Longtime Charleston musician and Lowcountry Blues Bash organizer Gary “Shrimp City Slim” Erwin is a man who keeps music close to his heart. Since the first Blues Bash event on King Street in 1991, Erwin has made an effort to assemble a variety of musicians and bands playing from different types of old-school blues and blues-influenced styles — from the more traditional guitar and harp styles to the more modern, crossover hybrids.

The 16th annual Bonterra Lowcountry Blues Bash kicked off last week with 10 days and nights of live performances by over 45 artists in concert halls, clubs, and intimate settings across the city.

The City Paper recently spoke with Erwin:

CITY PAPER: When we spoke last year about the festival you said, “I can remember a time when there were more people around town and the region playing the blues than we have now … I would personally like to see more blues activity here.” With the changes in the local club scene, do you think there’s more support for blues music now than before?

GARY ERWIN: It’s been a good year for the blues in Charleston. We have various restaurants programming blues in their live music menus. Clubs like A Dough Re Mi in Mt. Pleasant and The Pour House on James Island are devoting part of their monthly calendars to blues and blues-related acts.

CP: One of the most exciting things about these festivals to me is the variety of music from a wide variety of players — young and old, white and black, male and female.

GE: The blues is a world music that was born in the American South. Everyone is invited! We want everyone to come out. Many shows are free.

CP: Who are some of the great stand-out acts of this week’s events?

GE: The gems of this year’s Blues Bash include Eddie Kirkland, a.k.a “The Energy Man,” who’s still running circles around the younger cats; harmonica icon Carey Bell, who first recorded in Chicago in 1963; New Orleans funk dignitaries Porter, Batiste & Stoltz; Drink Small, South Carolina’s blues treasure; Miss Wanda Johnson; Heaven Davis, the “wild child” of the Atlanta blues scene; and others. We officially have 44 acts on the program but with additions, we have now hit 47 artists, many of whom are coming from out of town.

CP: What’s your main goal in organizing such a huge event every year?

GE: The Blues Bash is an annual gift to the blues lovers in our community and those who come from literally all over the world to enjoy this high quality music in our beautiful city. The Blues Bash also is a way to generate a paycheck for these great artists; some of whom are mentors and some of whom are peers. It’s just keepin’ the blues alive, baby!

Check for info online at www.bluesbash.com, call 762-9125 for ticket and show details, or tune in to Erwin’s “Blues on the Bridge” series on Sunday from 9-11 p.m. on The Bridge, 105.5 WCOO.

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