It’s 7 a.m.
Edwin McCain is about to pull a club out of his bag and tee off in the BMW Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament at Fox Run Country Club in Simpsonville.
Twelve hours earlier, McCain was at a play with wife Christy to watch one of his three elementary school aged children perform.
This is rock-n-roll at 46 – a million miles and decades removed from the pre-hit days of playing Hilton Head Island’s Wild Wing Café five nights a week for the tourists, golfers, barflies and young reporters on the island determined to live up to the drinking, smoking, smug stereotypes of their chosen profession.
That was the mid-1990s. McCain was a South Carolina kid, a Christ Church Episcopal School product paying his dues. Along that same time, another Carolina-bred group called Hootie and the Blowfish were doing the same thing on a circuit among cities such as Hilton Head, Charleston, Columbia and Statesboro, Ga.
McCain, who will headline this year’s Pelham Medical Center Greer Family Fest with a concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, has returned to Greenville to raise his family and continue his music career.
“Any gig I can play and spend the night in my own bed is awesome,” McCain said.
McCain’s children are ages 10, 9½ and 6, so late nights have given way to early mornings, even the ones without tee times.
“It’s loud and it’s early at my house,” he said.
That’s a big change from those days 20 years ago when McCain’s acoustic guitar and the salt air off the Atlantic Ocean just a few hundred yards away mingled together and wafted into the island darkness.
“My character arc is probably no different than most of my contemporaries,” McCain said. “We go through younger phases – and I wouldn’t change a stitch of it – but family thing became the new directive. It’s excellent. Actually, I like this phase better than all the others. This last decade has been excellent.”
Now, he tells younger artists that those days – the long drives, the packed vans, the tiny, crowded rooms – those are the times when bones are earned, when musicians can be molded.
“I tell them the van-and-trailer days are the best days,” said McCain. “You have to live by your wits and get after and somehow make it when it’s inconceivable that you can.”
Of course, he would know.
Even after a minor hit in 1995 with the album, “Honor Among Thieves” and a breakout hit two years later with the album “Misguided Roses,” McCain kept up a rigorous tour schedule. “Misguided Roses” spawned the top-10 single, “I’ll Be,” and McCain backed it by touring with about 300 shows per year.
But that was then.
McCain said he has backed off the touring schedule, though he is still busy with gigs later this month in New York, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.
“I enjoy being home, which means my wife has four kids to deal with instead of three,” he said. “I enjoy putting the slip-n-slide together in the backyard and playing with the kids.”
McCain has also continued to record. He released “Mercy Bound” in 2011, but has also worked with other artists, including country singer Lee Brice, as a songwriter.
Though McCain has considered himself a singer-songwriter in the tradition of James Taylor and the late Jim Croce, writing in Nashville was out of his comfort zone, he said.
“I’m not a big fan of hypothetical songs – the fictional idea,” he said. “I prefer to find something I care about deeply and try to mine the poetry out of it. But I do enjoy (collaborations in Nashville) in that I’m going in and challenged by doing something I don’t normally do.”
McCain pointed to “See Off This Mountain,” a haunting ballad off the 1999 album, “Messenger” as one of his favorites he mined as a songwriter.
“There’s always a 200-seat room that’s quiet somewhere for a songwriter,” he said.
“We’re kind of like cockroaches: Turn on the lights in the middle of the night in your kitchen and there’s a singer-songwriter in the middle of your floor. The singer-songwriter is always going to be there.”
But the music business has changed around him.
Then, tours fueled albums. Now, albums fuel tours.
Like many places outside of Nashville or Austin, Texas, McCain said the Upstate has no real music scene due to a lack of live clubs that help to develop talent.
“I don’t see one for the foreseeable future because you don’t have a healthy number of feeder clubs that allow young artists to perform and develop,” he said. “Some people have tried, but it just hasn’t worked.”
The audience, he said, has also changed.
It is more distracted than ever before due to technology, and there have been few new sounds to get its attention, compared to the days when jazz and blues gave way to rock-n-roll and rock gave way to metal and so on.
“The way a live musician plays to an audience really hasn’t changed while every other medium has evolved,” said McCain. “Once something becomes predictable, it’s not as exciting, and I think that’s why music has always had paradigm shifts on its side to re-energize listeners.
“But I don’t know what that next shift will be right now, and I’m too old to participate.
Leave it to the 17-year-olds; they’ll figure it out; our kids will love it, and the time-honored tradition of music being an agent of social and political change will continue.”
Saturday night, McCain will take the stage with guitar in hand and play the way singer-songwriters do and have done since the days of troubadours and jesters.
“The guy with the acoustic guitar is always there,” he said.