Every couple thinks they have a good meet-cute. McKenzie Eddy and Elliott Smith’s is really good, though. She’d been told, “You gotta meet my brother” a million times. That night, King Dusko was especially slammed. Joel Hamilton was playing loudly in the back. The police arrived to give McKenzie a noise violation. Then she sees Elliott, an attorney, outside calming the cop. She didn’t get that ticket.
It’s a perfect in-a-nutshell of what they’ve created together with BACE, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that gives the business, art, culture, and entertainment communities a voice on the issues that are shaping Charleston. Since teaming up, the two have innovatively inspired the younger generation to become more active residents by making public policy more interesting and accessible, and creating a healthy dialogue with city officials.
“To make civic engagement matter, that’s essentially what we’re trying to do,” Elliott says. “Integrating it into the culture so it’s part of everyday lives.”
Take last year’s Mayoral Forum, which got all six candidates and the food and beverage community in one room talking. And Hi Harmony, a free community concert celebrating diversity. They even paired voter registration with Brave Baby’s album release. Each event cleverly and successfully unites those evolving Charleston’s culture with policymaking.
BACE’s fast success might not be possible if not for their supportive partnership. In addition to igniting a community, the two play music as a duo and as part of Very Hypnotic Soul Band. McKenzie had heard Elliott playing piano. She said he had to be in her band. An hour later they had a show. The rest is history.
“He even plays the same style as me,” McKenzie laughs. “I have lived the kind of life where work is not separate, so it’s been hard to have a relationship. To be with someone who lives his life the same way has been amazing. We elevate each other.”
The issues are plenty and complicated. There’s still much to do. With Parker Hastings, another key player, they’re creating a high quality, This American Life-style podcast featuring local music and commentary on how important decisions are made. They’ll have more town halls. More shows. More conversations. More involved citizens. Some members of the older generation love what BACE is doing. Others are afraid of change. But Elliott and McKenzie’s M.O. will always be to create productive and honest discourse, rather than raise pitchforks. And, of course, to make sure Charleston talent always has a seat at the table.
Words by Jessica Kenny
Photo by Gately Williams