Carolina Downhome Blues Festival October 4-6, 2012

Carolina Downhome Blues Festival

Camden, SC

Now in its 16th year, the Carolina Downhome Blues Festival transforms Camden’s downtown area into a mecca for blues fans of all kinds. Notable for the wide range of artists featured and the pub-crawl layout of the performances, a night at this festival gives one a chance to sample an extensive menu of blues styles at various venues all within easy walking distance of each other.

Every year, the Downhome Blues Festival snags a couple of significant names in the blues world, and this year’s notable names include Peter Karp and Sue Foley, The Chris O’Leary Band and Beverly “Guitar” Watkins.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins

Sue Foley and Peter Karp couldn’t be more different, but they share certain things that make their partnership work. Foley was a blues guitar powerhouse in the ’90s, working out of Austin and recording for the Antone’s and Shanachie labels. Her career was momentarily sidetracked when she became a parent and moved back to her native Canada. Karp labored in various music and video production projects and bands for years in the New York City area and beyond, but his solo career was put on hold in the mid ’00s when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Foley and Karp had met and even tried recording together at one point but it was only after a long series of email exchanges that the pair decided to work as a duo, recording and releasing He Said-She Said in 2010. They followed it up with this year’s Beyond the Crossroads, a powerful, full-bore blues album that combines all the electric energy of Foley’s guitar-slinging greatness with a mature blend of songwriting from both participants.

The Chris O’Leary Band might not be a household name, but O’Leary’s previous employer Levon Helm certainly is; as the singer for Helms’ Barnburners for six years, he definitely learned a few things. Chief among them is an appreciation for a cross-section of American music; O’Leary’s own band’s repertoire encompasses boogie, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and more — not too different from Helms’ original group, The Band, at times.

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins might look like somebody’s grandmother, but how many
septuagenarians do you know who can play guitar one-handed behind their backs? Her solo debut didn’t happen until 1999, but the Georgia legend is a welcome addition to this year’s lineup, and she’ll have Charleston’s Shrimp City Slim helping her out on stage at two of her three weekend performances.

The sleeper event of the weekend might just be the intriguingly billed Detroit Blues Party. Named after a Glazer tune that lives up to its title, the three featured artists — guitarists and vocalists Howard Glazer and Emanuel Young, along with aptly named harp slinger Harmonica Shah — have played and recorded with each other in various combinations, all of which incorporate elements of the funkier side of electric Motor City blues. Watching the trio trading licks on the same stage will certainly be a treat.

Other notable visiting acts include the Texas blues of Randy McCallister; Travis Moonchild Haddix, from Ohio; Robert Lighthouse, from Sweden; and Floyd Callen, another Texas act.

The strength of the Downhome Blues Festival is always its strong lineup of local and regional talent, and this year that contingent includes the Tad Walters Duo and the Bill Miller Blues Band, both from North Carolina; the Jeff Beasley Duo, from Georgia; and Marshall Ballew, out of Tennessee. The Palmetto State, too, is well represented, with one-man blues band Luckyman Beall; Rev. Marv Ward Duo; Camden native Rusty Davis’ eponymous band; Columbia’s Jeff Liberty; Wanda Johnson; and another Camden-based band, The Mobros.

The Carolina Downhome Blues Festival Runs Thursday through Saturday at various venues in downtown Camden. Tickets are $10 on Thursday, $15 on Friday and Saturday; weekend passes are available for $35. Children 16 and under are admitted free with paid adults. For a complete schedule, visit
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