Pee Dee Blues Bash • April 23 – 24
Music promoter Gary Erwin brings us several S.C. blues festivals every year. Each February, the ten-day-plus Lowcountry Blues Bash showcases some 50 blues-driven acts in about 25 different venues in Charleston, S.C. The smaller Carolina Down home Blues Festival in Camden, S.C. takes place the first weekend in October. May brings us Blues by the Sea on Kiawah Island, S.C. The annual Greenwood Blues Cruise (yes, it’s four-wheel cruising) delivers our blues fix in July. And now there’s the Pee Dee Blues Bash in April.
Introduced last year, the second annual Pee Dee Blues Bash takes place April 23 – 24 in Florence, S.C. As always, Erwin presents a mixed bag of varying rhythms from local musicians to international touring acts. Headliners include old school bluesman Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues (S.C.); roots-blues band Bradley’s Circus (The Netherlands); genre-jumping harmonica wizard, Harper (Australia); and traditional blues preservationists Asamu Johnson Project (Michigan).
Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues. Even in high school Mac Arnold had a happenin’ band. James Brown often sat in on piano. At 24 he had the opportunity to join the Muddy Waters Band. With the band, he shared the stage with Howlin’ Wolfe, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams, and Big Mama Thornton. Mac played on John Lee Hooker’s live album, Live at the Café Au Go-Go, as well as Otis Spann’s classic recording “The Blues is Where It’s At.”
He later formed the Soul Invaders, a band that backed up the Temptations, B.B. King and other big name groups. Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues includes Danny Keylon on bass and vocals; Austin Brashier on guitar and vocals; Max Hightower on keyboards, harmonica, guitar, and vocals; Mike Whitt on drums, and; of course, Mac Arnold on vocals, bass and Gas Can Guitars.
Bradley’s Circus. Fronting this contemporary group are two rockin’ ladies: Mattanja Joy Bradley on vocals and Lidewij Veenhuis on vocals and harp. Bradley’s husky blues voice is a powerful instrument and Veenhuis’ harp is legendary in the Netherlands. On guitar is Jimmy The Lounge and backing them are the spinning upright bass of Toine Stout and rolling drums of BeeWee Nederkoorn. This is not your father’s blues band.
Harper. Think of this as world blues. Harper combines roots, jam, blues and world music to create a style all his own. From his website, Harper has been described as “a singer with the deep soul of Motown, a harmonica player who can graft Sonny Boy II and Little Walter with John Popper, a songwriter who tells his own compelling stories in an unhurried, J.J. Cale-like manner, and a musical visionary who is unafraid to mix the didgeridoo, an important part of his Australian indigenous culture, with infectious modern percussive rhythms.”
Asamu Johnson Project. Asamu Johnson is a bluesman through and through. His bio says, “He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, he is the wheel,” and that says it all. Johnson’s lyrics come from life. “Devil Wind” is about destruction from a tornado. “Turnips and Greens” is just that: his love of good down home cooking. Give him a listen. You’ll hear some authentic blues.
And there’s more! Other artists at the Pee Dee Blues Bash include Robert Lighthouse, originally from Sweden and now living in the Washington D.C. area. Playing guitar and harp as he handles vocals, too, Lighthouse is the definitive one-man band. Listen to him play the old Mississippi Delta blues; you’ll hear Robert Johnson whispering in his ear.
Local boys Juke Joint Johnny and Drew Baldwin, the wildly popular acoustic harmonica and harp-guitar duo, will blow you away as they blend country blues, swing and jazz.
Also from the southernmost Carolina are Naz & the Falsehoods. If you’ve ever enjoyed the sounds of Elliott & the Untouchables and Delta Swagger, you’ve probably heard Mike “Naz” Nazarenko blowing the harp. His music was also featured in the 1999 indie film My Drug Dealer.
Texan Randy McAllister brings his Lone Star trio to the Pee Dee. This multi-talented Grammy nominee (drummer/harp man/ vocalist/songwriter) says he can be found where modern blues meets Americana, ranch rock and swamp pop. He’ll do fine in S.C.
If you ask what sort of music Tampa Blue plays, the short answer is that it’s based on Alabama blues and spirituals. The long answer is, “Traditional, acoustic, Delta, slide, Piedmont, finger-style, Southern rural, pre-war, country, pre-electric with a touch of spirituals, hollers, rags and American finger-style guitar seasoning.” I love a picker!
Florence is barely a stone’s throw from the beach, so if blues is your bag, the Pee Dee Blues Bash is the place to be. Log onto www.peedeebluesbash.com for more information and links to the artists’ websites. There’s also a downloadable .pdf file of the flyer that you can print out for yourself.
• International Stage at Arts International – Francis Marion University
• Blues Stage at Arts International Festival – Francis Marion University
• The Cottage – Francis Marion University
• Creek Ratz – 2001 W. Cashua Dr., Florence, 29501, 843-661-5100
• Florence County Main Library – 509 S. Dargan St., Florence, 29506, 843-662-8424
• Indigo Joe’s – 3410 W. Radio Dr., Florence, 29501, 843-667-3888
• Red Bone Alley – 1903 W. Palmetto St., Florence, 29501, 843-673-0035
• Victor’s Bistro & Garden – 1247 S. Irby St., Florence, 29505, 843-665-0846
• Bennettsville Visitor Center – 304 W. Main St., Bennettsville, 29512, 843-479-3941
• Bizzell’s Food & Spirits – 137 E. Carolina Ave., Hartsville, 29550, 843-857-9080
Lake City, S.C.
• National Bean Market Museum (outdoor stage) – 111 Henry St., Lake City, 29560, 843-374-8611
Friday, April 23
Bennettsville Visitor Center: 5-8 p.m.: Juke Joint Johnny & Drew Baldwin
Florence County Main Library: 6-8 p.m.: Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues
The Cottage at Francis Marion University: 7-9 p.m.: Bradley’s Circus
Red Bone Alley: 7-10 p.m.: Robert Lighthouse
National Bean Market Museum: 7 – 10 p.m.: Randy McAllister
Bizzell’s: 9 p.m. – midnight: Asamu Johnson Project
Creek Ratz: 9 p.m. – midnight: Harper
Indigo Joe’s: 9 p.m. – midnight: Naz & the Falsehoods
Victor’s: 9 – 11:30 p.m.: Tampa Blue
Saturday, April 24
• Blues Stage at Arts Int’l (FMU): 11 a.m. – noon: Robert Lighthouse; 12:15-1:15 p.m.: Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues; 1:30-2:30 p.m.: Randy McAllister; 2:45-3:45: Asamu Johnson Project Blues; 4 – 5 p.m.: Harper
• Main Stage at Arts Int’l (FMU): 4-5 p.m.: Bradley’s Circus
• Red Bone Alley: p.m.: Bradley’s Circus
• National Bean Market Museum (outdoor) stage: 7 – 10 p.m.: Robert Lighthouse
• Bizzell’s: 9-midnight: Asamu Johnson Project
• Creek Ratz: 9 p.m. – midnight: Harper
• Indigo Joe’s: 9 p.m. – midnight: Randy McAllister
• Victor’s: 9 – 11:30 p.m.: Juke Joint Johnny & Drew Baldwin