DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Road Trip: Summer’s Last Blast & Blues Fest

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on September 7, 2011

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 (Photo David Baerst)

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.

Cee Cee James

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 Summer’s Last Blast & Blues Festival is produced by Treeline Music, Sparkle City Blues and De Lisle and Associates.

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 summerblues@treelinemusic.com or visit them on Facebook.

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