Cayce’s Hard Knox Grill – gone but not forgotten

Short-lived, but legendary, rock club will hold a musical reunion at Ozzie's on Sunday

A live music club is a hard business to operate, as anyone who’s tried it will tell you.

Photo provided

Pete Koutrakos took a stab at it back in 2009 with the Cayce rock club Hard Knox Grill, which only lasted a little more than a year. Patrons and staff remember it fondly enough, however, to have organized a reunion show this Sunday, January 15 at Ozzies, just down the road from the original Hard Knox Grill.

The evening will be modeled after the club’s famous Sunday night jam sessions and hosted by D.B. Bryant, who served in the same role during the original run. The response has been humbling and heartfelt, according to Koutrakos.

“One of my sound guys from the bar thought of the idea and all of a sudden all these people were interested,” he said. “Ozzie isn’t even open on Sundays, but I’m doing sound there for a lot of shows now and he offered to open up for us just for this.”

The evening will begin with a classic-car show in the parking lot beside Ozzie’s, then move indoors with music starting around 4 p.m. It will rock on until everyone who wants to play has gotten a chance to do so.

“We’ll be going for a while, it’ll be just like those old jam session nights,” Koutrakos said.

Hard Knox Grill may not have lasted a long time but it did gather a loyal following and a great deal of respect in the local music community for what the bar attempted to accomplish, which was to treat musicians and staff like Koutrakos felt they ought to be – and have some fun in the process.

“The crew we had were just great folks, I just wanted to make it a cool place for people to hang out and for the bands to have that experience of playing a good stage,” he recalled. “We always took good care of the musicians, fed them well, and when you treat people right it always ends up being a better show.”

A string of local acts played Hard Knox, from Isabelle’s Gift to Facedown, Deleveled, Crash Cadillac, and more. Some did more than just play at the club, remembered Koutrakos.

“When I was getting ready to open up, Wayne and the guys in Crash Cadillac stopped by to check things out,” he said. “They ended up spending the next week with me there helping hang the speakers, running wire, and doing a bunch of other stuff to help us get ready for our opening weekend.”

The Sunday night open jam hosted by D. B. Bryant was a fixture of the club’s schedule, and Bryant said it helped launch a number of local musicians in Columbia’s scene.

“It allowed musicians like me, Little Jimmy, Wayne Crash Cadillac, and others to pass our knowledge and advice on to that next generation,” he said. “Paisley Marie, Wayne’s daughter, played her very first show there.”

“It was always a welcoming environment even for someone as young as I was at the time, twelve years old that first show,” Paisley Marie remembered. “I even met a couple of other young female musicians there who inspired me. It’s common to look up to idols who are famous, but to get to meet people who are the same age as you doing it in the same places as you is way cool.”

The fans and other patrons who frequented the club also have some great memories of being at Hard Knox Grill, including Hope Ehney.

“Hard Knox just had this really cool vibe,” Ehney said. “I made some incredible friendships from the people I met there, and saw great up and coming musicians like Paisley Marie, Ranen Murphy, and White Sable plus the big shows, like D. B. Bryant with Blackberry Smoke, Rebel Son, and Devon Allman & Honeytribe. It was amazing the talent you could go see on any given night there.”

Local stagehand and music fan Robert Porter admitted it wasn’t always perfect, but that didn’t seem to matter.

“It didn’t necessarily feel like a rock club but every show rocked,” Porter said. “Something special happened, when everything was mixed up it all came out right.”

Koutrakos continues to work in the live-music scene around Columbia, running sound for various events and clubs such as Ozzies, and he’s philosophical about the rise and fall of the Hard Knox Grill at this point.

“Maybe it wasn’t the right time or the right place, but in the end it was a good thing,” he said. “I made some of the best friends I have now during that time, and six years later we still work with and support each other.”

Proceeds from Sunday’s event will benefit Harvest Hope Food Bank.

Hard Knox Grill Reunion Party and Open Jam
Ozzie’s Country Island
1420 Charleston Hwy
West Columbia
(803) 530-0530
Sunday, January 15, 4:00 p.m-until
$5 donation