Tom Hall was a strong advocate for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. He created a documentary about the fight to remove it, called “Compromised.” (Photo courtesy of Emile DeFelice/Carolina News and Reporter)
Tom Hall, attorney, restaurateur, activist, hunter and musician, is being remembered for his energy and passion after dying Jan. 20 in a car accident near Columbia.
Friends say it’s hard to describe the man who knew everyone.
“He was just this whirling dervish of creativity,” said Kristian Niemi, a friend and owner of several Columbia restaurants.
Hall, who was 56, founded Columbia’s Mardi Gras celebration with Niemi, Eric McClam and Emile DeFelice. The group organized the first festival and parade in the Rosewood neighborhood on short notice to raise money for a new barn for a friend’s farm. It became an annual event.
“One of the things that he liked about his core group of friends was that he knew he could come to us with an idea and we can help pull it off,” Niemi said. “He couldn’t do it alone, nor do I think he ever wanted to do anything alone. That was the thing he loved. He loved to collaborate with people. His just raw enthusiasm for putting on a good time for others is kind of exemplified in Mardi Gras.”
The friends eventually became the Krewe de Columbi-ya-ya. In Louisiana, a krewe is the name for a group that throws festivals and balls, especially for Mardi Gras.
“He was the spirit of Mardi Gras,” said DeFelice, who founded Columbia’s Soda City Market. “He was all things large and wonderful and kind. I don’t know where you could search to find somebody that didn’t like Tom Hall.”
This year, the 14th annual Columbia Mardi Gras parade will be Feb. 10, at Rosewood’s City Roots farm. The festival’s drink tokens have an illustration of Hall wearing a crown. They read “The King Lives On – Long Live the King!”
“Mardi Gras is such a fun festival for a community,” said Kaitlin Beck, an attorney who’s this year’s Mardi Gras queen. “And it’s a really great way for local artists to share with everyone what they do. And that could not have been more of exactly what Tom wanted in this slice of his interests.”
The stage that Tom Hall and the Plowboys, Hall’s band, traditionally have played on will now be called the Tom Hall Stage, Beck said. And the Plowboys again will play the music that Hall wrote. He was a prolific poet and songwriter and often did watercolor illustrations of his songs and albums, said band member Bill Stevens.
“He could just put out poems and songs just on the spur of a moment,” Stevens said. “He was amazing in that way. We were only the backing musicians … . He was so heavily influenced by fishing, by hunting and all the things that you do out in Louisiana.”
Cindi Boiter knew Hall from the South Carolina arts and music scene. She said he made music for the people around him.
“He put his heart into everything the way he put his soul into his music, and he wasn’t big on rehearsing. He wasn’t big on being organized,” said Boiter, who publishes the Jasper art magazine. “Tom was of the opinion that if you got a bunch of people together who were pure of heart and pure of intention that good things would come out of it. He had this incredible faith in humanity.”
After Hall’s Feb. 25 funeral, the band and Hall’s musically inclined friends gathered to play and celebrate him together, Stevens said.
“There’ll be an empty leader spot which can never be filled,” Stevens said. “But we’re gonna make it work with the energy he wanted. Tom would never want us to be sad and not do anything. He was constantly on the move, constantly doing everything he could to organize events and be there for his family and his friends.”
The food for the post-funeral gathering was catered by Trevor Day, Hall’s business partner at his restaurant, Between the Antlers. The Georgetown restaurant, named after a line from a piece the late South Carolina poet James Dickey wrote for Esquire magazine in 1981, was another of Hall’s many passions.
“We’re going to have to work hard to make sure that we’re coming up with good ideas and you know, utilizing cool things from the Lowcountry and what he loved about South Carolina,” Day said.
Hall also was well known for his activism to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. He created a documentary, “Compromised,” which was edited by Columbia filmmaker Wade Sellers.
“He was a brilliant creator, and he was able to bring all this hurricane of ideas that he had in his brain and really solidified into a movie that does accomplish what he set out to accomplish,” Sellers said.
Sellers said the last thing Hall texted him was an idea for two more films, one about bird hunting and another a sequel to “Compromised.”
“The year the film was being released was the year Trump got elected, and of course Nikki Haley is now running for president,” he said. “She, who said for the cameras in front of everybody, ‘The flag has been taken off the grounds.’ He called it the final chapter in a story that deserves telling.”
Hall also founded a hunt club at Calhoun County’s Lang Syne, a plantation home owned by his wife Amy Peterkin and her two sisters, Emily Peterkin and Laura Wigger.
Oliver Hartner, who took his dog to hunt quail at Lang Syne with Hall, said Hall created the club to bring attention to the history and beauty of the land.
“He would always say, ‘The history of our state runs right through this place,’” Hartner said. “And he’s right. It’s in the figurative and literal heart of South Carolina.”
Hartner said club members want to continue the club somehow. Niemi said after the hunts, the group always would cook a big meal together.
“It was gathering people together, showing them a good time, and then at the end we’d all sit down and you know, make a big meal out of what we got that day,” Niemi said. “He loved to kind of be the concierge of that, to be the lead of that. He took great pride and great pleasure in showing people a really good time.”
Tom Hall celebrates during a recent Mardi Gras festival. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Beck/Carolina News and Reporter)
Tom Hall leads a recent Columbia Mardi Gras parade. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Beck/Carolina News and Reporter)
The design for the drink token of the 2024 Columbia Mardi Gras parade (Photo courtesy of Emile DeFelice/Carolina News and Reporter)
The poster for the 2023 Mardi Gras parade, featuring Tom Hall (Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Beck/Carolina News and Reporter)