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Blues, BBQ and beer -- what more does one need?
Annual Roundhouse festival boasts another terrific lineup
Charlie Musselwhite

IF, AS THE LEGENDARY BLUES SINGER AND GUITARIST Muddy Waters once intoned, "the blues had a baby, and named that baby rock 'n' roll," then a strong argument could be made that the blues had a cousin, and it's name was BBQ (not B.B. King).

Ever since the 1920s, when black acoustic artists sang and played their hearts out for a pittance at rural public events like pig roasts, fish frys and Low Country Boils, there’s been a strong connection between cookouts in the Deep South and the soulful, stirring sounds of R&B.

Evidence of that potent combination’s enduring legacy can be found at our own Blues & BBQ Fest. Going strong since 1995, this annual, family-oriented outdoor event —held on the grounds of downtown’s Historic Roundhouse Railroad Museum— has become one of the most eagerly anticipated musical celebrations in our diverse community, drawing thousands of locals each year (as well as hundreds of tourists) all of whom relish an opportunity to catch both big name and up-and-coming artists in a laid-back, down-home atmosphere.

Truth be told, that atmosphere’s almost as much of a draw as the food or the music.

The Roundhouse’s rustic environment serves as a silent —but potent— reminder of the immense importance train travel (and its accompanying imagery) played in the development of the blues. Replete with actual, restored railroad cars, weathered structures and a cavernous covered area —which shields both the stage and a few thousand people from the elements— this grand-yet-funky venue has seen more than its fair share of notable live acts over the past 13 years.

Even a truncated list of previous Blues & BBQ Fest headliners reads like a who’s who of both blues and zydeco music: internationally-known artists Little Milton, Chubby Carrier, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Tracy Nelson, Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Tinsley Ellis, Rosie Ledet, Elvin Bishop, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Marcia Ball, John Hammond, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, Magic Slim and Johnny Winter have all graced its stage.

Coupled with the standout local and regional acts (such as Bluesonics, the JoJa Band, Greg Williams, Amburgey & Hanson, Shrimp City Slim and others) who’ve opened the concerts over the life of the festival, this showcase has provided the Coastal Empire with its most reliable stream of top-quality blues-based music.

This year’s lineup offers another winning match-up of rising talent and time-tested stars.

Friday kicks off with a set by local favorites Bottles & Cans. Led by frontman Ray Lundy, this boisterous and hard-swinging electric quartet (long overdue for a slot at this event) draws on traditional Chicago “house-rockin’” blues and late-’60s garage rock. They’ll be followed by the Shane Pruitt Band, a Spartanburg, S.C. power trio led by a 31-year-old guitar whiz, and anchored by the B3 organ chops of an original member of the Steve Miller Band. Closing out the night will be Nathan Williams & the Zydeco Cha-Chas, a La.-based septet known worldwide as key exponents of accordion and washboard-based Creole dance music.


Here's a clip of Nathan Williams & The Zydeco Cha-Chas from a recent New Orleans concert:


Saturday’s bill begins with the Patrick Vinning Band (which just won Atlanta’s 2008 Blues Challenge). They’ll be followed by the frequently amazing guitarist —and Savannah native— Eric Culberson, whose band was also featured at the 2008 Savannah Music Fest. Topping the card will be famed singer and harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite — who, over the course of his long and storied career, has racked up 18 W.C. Handy Blues Awards, six Grammy nods and served as the real-life inspiration for Dan Akroyd’s Elwood Blues character.


Here's a decade-old clip of Charlie Musselwhite discussing Muddy Waters' praise for his playing, plus a rare solo performance on acoustic guitar and mouth harp:


As if that weren’t enough, there will be plenty of home-cooked BBQ and sides available, plus water, soft drinks, beer and wine — with proceeds benefitting the Coastal Heritage Society. cs

2009 Roundhouse Blues & BBQ Fest

When: Fri. & Sat., 6pm - 11 pm (rain or shine)Where: Historic Roundhouse Railroad Museum (MLK, Jr. Blvd & Liberty St.)Cost: $12 (one night) / $20 (two-night pass), Active Duty Military free (w/ID), Kids six and under free w/parent or guardianInfo: