The annual Blues on the Dock series provides a terrific opportunity for Spoletians to catch some of the strongest blues, folk, and roots talent in town as well as a handful of special visiting acts. This year, the shows at Bowens Island Restaurant are produced by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and local musician and singer Andy "Smoky" Weiner.
"The dock has been the scene of many great concerts and artists over the years," says Weiner. "You just can't beat the surroundings or the sunsets at Bowens Island. It is pure Lowcountry."
On June 5, the third afternoon concert in the series features two acts that lean more into the realm of traditional folk, country, and Celtic styles than true traditional blues. Local string-based combo the Hungry Monks will share the bill with nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Jack Williams. The Hungry Monks perform shortly after 4 p.m., followed by Williams, who will handle two sets of solo material.
Charleston's Hungry Monks will be performing as a full band with singer and multi-instrumentalist Hazel Ketchum leading fiddler Bob Culver, bassist John Kennedy, and their newest addition, drummer Jack Friel.
"In addition to our usual arsenal of instruments, Bob will be playing keyboards, too," Ketchum says. "There is no plan just yet to collaborate with Jack, but on Bowens Island anything can happen."
The Hungry Monks are usually described as a folk combo, but their new studio album, Superior Crust, is much more than just a strummy collection of melodic folk songs. The beautifully produced, 14-song collection demonstrates an impressive versatility, from straightforward country and old-time to waltzy Celtic songs, swing, and early-era style rock 'n' roll. The title track leans into Celtic territory, led by Holenko's handy mandolin work.
The core Monks are the songwriting vocal duo of Ketchum and John Holenko, who handles an array of instruments like the acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Ketchum's arsenal includes acoustic guitar, banjo, and bodhran, among other gear. Together — as a duo or as bandleaders — Ketchum and Holenko deliver smart songs with fine melodies. They can be smooth and sparse, or wound-up and fiery.
"We will play some faves from Superior Crust, like 'Can't Get Enough of You,'" says Ketchum. "We will also play some brand new songs by me and John, and some of our new cover tunes like 'You Gotta Serve Somebody' by Bob Dylan."
A native of South Carolina currently based in Arkansas, Williams recently impressed local audiences with his skillful finger-picking and heartfelt songs at Gage Hall's music room. He's been playing Charleston since the 1970s, but back then he played in rock bands.
"I'm a singer/songwriter of the South," Williams says. "A lot of my music is very much upbeat and fun, very outgoing and rhythmic ... and I play a lot more guitar than I need to."
Those who love the soulful sounds of authentic Southern blues, folk, and roots music will surely enjoy Williams' repertoire, although the artist himself isn't so sure he's a good fit for the series.
"It's an interesting situation to be invited to play for a blues event at Piccolo Spoleto, when, in fact, I'm not really a blues artist," says Williams. "However, Andy Weiner invited me to play, and he said that he believed I would be a good addition to the lineup. I decided to believe he knew what he was doing."
Williams will play solo for both of his sets. Much of the show will include tunes from his most recent albums. Last year, he released the two-disc collection titled Bound For Glory.
"This is the first album I've made which includes the song intros and stories I tell," Williams says. "I'm never completely sure what will be in the set list, and I may not know until I arrive at Bowens Island and find out what the concert setting and audience will be like. My usual sets are mostly original songs, with one or two cover tunes now and then."
Last summer, he also released his newest studio album with previously unrecorded original songs. The High Road Home includes a cover song, 10 new compositions, and four old originals.
"It has tunes I wrote in past years for my rock bands," says Williams. "These were among only a handful that successfully made the musical transition from rock-band song to solo acoustic performance. Out of the 1,000 or so songs I wrote in those days, I'm glad to reclaim these four. I'm extremely happy with this album."
Piccolo Spoleto. Blues on the Dock: Jack Williams and the Hungry Monks. $21. June 5, 4 p.m. Bowens Island Restaurant, 1870 Bowens Island Road, James Island. (866) 811-4111