FEATURE ‌ A Whole Mess'a Blues 

The 17th annual Lowcountry Blues Bash brings the boogie and the soul

click to enlarge (L to R): Chicago Bob Nelson, Gary 'Shrimp City Slim' Erwin, Miss Wanda Johnson, and Nappy Brown perform during the 2007 Southern Comfort Lowcountry Blues Bash
  • (L to R): Chicago Bob Nelson, Gary 'Shrimp City Slim' Erwin, Miss Wanda Johnson, and Nappy Brown perform during the 2007 Southern Comfort Lowcountry Blues Bash

2007 Southern Comfort Lowcountry Blues Bash
Thurs. Feb. 8 -- Sun. Feb. 18
$15 and less
762-9125 (info)

www.bluesbash.com

You can hear it in his voice. Listening to Gary "Shrimp City Slim" Erwin last year as he hosted his popular, weekly two-hour program "Blues on the Bridge" on 105.5 FM, his sincere love and respect for blues and roots music was clear. Bumping into him at a gig or on the street, you can tell it's on his mind and in his heart.

The longtime Charleston musician, bandleader, DJ, and Lowcountry Blues Bash organizer has been dedicated to the music and culture of the blues -- and bringing the best of it to Charleston. Since organizing the first Blues Bash event on King Street in 1991, Erwin has made an effort to assemble a variety of musicians and bands playing different types of old-school blues and blues-influenced styles -- from the vintage and traditional to the more modern hybrids.

The first year's lineup included performances by Junior Wells, Billy Branch and The Sons of Blues, Drink Small, and Erwin's old blues band, Blue Light Special. It was his idea in 1992 to spread the live performances to the city clubs outside of the King Street Palace.

Already in its 17th year, the annual Lowcountry Blues Bash (sponsored by Southern Comfort for the first time this year) kicks off this week with 10 days and nights of live performances by over 45 artists in concert halls, clubs, and intimate settings across the Charleston area.

"The club scene in any city, including Charleston, is an ever-changing scenario," says Erwin of the evolving live music venue situation in town. "Some clubs change formats and others step in to fill the need. The Charleston blues and roots scene is probably as good as it has been in a while, but of course, from my perspective, we can always use improvement."

Tickets are available for shows at the venues. Prices range between $3 and $15 (and many events are free to the public). Last year, around the time of the Blues Bash, Erwin noted that various restaurants were programming blues in their live music schedules. These days, venues like A Dough Re Mi, Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, the Pour House, Med Bistro, and Cumberland's seemed to have stepped things up a bit.

"I've always been amazed at how much live music Charleston has to offer for a city of its size," says Erwin. "I think the Blues Bash is a perfect time to get reacquainted with the honorable tradition of going out and partying to real musicians playing real music. And don't forget to sip a Southern Comfort while you're diggin' your blues."

Who are some of the great stand-out acts of this year's events?

"I'm really excited about legendary blues shouter Nappy Brown, whose early '50s recordings helped create the bridge between blues and rock 'n' roll," says Erwin. "There's Johnny Rawls and Chick Willis -- two super cool soul/blues guys who really are at the top of their game ... swamp harp icon Chicago Bob Nelson, blues ladies like Wanda Johnson and Chocolate Thunder ... the return of one-man band Robert Lighthouse, and primeval zydeco unit The Creole Zydeco Farmers. The list goes on and on.

"Don't miss the older cats like Nappy, Drink Small, Chicago Bob, and Harmonica Shah," he adds. "And treat yourself to some tasty acoustic sounds by artists like Baltimore Red, Pete Big Dog Fetters, and The King Bees unplugged. Also, again from the blues-meets-rock standpoint, don't miss Leon Russell, one of the big daddies of roots rock."

These are just a few strong performers out of an impressive list of acts. According to the lengthy schedule (see the listings on City Paper's Musicboard this week and next), the mix of styles and musical characters in this year's lineup resembles the diverse blend of local, national, and international acts from previous years.

"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. "We even have the world represented this year with artists from France, Switzerland, and Sweden. After all, the blues is now truly a universal music, enjoyed by and played by people in virtually every corner of the civilized -- and not so civilized -- world. But, deep in my heart, I miss the first- and second-generation bluesmen, most of whom have passed on. 2006 was a rough year for the blues obituary department."

With a great lineup spanning across town, Erwin hopes the community will continue to support this event, as they have year after year.

"Everyone is invited," says the organizer. "I mean that. With so much music, 10 days, 17 venues, 43 acts, 60-plus shows, day and night, and many gigs either reasonably priced or free, it should be no problem to catch at least a slice or two of the Bash. My motto is 'Go where you can, when you can.'"

Check for info online at www.bluesbash.com, call 762-9125 for ticket and show details.


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