When the Charleston quartet the Blue Dogs formed in 1987, they created a melodic hybrid of acoustic folk, country, and rock that was easy to enjoy. But there hadn't been a band from their neck of the woods to make it big for quite a while — that is until Document, an album by a low-key college band from Athens called R.E.M. broke loose, hitting platinum status and spawning a genuine hit single in "The One I Love."
"I remember thinking that R.E.M. was the first thing from the South besides the Allman Brothers, in terms of rock, to make it nationally," says Blue Dogs singer/guitarist Bobby Houck. "There was definitely a feeling before that that making it big was way out there, and we're here. But R.E.M. pierced that armor a little bit."
As it turns out, a flood of new South Carolina bands would hit a few years later, just as the Blue Dogs were perfecting their sound. Artists like Hootie & The Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Cravin' Melon, and Jupiter Coyote all came to prominence in the mid '90s, and Houck and company were right there alongside them. "It was happening all around us all of a sudden; it was a whole new ball game," Houck says. "[Now-defunct Charleston radio station] 96 Wave was playing songs by Jump, Little Children and Uncle Mingo right along with bands like Wilco and Son Volt. We were getting played on the radio, and we were selling major records in Charleston. It was possible for a band on a regional level to get radio play and sell significant amounts of albums and make a living touring around the Southeast."
The first homecoming was held three years ago, and it really only happened because of an important milestone in the band's history. "The first one was our official 25th-anniversary show," Houck says. "We really wanted to do something to mark that. And Charles Carmody had just taken over at the Music Hall. He was very encouraging, and so that became the spot."
The list of performers who joined the Blue Dogs onstage that night was a virtual who's-who of the 1990s South Carolina music boom. "We invited all these other musicians, but we didn't know who exactly would come," Houck says. "The only one we had for sure was [hit country songwriter] Radney Foster, who I'd been able to write with. But people just kept saying, 'Absolutely.' And that list of people ended up including Darius Rucker, all the members of Hootie, Edwin McCain, all of the previous members of the Blue Dogs, which is around 20, guys from Uncle Mingo, Cravin Melon, Danielle Howle ... it was off the charts. That night, Charles, said, 'Y'all have got to do this again.'"
The band had talked about creating a music festival in their prime, but nothing had come of it. Fifteen years later, they had one. But Houck says the band wanted to do more. "We want to make the next one a meaningful event," he says. "So it had to be for charity. Pediatric cancer research was the charity that we felt the closest to, because we have close friends who had experience with pediatric cancer; it was the one that meant the most to us. So we started the fundraising part last year, and we did two nights and sold them both out."
This year's edition of the Homecoming show will feature Howle, Doug Jones of Cravin' Melon, Kevn Kinney of Drivin' N' Cryin', and Jason Isbell guitarist Sadler Vaden, among others. The band has also added a pre-Homecoming show at the Music Farm in order to include more local and regional musicians. The proceeds will benefit the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital.
Ticket sales for this year's show have been strong once again, and Houck says he's a bit overwhelmed by the response, both from his fellow musicians and the fans. "I'm a modest person, so a lot of it for me is, 'I can't believe all these people are coming out,'" he says. "It's incredible. And people tell me it's not just because of the guests. People want to see the Blue Dogs. It's hard for me to digest that. One of my favorite things to do is bring people together. I'm pretty sure it's why I got into music and why I became so driven with the Blue Dogs. I love bringing all these different musicians together and us all hanging out. We like the companionship, the team spirit of it. This event allows us to do something great for the community and bring people together to have a good time. Those are our goals. It's a birthday party and a homecoming, but it's also a chance to do something great."