2008 Southern Comfort Lowcountry Blues Bash
Fri. Feb. 8 through Sun. Feb. 17
$15 and below
(843) 762-9125 (info)
"At a festival like this, audiences can check out horn players, harmonica players, guitarists, accordionists, organists, all sorts of stuff," says local musician, blues enthusiast, and festival organizer Gary "Shrimp City Slim" Erwin, of this year's Southern Comfort Lowcountry Blues Bash. "Some of the big venues are heavy with the electric guitar blues-rockers, but it's a bit of everything. There's so much variety for everyone to enjoy."
Erwin is obviously excited about the wide-reaching span and stylistic mix of this year's blues festival, which runs from this Friday through Sunday, Feb. 17. Variety seems to be the theme for sure. The fest features 48 blues, soul, and roots acts in 23 local venues — including several last-minute additions in Summerville, North Charleston, and Awendaw.
"We increased the number of acts and the venue structure," Erwin says. "The venues are places that have the right attitude and business acumen to come in and help make it work. We want this to benefit both sides. We want it to be well-balanced, so the responsibility and enjoyment are shared by everyone.
"When you look at this as having a longevity, the big difference each year is the change in artists," he adds. "This year, we have a lot of veterans and a lot of newcomers, too. Obviously, in the last 18 years, we've lost a lot of the legendary people in the genre, but there are so many good artists that are coming along and keeping the tradition going. We're sort of changing the platform to help expose them to a wider audience. We still have a lot of traditional stuff, but we're really trying to mix it up."
Erwin organized the first Blues Bash events on King Street in 1991. The lineup included performances by Junior Wells, Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues, Drink Small, and Shrimp's former group, Blue Light Special. In '92, he decided to scatter the live performances across the downtown clubs beyond the walls of a single venue, creating a casual pub crawl for blues fans. The idea gradually blossomed from a weekend into a 10-day series of events.
This year's lineup demonstrates the festival's determination to reach out geographically. It's a valuable opportunity for fans to catch performances at places that don't normally book such events. Some acts may play multiple acts In one day or do something of a mini tour of Charleston.
"People often ask me where they should go and what not to miss," Erwin says. "I say go where you can when you can, because there are all types of shows happening at different times of the day, all over town."
Some of the stand-out featured acts include Chess recording artist Eddie Shaw and his Wolf Gang, Milwaukee-based soul/blues vocalist Johnny Rawls, Nashville-based soul man Clifford Curry, Louisiana's Creole Zydeco Farmers (featuring drummer Clarence "Jockey" Etienne), Mississippi-based gospel/blues singer Sharrie Williams, Memphis veterans the Daddy Mack Blues Band, Georgia blues-rock guitar wiz Tinsley Ellis, Big Bill Morganfield (the son of Muddy Waters), and many more.
"We have everything from the most traditional to the most contemporary, acoustic to electric, and from a host of various regional blues traditions," says Erwin.
These are just a few strong performers out of an impressive list. According to the lengthy schedule (check the listings on MusicBoard this week and next), the mix of styles and musical characters in this year's lineup resembles the blend of local and international acts from previous years.
The Bridge at 105.5 FM and the Andy Thomas Show on WQSC 1340 AM plan to feature acts in the Blues Bash lineup, and Channel 4's Lowcountry Live hopes to feature musicians as guests throughout the series.
Erwin's own band — guitarist "Silent Eddie" Phillips, drummer LaMont Garner, bassist Jerome Griffin, and sax player Mike "Mr. Big" Kincaid — are scheduled to play a number of shows on their own and with longtime-collaborator Wanda Johnson.
One anticipated highlight on the schedule is the local All-Star Blues Jam & Oyster Roast — featuring Drink Small, Juke Joint Johnny, Drew Baldwin, Jeff Norwood, Tommy Thunderfoot, Sarah Cole, John Picard, Whitt Algar, and guests. The showcase will be held at Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ on Sun Feb. 10 from 2-9 p.m.
"It'll be more of a blues revue, with everyone taking their turn and doing their own set, with a few guests coming up," says Erwin. "Drink Small will be closing everything out from 7-9 p.m. with a lot of people sitting in. It's a blues jam situation and an opportunity for anyone who wants to play, but we remind players to be polite and patient, make yourself known, and wait for somebody to ask you up. We don't want 10,000 guitar players to show up and fight to get on stage to play their version of 'Red House,' you know?"
Tickets are available for shows at the venues. Prices range between $3 and $15, and many events are free. For details and ticket information, log on to www.bluesbash.com, or call Shrimp directly at (843) 762-9125.