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Camden ready to get its annual blues check-up

Posted: September 28, 2017 10:22 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2017 1:00 a.m.
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BLUESMAN AND AUTHOR, the Rev. Marv Ward wil play a Saturday afternoon show/book signing at Books on Broad.

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They have played on the big stage which required the main stretch of Broad Street in Camden to be shut down for most of the night. They have played on a little cubbyhole with a patch of grass tucked in between buildings downtown.

They have played their tunes in the mid-afternoon heat before a handful of fans at the Town Green and they have always brought things to a close while rocking the orange shag carpet which leads to the stage at The Venue on Broad.

It’s hard to believe that the Carolina Downhome Blues Festival is now entering its third decade of bringing some of the biggest names in the industry to downtown Camden. The event, like many in the music industry, has broken from the chains which its name may imply.

The popular festival has brought all versions of the blues but it has also strayed from the named music form to have included other music genres.

Do you remember Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band making the upstairs floor at 1011 Broad Street shake during its show? That same ballroom was turned into a juke joint by the late blues and harmonica-playing legend James Cotton.

There was the one night when a South Carolina vs. Georgia football game held down the crowds but hardly dimmed the spirit of the Chris O’Leary Band, many of whose members played at the late Levon Helms’ famed Midnight Ramble sessions in Woodstock, N.Y. The Upstate New York band played well beyond their scheduled time, played songs they probably had not played before or since that memorable evening and became an extension of the appreciative and wild crowd in what turned into a house party with a garage band supplying the entertainment.

Local music fans continue to crowd the doorway and beyond when Camden’s Rusty Davis and friend Floyd Callen break out their electric guitars and bring on the electric blues at Davis and Sons Music Shop, “down on the corner” of Broad and Rutledge Streets. On more than one occasion, the crowd spilled out onto Rutledge Street, making for an impromptu block party.

There have also been the mellow performances like those of folk legend Geoff Muldaur, who came to Camden along with Jim Kweskin of the celebrated Jim Kweskin Jug Band of the 1960s which, according to Bob Weir, gave rise to the Grateful Dead.

Simply put, the Carolina Downhome Blues Festival has, musically, been a melting pot for artists. The same can be said for the crowds it brings to downtown Camden each fall. Men and women who are usually home and getting ready for bed in the latter hours of the evening cvan be seen making their way into and out of clubs and restaurants to catch shows from performers who have made a name for themselves by playing venues from road houses in towns which cannot be found on a map to the far reaches of the globe --- such as 2017 CDBF performer Robert Lighthouse having performed shows in Siberia.

Past performers have included Hilton Valentine, the lead guitarist for the legendary British rock group, The Animals, English blues legend, Savoy Brown, Hall of Fame bluesmen too numerous to mention and a guitar player who plied his trade as a member of punk icon Iggy Pop’s band.

You never know who did what or who has played where when it comes to the CDBF.

Just take a look at some of the 21 bands/performers headed to town for this year’s annual autumn bash.

Let’s start with Geoff Achison, who has made several trips to Camden including a memorable acoustic performance with Randall Bramlett in a show held inside the Fine Arts Center’s Wood Auditorium.

Achison, a native of  Australia, has performed around the world and was included in an exclusive list of “Top 100+Guitarists You Should Know” as selected by Guitar Player Magazine.

From north of the border, Quebec blues-rock trio, the Paul DesLauriers Band, has walked away with nine Maple Blues statues whose self-titled 2014 album reached the top spot on the iTunes Canada Blues Chart in less than a month.

Critics have defined the PDB sound as a combination of Jimi Hendrix/Robin Trower/George Thoroghgood/ZZ Top with a dash of Greg Allman thrown in for good measure.

Little more needs to be said in regard to Bishopville native Drink Small, aka, the Doctor of the Blues. The 84-year-old world traveler is showing little signs of slowing down and his adoring legion of fans have make it a point to catch his shows in which music mixes with stories from his colorful life and career in the blues business. 

The good doctor will make another house call for a solo show at this year’s festival.

There will be no shortage of musical talent in Camden this weekend. The only limitations are the time involved in trying to catch as many acts and pop in on as many shows and venues as possible.

Hopping from one place to another to take in as many different acts and hear as many diverse musical forms as possible has almost turned into an art form --- a human Frogger, for those who remember the old video game --- during this time of year.

So, grab your dancing shoes, sneakers or flip flops, come out for the shows and hang on. You’re sure to enjoy the ride.

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