December 2014

Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine's 100th Issue

Author: Frank Dunne Jr.

A hundred magazines? That’s no big deal really. If you take a hundred copies of a magazine and stack them all nice and neat, they’ll fit in one box. So what’s all the fuss about? Look at it this way. The inaugural issue of Celebrate Hilton Head magazine (CH2) dropped in September 2006. That’s eight years. Not too long when you consider that we’ve got about a hundred years to live (if we’re lucky); but look at it in terms of what’s happened since then, and you get a very different picture.

There’s an article by DJ Rochester in that first issue about a game called iPod Wars. A girl in the picture holds one of those early iPod models that look more like a Sony Walkman—the thing that played cassette tapes—of yesteryear. Today it’s called the iPod Classic. You can still find a 160 GB iPod Classic (although not on Apple’s own web site) but why would you? It’ll cost almost $500, and the need to download and store digital tunes is largely supplanted by Spotify, Pandora and other online media players. Unless you’re a very serious collector, downloading is pretty unnecessary for most folks, but when CH2 first hit the streets, it was all the rage.

Also in September 2006 Linda Hopkins spotlighted Island Digital Photo in “Capturing the Moment: Memory-Making Goes Digital.” Eight years ago the idea of photography transitioning from film to digital was interesting enough to write an article about it. Today the only camera you need is the one in your smartphone, unless you’re a professional shooter, but you get the picture.

A month later the second issue featured “Good-bye Pen Pal, Hello MySpace” by Adam Joskowicz, who introduced readers to a newfangled concept in online communications called…wait for it…social media.

Whatever happened to MySpace? Lindsey Hawkins sort of explained three years later in her typically witty fashion with “Facebook: Stalking Your Way to a More Informed Future” (July 2009), which was part primer, part opinion piece about this curious new social media platform. Five years later, a world without social media in general and Facebook in particular is inconceivable. Five years ago we saw it as something with potential; now it’s indispensable. Some people think it’s scary.

Okay, that effectively beats the technology horse to death. The point is, a lot can happen in 100 months and a lot has happened in 100 months, around the globe, across the fruited plain, and here on our tiny island…wait a sec…I can hear shouts from across the Intracoastal Waterway. Yes Blufftonians, you count too, but “tiny island” just has a nice ring to it. Anyway, when CH2 proposed an article to commemorate 100 issues and counting, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. A simple list of 100 things since September 2006 would not do, because CH2 is more than just a journal. This task…no…this privilege demands a better angle than that. So I dropped by CH2’s offices to pick up a back copy of the inaugural issue for inspiration. It worked. Holding it in my hand helped me recall the day eight years ago when I picked the first issue off the racks on my way out of Harris Teeter on Main Street.

Thumbing through the curious little publication, I came upon a photo of a young woman sitting on the beach. It was CH2’s first “from the editor” letter explaining that CH2 is the evolution of CELEBRATION!, a smaller publication serving as a vehicle for the Lowrey Group’s Diamond Club loyalty program (No. Not Thee Diamond Club.). “Celebrate Hilton Head’s mission,” wrote the budding editor, “is to bring you interesting and affirmative stories about Hilton Head and the surrounding Lowcountry.”

Good luck with that, I thought. Will a market this small really support two local monthlies? I didn’t think so. I was also skeptical about the timing. Things were pretty good in the years leading up to 2006. Real estate and tourism were strong, everybody was working, Bluffton was growing, and there was a non-stop party going on from Park Plaza to “The Triangle” to Coligny Plaza and beyond. You all know the next verse. A startup magazine is a risky proposition any time, but during a slowing economy in a small town market while publishing is supposed to be going digital? This guy wasn’t buying it. Obviously I didn’t think I’d be writing an article about CH2’s 100th issue eight years later, but I now know why. There was something I didn’t pick up on—something about the way that young woman sitting on the beach was looking at us. I’ll let you in on it shortly, because it has everything to do with why we’re making a fuss over 100 issues, but first let’s do some reminiscing, shall we?

Remember the “High Spirits” column? The first one ever is “Five Drinks With…Brian Raehm of Montego Bay” by Tommy Bastek. Good ol’ “Big Tommy.” One of those guys everybody knew. He was everywhere: in print, on the radio (did I just say radio?), wherever anything was happening, Tommy was there. The article is an interview with Brian Raehm of Target the Band and owner of the Montego Bay Night Club at the time. Raehm and Target are still around, but gone is Montego Bay along with most of the bigger music venues of the day: Monkey Business, Wingo Hall, Riders Lounge, and Shoreline Ballroom.

CH2 staked its claim on the music scene early with a cover story about the Fresh Hots by Jean Wharton in the second issue (October 2006) and a Zach Deputy profile by Craig Hysell the following month. Those were the hot names around here in 2006 and CH2 has kept itself close to the music ever since, often with its signature sense of humor as when Lindsey Hawkins explored a rather strange juxtaposition in “The Art of Being Two Faced: Silicone Sister vs. The Lowcountry Boil Band (July 2012). Some fresh blood called Cranford & Sons (with former Fresh Hots drummer Randy Rockalotta) emerged in 2011, and CH2 was right there to help them along with a feature story by Courtney Hampson in January 2012. Since then, the band has built a fiercely loyal local following, toured the country, changed drummer twice and released three studio records. They were featured again, as Cranford Hollow, in the November 2014 issue.

With three issues under its belt, CH2 began its first full calendar year in 2007, and it was a busy one for the young upstart magazine. In January, CH2 crowned its first Bachelor of the Year and in April attended its first Verizon Heritage, marking the event with the first of six Heritage related covers since. Little did we know then that four years later the tournament (now RBC Heritage) would face dire peril when Verizon dropped its title sponsorship in 2011. Pretty much everybody remembers that, but probably few folks under 50 years old know of the Heritage tournament’s other near demise unless they read Paul deVere’s “The Day the Verizon Heritage Didn’t Disappear,” in April 2009. deVere’s story takes place in 1987, when a series of bankruptcies and other business mishaps around town almost wrecked a lot more than just the tournament, then known as MCI Heritage Classic. In curating this article, it was one of the more enjoyable reads, especially the part about Sol Blatt staring down the PGA commissioner to save the day.

As 2007 rolled on, something became clear: this upstart was no “little engine that could.” CH2 meant business. It didn’t just accept, it grabbed the mantle as the bolder, edgier magazine in town, the life of the party, the girl every boy wants to dance with in the form of the printed page. And why not? It was published by a gaggle of 20-something women who worked and played well together. They mixed and mingled with their readers and the subjects of CH2 stories, living the stories first then printing them later. Those of us who are dialed in to such things could not help but notice other older publications imitating CH2, and it wasn’t even a year old.

Still, something wasn’t quite right. CH2 didn’t look like CH2. It strived for extraordinary, but looked ordinary. Something had to change, so the editorial team did something naughty; they looked to Playboy magazine for a solution. The November 2007 issue unveiled the now familiar brash layouts, modish—at times, in your face—photography, illustrations and color palettes, and the CH2 masthead. Former Playboy art director Tom Staebler directed the makeover and has a hand in the magazine’s appearance to this day.
In 2008 Hilton Head Island celebrated its 25th birthday. Not as an island of course, but as an incorporated township, and the first installment of Paul deVere’s series “A Town is Born” appeared in the February issue. In that series, deVere recounts the events of the late 1970s and early 1980s that brought about the necessity, and the wheeling and dealing that made it happen. It was likely the first time a lot of CH2 readers learned how close we came to being known for oil rigs and chemical plants instead of beaches and golf courses. Five years later, local movers and shakers had the bright idea to jointly commemorate the Town of Hilton Head Island’s 30th birthday and the 350th anniversary of our island’s sighting by Capt. William Hilton. It turned into a weeklong, island-wide celebration called Hilton Head 350/30. Naturally you could read all about it in CH2’s October 2013 edition.

Try to visit a body of water around here without seeing folks stand up paddle surfing, or SUP. Heck, they’re even practicing yoga on those darned things. Today it feels like SUP has been around as long as kayaks, but it was only as long ago as June 2008 when Whitney Farmer profiled Glen Barroncini, upon whom she bestowed the title: Hilton Head’s Pioneer Stand Up Paddle Surfer, in “Paddle Surfing: A New Way to Catch a Wave,” to introduce this new sport sweeping the nation…and Hilton Head Island. In September 2008, CH2 celebrated its second birthday by sharing a quirky and humorous (is there any other way?) peek into the magazine’s inner workings, “How to Make a Magazine in 3 Easy Steps,” penned by the publisher/editor-in-chief herself, Maggie Washo. Another monumental milestone came a month later when Yours Truly’s byline appeared in CH2’s pages for the first time above a piece about the The Brick Oven Café. Somewhat ironically, “The Brick” is where I enjoyed my first dining experience as a local way, way back in 2000. One place. Two beginnings. Funny how things work out that way sometimes.

As we celebrate the 100th edition of a magazine about celebrating, we’d like it to be all about fun and games. But we know that life doesn’t always work that way, no matter how we try to make it so.

Sometimes we have to celebrate something that we don’t want to celebrate. Sometimes we have to celebrate a person’s life before we’re ready. In October of 2009, Hilton Head Island lost a beloved and highly respected business community icon and CH2 lost its “father” when Pierce Lowrey passed away. Also that month, CH2 published a rare themed issue, CH2’s Special Comedy Issue. A tragic irony you might think until you read “Tsunamis,” Maggie’s heartfelt tribute to her mentor, published in December 2009.

“Every so often he would ask me, ‘Are you still happy? Are you having fun?’” she wrote. “To Pierce, that couldn’t have been more important…” No, it wasn’t ironic at all that an issue meant to make you laugh came out that month. Funny how things work out that way sometimes.

And that, my friends, brings us full circle to the earlier question about how a guy who didn’t believe is now writing a story about CH2’s 100th issue. On the surface, CH2 is everything a local monthly ought to be: It helps people start or revitalize businesses and careers through advertising and articles. It shows us where to go to eat, drink and be merry, and where to buy stuff. It honors outstanding individuals who make a community worth celebrating. It entertains and gives us advice. It provides jobs for staff members and all the other folks who help get the magazine into readers’ hands. It opens doors for freelance writers, photographers and artists. It’s an archive, a time capsule, of our lives on Hilton Head Island.

CH2 is all that, but its real magic is in the way it came to us just when we needed somebody to give us a smile. Remember, it was 2006 and things weren’t so rosy around here. Shrinking waves of tourists, shops, offices and restaurants closing their doors, a weakening real estate market, even dwindling Heritage galleries cast a shadow over an island that jumped around like a four-year-old on a sugar buzz just a few years earlier. Now it felt more like a nervous adult worrying about the future.

In the middle of all that along came this playful little magazine, and Maggie Washo sat down on the beach, calm, cool and confident, looked us all in the eye and said, “Relax people. We’ll get through this. Smile, laugh, be happy and have fun. There’s still plenty to celebrate about Hilton Head. Come along with me and I’ll show you that it’s true.”

And then…she did.

Merry Christmas everyone. 

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