Myrtle Beach Daze

South Carolina’s beaches are popular, especially in the summer, but one beach is popular year-round. A little over a three-hour and 173-mile drive will take you to a town that was and is an icon. Once known as Ocean Drive, or OD, North Myrtle Beach is the epicenter of all things shag and beach music. Thousands return to North Myrtle Beach fall, winter and spring, to shag and share good times and memories.

Now you don’t have to be a shagger to enjoy a journey to this dance kingdom. If you recall or are just plain curious about the good old days of open-air pavilions, cars with fins, sno-cones, glowing Wurlitzers, rhythm and blues music and lifeguards, you’ll enjoy a trip to North Myrtle Beach.

The shag was “the dance” along the Grand Strand in the late 1940s and early 1950s — a memorable time of classic cars, ice cream sodas, cold beer and nights afire with love. Many would look back on this golden era as the apex of youth and romance. It was a glamorous, chivalrous time. As evening fell, the lights of open-air pavilions beckoned. As gleaming lines of surf broke outside pavilions and clubs, couples danced. Neon Wurlitzers and Rock-Olas gobbled change. Shaggers danced along the leading edge of a pop culture revolution in places indelibly etched in memories: the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, Sonny’s Pavilion, Spivey’s, Robert’s Pavilion and other cramped “jump joints.”

Ocean Drive assumed iconic stature. Lifeguards were bronzed gods. Women were sun-kissed “peaches” to be plucked by men with perfect dance floor cool. There was nothing like an evening of club hopping, and the shabbier they were, the better. Ask shaggers about OD. If you tell them you’re going they’ll want to hitch a ride with you. They’ll regale you with stories of OD and culture-shocking times.

Back in OD’s heyday, young people were the original rebels and their hangouts were the iconic pavilions. The pavilions were ordinary but exalted. In the early 1980s, a writer for the Greenville Piedmont, Melissa Williams, described Spivey’s Pavilion as “a ramshackle, tattle-tale gray, paint-chipped pavilion. It was an old haunt where people carved their names in wooden booths overlooking the dance floor. It was their domain, where engulfed by friends, their music and their self-designed lifestyle, they could revel in rebellion.”

All the old pavilions are gone but you can recapture this wonderful time, a bit of Americana, and for certain a South Carolina legend by making the trip to North Myrtle Beach. You’ll see plenty of men wearing penny loafers and old classic beach tunes will mingle with the salt air to take you back in time. You’ll be at the Grand Strand so there’s no way you’ll hurt for restaurants and things to do. Pack a bag ‘cause you may decide to stay overnight.

If You Go …

• Fat Harold’s Beach Club

• Beach Memories

 • OD Pavilion

*This column consists of excerpts from “Save The Last Dance For Me, A Love Story of the Shag and the S.O.S.,” USC Press, written by Tom Poland and Phil Sawyer.

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]

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