Blues Bash and Blues Festival to fill streets
By Denise K. James, Special to The Post and Courier
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The Lowcountry is going to be filled with the soulful sound of blues, right in the nick of time to cure any case of the winter blahs.
The annual Lowcountry Blues Bash, a 12-day music event, runs Friday through Feb. 16.
And the Charleston Blues Festival is Feb. 13 at the Charleston Music Hall.
“When I moved here, there was no blues on the radio at all,” says Gary Erwin, the mastermind behind the Lowcountry Blues Bash.
“So I volunteered to do a show on the air, and in 1984, I started broadcasting on public radio on Fridays at midnight: ‘Blues in the Night,’ it was called.”
Erwin continued his show for 17 years.
In 1986, he started bringing blues acts to the Footlight Players Theatre and then dance clubs until 1991 when the idea took shape for a longer event.
“Twenty years later, here we are,” he says. “Charleston is still a land of opportunity in a lot of ways. If you have the energy and passion to bring something forth, you can.”
This year’s bash is “the most eclectic collection of artists at any blues gathering in the U.S.” according to Erwin.
The artists who will play range from traditional blues royalty to the young and contemporary. Styles will include acoustic, electric and international.
“Even though the blues was born in the deep South, it’s truly a music of the world now,” says Erwin. “Every year we have old favorites as well as new artists. This year, the bash will have … Charlie Sayles, Wanda Johnson and Robert Johnson, as well as newer artists like John Dee Holman (who has never visited Charleston), Brian Lee and Diedra.”
The venues include restaurants, bars, churches and libraries. Some shows will have cover charges while others will be free. Erwin’s own band, Shrimp City Slim, will be backing up the musicians during the Bash.
“Some venues are constant, while others change over the years,” Erwin explains. “Every year, one of the biggest parts of my job is to recruit the venues. I’m pleased with how passionate the venues have been. We try to convey that positive attitude throughout the bash.”
Davis Coen, one of the performers, says he is excited to be performing songs from his new CD, “Magnolia Land,” on Feb. 11 and 12 at Fiery Ron’s Hometeam BBQ.
“I’m doing some double bills with a guy from Mississippi named Eric Deaton,” says Coen. “He came up around some of the old Mississippi forefathers. He really carries that style, and we’re mixing our styles together.
Coen has played in the bash for several years, and regularly visits Charleston. “Magnolia Land” will be a different sound from his last CD, and incorporates some of the Mississippi style that he learned while recording in that state.
“I’ve always done acoustic and I’m excited to bring something new to the table,” he says. “The new CD reflects that. It’s a little more raw, and definitely more electric.”
“I love the honesty and the passion of this kind of music,” says Erwin. “It’s a person telling the story of their life in a song, and speaking from the heart. Everyone can relate to the blues: It’s of the people and for the people. It was created so that people can express themselves, and its essence has always stayed the same.”
The Charleston Blues Festival, a special one-night concert, starts at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 and is hosted by the blues concert company Steve Simon Presents.
Simon, who relocated his business to Charleston, says he is passionate about producing the best in blues concerts around the world.
“From my perspective, everything is rooted in blues,” says Simon. “It’s the heart of American music, yet it has universal appeal. And it crosses all groups and genres. You see senior citizens, children and everyone at these shows. I’ve been a musician my entire life, but I’d never done it for a living until I started Steve Simon Presents back in 2000.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve concentrated on Bluzapalooza, a concert tour for our soldiers overseas. Now that I live in Charleston, I decided I’d better do what I do here,” he says.
The show is at the Charleston Music Hall on John Street, and acts such as Shemekia Copeland and Zac Harmon, as well as blues newbies Dan Wright and the New Beat, will be performing.
“My intent is for the show to become a two-day, outdoor event next year,” explains Simon. “But first, I needed to introduce myself to the music community here in Charleston. We’re really going to rock that music hall.”
Copeland, one of the biggest names in blues today, says she looks forward to performing in Charleston for her first time at the festival.
“It has been nearly a decade since I’ve visited there and I know how much it has changed. I have a few friends that live there, and they tell me it’s a blues-friendly city, so I look forward to the audience,” she says.
Copeland says the lineup that Simon chose for the festival will draw a crowd.
“I know Zac Harmon really well; we were in Iraq together for one of Simon’s overseas concerts,” she says. “He is a wonderful entertainer and a fabulous person that everyone will adore.”
“I fell in love with the Charleston Music Hall as a venue,” says Simon. “One of the first concerts I went to in Charleston, a jazz show, took place there. It’s such a beautiful and intimate place. After the first song I heard, I said to myself, ‘This is the place.’ “