On a recent afternoon at The Dispensary in Bluffton, a lanky teenager entertained the lunch crowd with an old-school acoustic set. He played classics like Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" with a punchy strum of the guitar and a bluesy wheeze from a harmonica hanging from his neck.
He was good, and patrons nodded along and tapped their feet, but they mostly relegated him to background music, not noticing when one song ended and another began. It wasn't until he stopped and mumbled into the microphone, "Hi, I'm Ben Hughey and I'm 14 years old," that people quickly turned their heads.
Unlike most kids his age, Ben doesn't like watching TV or playing video games. The Bluffton resident would rather spend time honing his skills on any of the seven instruments he taught himself to play and perform them live for an audience.
For someone so young, Ben is serious about music.
"I play every time I'm in my room," the rising H.E. McCracken Middle School ninth-grader said. "I live and breathe it. I don't do anything else."
Ben began playing at age 9 after his dad, Jeff Hughey, brought home a guitar.
It was an impulse buy for the senior Hughey, who admittedly can't tune a radio. His son picked it up and hasn't put it down since.
Once Ben taught himself how to play the guitar, he moved on to piano, harmonica, trumpet, mandolin, bass, drums and bongos.
"I pick it up and I try it and I can play it," he said.
His mom, Mia Hughey, tried to send him to lessons, but it didn't work, she said. "He plays by ear."
Soon Ben was singing and writing his own songs, inspired by music from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, people "who write with meaning; who write to change the world," he said.
In December, Ben auditioned for his first gig at The Dispensary in Bluffton. His mom drove him, but she wasn't allowed to stay per orders of her son. He nailed the audition and played his first gig April 9.
"It's different than playing in your room. You're in your own world up there, but you're in front of people," he said of the experience. Luckily his voice didn't crack.
Although Ben is young, his voice sounds old. And while he might not be very experienced, he seems to have already learned how to sing within his vocal wheelhouse in order to reveal the strengths in his voice.
On his summer break from school, Ben said he wants to play as many gigs as possible. He'll play anywhere and everywhere, and do anything that will help him achieve his dream of playing music for a living.
"I don't want to do anything else," he said. "If I had to give up everything and keep one thing, it would be music."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.