my “day job” has been at a cigar shop with a well-known name: Tinder Box.

In my case, I work for Tinder Box of the Carolinas.

If you are of a certain age like I am, you’ll remember Tinder Box.

In the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t miss the small stores with Tudor facades and tiny walk-in humidors and all sorts of briar pipes, tobaccos and collectibles throughout. It seemed that whatever mall you happened to enter, the probability that you would pass a Tinder Box franchise was very high.

The Cigar Boom in the late 1990s/Early 2000s changed the landscape. The humidors grew considerably larger.

I remember seeing such stores when I was younger – in places like Miami and in many locations in Southern California like the Mall of Orange, the Glendale Galleria and more.

Tinder Box was started in Los Angeles in 1928 by a tobacconist named Ed Koplin, Sr. Sadly, that store closed its doors for good in 2017.  A ninety-year run is nothing if not astonishing.

The franchise opportunity became available in 1973, and [my twin brother] Chris’ father-in-law, Jim Cass, was one of the first on board – launching his first shop at the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina – essentially opening up the Mid-Atlantic region.

Jim started that store as a hobby while he was engaged in his career with R.J. Reynolds. What began in Winston eventually became multiple stores in the Carolinas – and there was a location in Roanoke, Virginia for a time.

Jim, thankfully, is still around, and lives with wife Martha in Myrtle Beach – but Tinder Box of the Carolinas is now generational – headed up by Jim’s son, Craig Cass, in Charlotte. Craig’s sister (my sister-in-law), Betsy Yale, helms the Myrtle Beach location.

Our organization is renowned in the cigar industry, not only by virtue of the longevity of the business and the relationships forged and nurtured with key cigar families, but also due in no small part to Craig’s efforts within the industry, from taking on the Goliath of governmental regulatory overreach as well as his service within organizations such as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), Cigar Rights of America (CRA) and more.

Exempting premium cigars from FDA regulation is a continuing fight that goes to the lifeblood of the industry, to say nothing of the mom-and-pop businesses that don’t enjoy the deep pockets of their monolithic corporate counterparts.

The cool thing about all of this is that, as with cigar producers, Tinder Box of the Carolinas is essentially a family business.

My experience with the organization began in 1996.

More to come.

Original Tinder Box / Los Angeles

I first learned about The Hulk from Andre Pope, an irreplaceable friend we lost recently.

I know what you’re thinking: “You are a man in your fifties who didn’t know about The Hulk?”

Not so fast. The Incredible Hulk was my go-to comic book hero, and in fact prompted my Marvel mania and comic book collecting when I was eight years old. That collecting went on until the early 1990s until I sold the whole enchilada to a dealer for fast cash – and got screwed, of course. But to my eternal regret, I took the money anyway.

The Hulk I am talking about is the pet name for the Horry County Bike and Run Park, which is nestled into a parcel of land just outside Myrtle Beach – it’s seven miles of trails that snake across 72 acres in between Carolina Forest (a Grand Strand community) and the Intracoastal Waterway, and a go-to for cycling groups like The Myrtle Beach Area Mountain Biking Association as well as The Grand Strand Running Club.

I hadn’t thought about The Hulk for a few years, but lately my girlfriend has had the urge to head outside to an area that might at least be construed as woods (she is a mountain girl, after all), and it occurred to me that this spot might, well, hit the spot.

We had already had a nice outing to Vereen Memorial Gardens – but it was time to get out again, and the Hulk was only a few miles away.

Despite a bit of a warning from the SC Trails website about potentially being mowed down by herds of bicyclists, we found the place refreshing – a different world, but right in our own back yard – and we set off on the trail marked “run.”

Along the way – I think we must have walked more than three miles – we encountered a few groups of cyclists, but Brenda heard them coming before I did – and they whizzed right by us, giving us polite but businesslike nods as we quickly stepped aside.

We spent a couple of hours there – and Brenda stopped frequently to admire the greenery and to educate me a little about the local vegetation. Ever since I have known her, she has always cautioned me about poison ivy – and with my lack of focus, that likely saved me a lot of grief.

It’s nice to know that pockets of tranquility like The Hulk still exist in an area where the most recognized bird is the (construction) crane.

Seth Funderburk, Roger Yale, Don Colton, Chris Yale at the Tuna Shak in Murrells Inlet

Last week, The Yale Brothers played a series of shows along the Grand Strand – a 60-mile stretch of coastline in my neck of the woods sometimes lovingly (I hope) referred to as “The Redneck Riviera.” We started at House of Blues Myrtle Beach, which is technically in North Myrtle Beach within a retail, dining and entertainment complex known as Barefoot Landing. The next night found us at our twice-a-month booking at LuLu’s North Myrtle Beach – also at Barefoot Landing and one of three sprawling eateries owned by Jimmy Buffett’s “crazy sista” Lucy Buffett.

The next day, we headed out to The Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet – more than 30 miles south. We played the inaugural Wicked Wishes event to benefit Make-A-Wish South Carolina – and later moved across the parking lot to the Tuna Shak, where we closed out the evening.

What made these three gigs special for us – besides doing our part for a great cause on Saturday – was that we got the chance to see old friends, meet new ones and hang out with other members of the music community. Gigs don’t usually happen that way.

Thursday’s stint at House of Blues was the first of our fall restaurant shows there. We’ll be doing every Thursday through December fifth in the early evening. We enjoy the positive vibe and the camaraderie from House of Blues staff, and we’re happy to call many of them our friends. And it’s always a bonus to see our brother for life, sound man Bill Allen. Fortunately, he was mixing on the deck for the Rich Johnson Band. Met Rich for the first time – and said hello to Mark Billings – another House of Blues sound man and friend, who was on the other side of things, playing drums for Rich.

Bill Allen Doing His Thing – House of Blues Deck, Myrtle Beach

It’s always great to return to LuLu’s for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the venue has its own PA in place – so it’s frontline-only at this colorful and happy spot on the Intracoastal Waterway. Over our engagement, we met some really wonderful and positive people – and reconnected with our friend Travis Ladd, who runs the retail side there. LuLu’s is in the process of building out an expanded retail space, which will benefit the business in a couple of ways; more room for merch and additional dining space.

Channeling Elton at LuLu’s North Myrtle Beach

Just across the way is the Crooked Hammock Brewery Stage – an open-air spot boasting a rotating lineup of local bands. Competitive spirit aside (we have a running gag that LuLu’s should turn their sound up to 11 to overpower what’s coming from across the street), it was a real treat to discover that Sunburst Radio was that night’s offering.

Sunburst Radio is made up of guitarist Ed Dennis (a longtime friend and Chris’ former bandmate), Ken Thomas (another longtime friend and drummer), Kim DeCosta (keyboards) and Terry Cohen (bass).  The band plays a mindful selection of FM radio hits with some surprises along the way – including a great rendition of Split Enz’s “I Got You,” which the band reprised in their last set because he knew Chris loved the tune.

We scurried back and forth from our spot to their spot to try to catch a song, and vice-versa. In the midst of this frenetic activity, we also caught up with more friends.

The Myrtle Beach area is funny that way. Despite the millions of tourists coming to visit during “the season,” you’re bound to run into people you know – especially out and about in the fall and winter.

WICKED WISHES

Wicked Wishes was the first full-blown event on the Grand Strand for Make-A-Wish South Carolina, and although we were slated to play for an hour at one o’clock, we stayed for the duration. The event was a organized by the folks at The Wicked Tuna, Banton Media, Sandpiper Entertainment, iHeart Media Myrtle Beach, Sweetwater Brewing Company, Tito’s Handmake Vodka and more.

In all, the benefit raised more than $18,000 to help grant life-changing wishes to critically ill children.

We had fun sharing the bill with the Kevin Nichols Band and the Jebb Mac Band, and I was happy to know that our old friend Seth Funderburk was on board, running sound for the event. Seth is a renaissance man and is an organizer for both the Waccmaw Getaway Festival and the IrieSun Reggae Festival. He’s also part of the South by Southeast Music Feast – a charitable organization dedicated to providing music education for young people.

Adam Dellinger from GATOR 107.9 was emceeing. He has been very supportive of The Yale Brothers, and it’s always great to see him.

Got to reconnect with Phil Jackson of Surf Dreams Foundation and sax player extraordinaire Don Colton.

Thanks to Hayley Himmelein at Banton Media for thinking of us. It was great to see her, along with Tyler Caldwell and their son, Kai, who is growing like a weed.

Finally a grateful shout-out to BJ Craven of Sandpiper Entertainment for securing our spot as well as for the after-party gig at the Tuna Shak.

What a memorable three days in the life!

“Wishing Tree” at Vereen Memorial Gardens

A while back, my girlfriend was feeling a touch of cabin fever. Being a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, she really needed to get out into nature  – if only for a day. And because she also fully understands cabin fever because of her penchant for horror movies, I thought it wise to get out of Dodge with her.

Call it self-preservation if you must.

I need to remember that getting away from my office could actually be a good thing. Because I am usually involved in various projects involving writing or music, I tend to stay “on the grind,” as they say. This is in addition to my “day job” at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach, where Brenda also works.

I’ll admit that it was tough to break away, but once committed…

On the way to a gig with my brother, I remember driving past the entrance to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve off International Drive near SC Hwy 90. I read somewhere that the preserve sat on more than 9000 acres and was home to a good many Carolina bays…

According to the American Rivers website, Carolina bays are “a type of elliptical or oval freshwater depressional wetland(s) that fill with rainwater and may be periodically dry. They are most commonly found in North and South Carolina, but can also be found from Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays vary in size from a few hundred feet in length to nearly 5 miles long.”

This preserve is home to the Venus flytrap, black bears, bald eagles and more – but after driving down the pitted dirt road for about a mile with our Kia Soul bouncing around, we opted to bail. Recent controlled burns also took place, so the area didn’t seem like something to explore at the moment.

Wait a minute. What the hell are you supposed to do if confronted by a black bear? I mean, I saw “Faces of Death” in the 80s, under duress…

It surfaced that Brenda was really thinking about Vereen Memorial Gardens anyway, so off we went to Little River.

The South Carolina Trails website describes the location like this:

“Vereen Memorial Gardens has been a bit of a “Hidden Jewel” for 30 years. The park features numerous hiking trails and wooden boardwalks that extend across several beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a nice gazebo that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.”

After eating the grocery store lunch we brought with us, we set about exploring. Vereen Memorial Gardens really is a hidden gem – and I especially loved the “Make a Wish” area where you can hang oyster shells on tree limbs along with your wishes…

That and the fact that Brenda got her wish to be in nature – and we both enjoyed the experience.