Newspaper Interview

The Post and Courier

Charleston bluegrass musicians busking to benefit Ukraine have raised thousands

By Kalyn Oyer
Aug 11, 2022 

Link to original article in the Charleston Post in Courier:

Photographs by Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

A blue-and-yellow striped flag waves in the Charleston sea breeze. The pineapple fountain splashes in the background while a crowd of locals and tourists alike gathers to listen to a troupe of musicians play bluegrass. 

Seven-year friends and fellow musicians Jeff Goller and Nicole McLoud harmonize to classic standards like “Keep it on the Sunny Side” and “Where the Wildflowers Grow,” while Goller slides down his steel guitar and McLoud plucks her clawhammer banjo. 

At Waterfront Park, hands clap together, boots stomp on the sandy pathways and fingers drop change into a tip jar with a note on it. 

“Tipping is appreciated,” the scrap of paper reads. “Have a blessed day.” 

But the money isn’t going to the Palmetto Rose Band, the bluegrass, country, folk and Americana group consisting of Goller and McLoud along with good friends Rick Hamrick, Fred Schroeder and Ken Coker. It’s going to a cause that ties back to the flag flapping beside an acoustic guitar and stand-up bass. 

It’s going to help the efforts overseas in Ukraine after Russia’s military forces invaded the country in February of this year. 

“I couldn’t listen to the news without crying,” recalls McLoud when the headlines flooded in announcing the war abroad. “I felt helpless.” 

The Palmetto Rose Band (from left): Jeff Goller, Nicole McLoud, Fred Schroeder and Ken Coker. The band collected donations to help Ukraine while they played at Waterfront Park on April 3, 2022
The Palmetto Rose Band (from left): Jeff Goller, Nicole McLoud, Fred Schroeder and Ken Coker. The band collected donations to help Ukraine while they played at Waterfront Park on April 3, 2022 Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

That’s when she decided she had to do something to make a difference. She gathered the band together and set up a gig for the cause. In late March, the group played their first show to raise money for Ukrainian relief efforts at Waterfront Park. 

That first Sunday in the park, they raised $600 in about three hours. They went back next Sunday, and the next, and raised another $1,000. 

After some research, McLoud decided to send the cash to a nonprofit humanitarian aid fund called Baranova 27, based in New Jersey and founded by Ukrainian immigrants, the Chmerkovskiy family. The organization takes donations of money in addition to items like first-aid and medical supplies, tactical gear for soldiers, child care and baby items, and nonperishable food and sends them over to Ukraine.

In its first three weeks of operation, Baranova 27 collected more than 100 tons of essential goods and had to secure a warehouse for storage and distribution. Patrons can buy items right on the organization’s Amazon wish list if they so desire, or donate to the GoFundMe page.

“I can’t go and defend the country, but in my heart, I felt this is the only way for me to be helpful,” Sasha Chmerkovskiy said. 

McLoud felt similarly; she wanted to help any way she could, no matter how small it seemed. Sending over that gig money was her way of contributing to the cause, and she made a summer out of it. They couldn’t play every weekend, but at least one or two Sundays a month the band made it out to Waterfront Park with tip jar in hand. 

To date, after nine gigs for the cause, the band has sent around $4,000 to Baranova 27. 

“It just breaks my heart what’s happening, but knowing I’m doing something makes me feel better,” McLoud said. 

The Palmetto Rose Band collects donations to help Ukraine while they play at Waterfront Park on April 3, 2022.

The Palmetto Rose Band collects donations to help Ukraine while they play at Waterfront Park on April 3, 2022.

Grace Beahm Alford/Staff Grace Beahm Alford

She said the same can be said for the donors who have thrown anything from loose change to a $50 bill into the tip jar.

“I think it’s really been this unmet need,” she said. “People, like me, want to help and don’t know how so it’s been a way for them to do that.” 

The bluegrass coterie, local and beyond, has long been about fellowship and community, rallying around each other when it’s needed and for a cause when warranted.

McLoud met some of her closest friends at a house jam on James Island more than a decade ago; others at Fox Music House and Hungry Monk Music as instrument browsers and shopkeepers bonded over a shared passion for Appalachian tunes. 

Goller came into the mix a little later with his guitar, an instrument he usually used for solitary playing. It was fun and different to join in with up to 20 folks or more for an improvisational session at someone’s house. 

“It’s about the social aspect as much as the music aspect of it,” said Goller. “You have instant friends anywhere in world.” 

He’s been to weeklong camps in Myrtle Beach and towns across North Carolina; he even has played with some folks in Seattle. When he got together with the Palmetto Rose Band, they began playing at barbecue joints, Shem Creek bars and on Folly Beach porches. 

Palmetto Rose Band
The Ukrainian flag flies over the Palmetto Rose Band as it plays at Waterfront Park on April 3, 2022, collecting donations for Ukraine. . Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

It’s just as much about the audience as the camaraderie between the band members, McLoud offered. When people are singing and dancing along, it becomes an uplifting experience. 

“It makes you feel like you just left church,” she said. 

Now with summer wrapping up, the Palmetto Rose Band isn’t sure how many consistent Waterfront Park Sundays they’ll be playing past tourist season, but they’re staying committed to the cause. 

“It may be a couple of weeks before we can all get together again,” McLoud said in early August, “But we have committed to doing this until there is no longer a need. I love my band family.” 

For those who happen to be strolling through Waterfront Park on an early Sunday afternoon, look for the Ukrainian flag and listen for some bluegrass tunes.