She D’Ambrosio is a talent scout, booking agent and all around lover of blues music. It’s been on her bucket list for quite some time now to put together a blues festival for the Upstate of South Carolina, and this month it’s finally come to pass.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the inaugural Summer’s Last Blast & Blues Festival will take place at the Pavilion at Acadia in Piedmont, S.C. (a suburb of Greenville). The lineup is extraordinary, especially for the ultra-reasonable ticket price of $15 per person (free for kids under 12).
Headlining is the incredible Beverly “Guitar” Watkins and her band; then there’s Cee Cee James featuring the inimitable Rickey Godfrey on guitar; the Matt Walsh Blues Band; Freddie Vanderford with Brandon Turner and the Shades; singer songwriter J Edwards and his kick-ass band; and the King Bees. YEAH!
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was born in Atlanta, Ga. in 1939, and she can play the pants off musicians half her age. She says, “My style is real Lightnin’’ Hopkins lowdown blues. I call it hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues.”
D’Ambrosio can’t wait to bring her to the Upstate. ‘Beverly is a national treasure,” she tells me. “She’s got a style all her own and she’s so charismatic. Wait till people see her with that guitar over her head.”
Watkins was a junior in high school when she joined Piano red and the Meter-tones. Later she played with Eddie Tigner and the Ink Spots and other groups, becoming a fixture at the Underground Atlanta.
She would go on to work with James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles, becoming well-known throughout the blues community. But like so many other roots musicians, she had little airplay, and wouldn’t achieve success until the advent of the Internet. Re-discovered by Tim Duffy, founder of the nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation, she joined Koko Taylor on the women of Blues “Hot Mamas” tour in 1998. Her debut CD, Back In Business (1999), earned her a W.C. Handy Award nomination in 2000, and she was on her way. A bout with cancer a few years later couldn’t keep her down, and she’s back touring and getting the kudos she deserves.
Originally from Portland, Ore., Cee Cee James was 12 when she put together her first band. She discovered blues early, but went on to explore R&B and her native cherokee roots. “Hiking in the mountains outside San Diego,” she says, “I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan whispering to me from the Heavens… “Go back to your roots girl. go back to what you do best,” which I intuitively knew was blues, low-down roots and soul.”
Her current blues band includes songwriting partner and husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews and Nashville’s hot rockin’ bluesman Rickey Godfrey wailing on his Telecaster. This act is going to blow the sky open.
“Cee Cee James is a vocal volcano,” says D’Ambrosio. “There’s this gut-wrenching quality … Her originals come from walking through fire … and there’s just not enough to say about Rickey Godfrey. It’s an honor for us to have him here.”
J Edwards Band is going to shock a lot of people at this show. A popular Columbia, S.C. musician, he just isn’t well-known outside the area. But this boy can sing. His raw, rough, heart-wrenching vocals will stop you in your tracks.
In a matter-of-fact style that I’ve come to expect from She D’Ambrosio, she says bluntly, “J’s voice is my crack cocaine. He’s got a voice like no other. Once you’ve heard ‘I’ve Got a Woman,’ you know what I mean.”
Matt Walsh’s sound is rooted in the old-school blues of south-side Chicago in the fifties. He first gained national notoriety in 2006 when former guitarist for Muddy Waters Bob Margolin interviewed him for Blues Revue magazine. Since then Matt shared the stage or opened for Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Pinetop Perkins and others. This guy’s on his way up! Catch him while you can!
The King Bees out of N.C were formed by guitarist/organist Hound Dog Baskerville and singer/song-writer/bassist, Queen Bee Penny Zamagni. They have a musical pedigree I can’t even imagine. They have sat in with or backed up so many blues giants:Bo Diddley, Tinsley Ellis, Billy Branch, Mojo Buford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Lazy Lester, Ronnie Earl … the list goes on.
“When you hear that voice come out of Penny, who stands all of five feet … you wonder where it comes from,” says D’Ambrosio as she talks about the King Bees.
Harpman Freddie Vanderford is doing his part to keep the blues alive. In 2010 he received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award for sharing the tradition of Piedmont blues harp. For the Summer’s Last Blast festival, he’s playing with iconic guitarist Brandon Turner and the Shades.
“Brandon Turner is one of the most underrated guitarists in the U.S. I can’t wait for this show,” She tells me.
“We have people coming fro Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia, the Carolina beaches,” she goes on. “We’re hoping to have a lot of locals, too. We have a lot of talent in this area, but we wanted to bring in acts from out of the area, too … give people a chance to see someone that maybe they haven’t been able to see before.”
This is a family-friendly festival. Food vendors will be selling homemade ice cream, funnel cakes, hot dogs, barbecue, beer, wine, soda, tea, lemonade and more.
Vendor spots are still available for $25. As a further incentive, this year’s vendors will be able to return next year for the same price.
The Pavilion at Acadia is located at 102 Fathers Way in Piedmont, S.C. For more information, log onto the website at http://www.summerslastbluesfest.com, email email@example.com or visit them on Facebook.
Low Country Blues Bash Feb. 3 – 19, 2011
Blues aficionados from the Carolinas, Georgia and all over the southeastern U.S. will soon be making their way toward Charleston, S.C. for the twenty-first annual Lowcountry Blues Bash, which begins Feb. 3 and rocks on through Feb. 19.
Not officially part of the Blues Bash, but warmly welcomed by the local blues community are two British blues-rock legends – Robert Plant, former frontman for Led Zeppelin and Robin Trower, from the legendary Procul Harum. Plant will appear with his Band of Joy at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Feb. 4. ($55.30 – $76.50 including fees).Trower, also performing on Feb. 4, will be at the Music Farm. ($23 ADV/$25DOS) Wow! Trower for $23. No brainer! Bummer they’re on the same night. Tickets for both are available at the venues.
As in the past, organizer Gary Erwin of Erwin Music and the Lowcountry Blues Society are bringing a mix of
local, regional and national talent to the Palmetto City. The blues-driven frets-n-frenzy takes place over 17 days and features high-end performances by 50 different acts at 25 different locations.
Highlights include guitarist Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones with Dennis Gruenling. Deming’s group alone is a much sought after swing band. Add Gruenling to the lineup and according to Erwin, you get “pure postwar blues bliss.” (www.dougdeming.com/www.dennisgruenling.com)
South Carolina’s favorite son, Drink Small, returns to the Bash, bringing a cure for whatever ails you. The Blues Doctor’s in the house! (www.myspace.com/drinksmallblues)
From Texas comes one of our favorite singing drummers slash harp players, the genre-jumpin’ Randy McAllister.
North Carolina’s King Bees deliver swingin’ blues at every turn. Can’t go wrong here.
Frankie’s Blues Mission from Atlanta dishes up some hot West Side Chicago-style electric blues. Yeah!
Another Atlantan, Lefty Williams is on the roster, too. If you’ve never heard this one-armed guitarist, get you to
Chucktown. It’s worth the price of gasoline.
Ten Foot Polecats are coming all the way from Boston, y’all. For my buck, this punk-edged Mississippi-inspired trio is the act to catch. Jim Chilson’s guitar work is some of the finest you’ll see. They’re at Fiery Ron’s Hometeam BBQ on Sullivan’s Island Feb. 5. I dare you to sit still!
There are so many more topnotch players at this year’s Bash – Mac Arnold & Plate full O’ Blues; acoustic icon
Paul Geremia; Big Bill Morganfield, making his daddy proud; from the Grand Strand, the talented My Buddy Todd; the rockin’Johnny Mac & the Booty Ranch; Charleston’s own Skye Paige bringing rockabilly and blues to the stage.
There’s a special dedication to Lil Dave Thompson, who tragically died in an automobile crash while returning home after last year’s Blues Bash. The event will take place at Fiery Ron’s Hometeam BBQ on Sullivan’s Island on Sunday evening, Feb. 13.
Most ticket prices will be less than $15 and many are free. Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina at Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant is offering preferred rates for festival goers. Call 843 856 0028 and mention the Blues Bash.
To see the entire lineup, venue listing and schedule, visit http://www.bluesbash.com and download your very own
brochure in PDF format.