A lowcountry poster of street blues singers
I could almost hear the man singing his heart out as he stood strumming his guitar next to his singing partner who was cupping a mike close to his mouth. It was so close that I first thought he was playing a harmonica.
The two men were on a framed poster hanging on a wall at the auction house. The artist seemed to have made them larger than life, their bodies as full and natural as the song they were singing. They were standing in front of a barber shop whose glass window bore a poster for a boxing match and a partially hidden red sign for Coca-Cola. The items set the scene in a long-ago past, and the men seemed to represent an era when street performers set up impromptu concerts to share their music.
The poster also had a small-town feel to it – of honky tonks and Friday night juke joints. Maybe that’s what the artist was trying to convey. Maybe musicians and singers in his town still block the street with their instruments, their music helping them and their listeners to wipe away a hard week of work and toil.
“Lowcountry Blues Bash. January 5-14, 1999. Charleston” was printed across the bottom of the poster. Now it had a place that fit the image. I wasn’t familiar with the lowcountry – an area along the coast of South Carolina – but I knew the city of Charleston, its hub.
The title of the image in the poster was “Sidewalk Boogie,” from a 1997 original painting by John Carroll Doyle, who had signed it.
The poster obviously had been made for a blues bash in Charleston more than 13 years ago. It was one of the earliest ones, because in Googling, I found that the festival got its start 22 years ago. The most recent of this annual event just ended around the same time in February. “14 days, 25 venues, 59 acts, 100 shows … blues day and night,” noted the Blues Bash website. Blues was not the only music served up; there were also gospel, soul music, jazz and more.
I checked out this year’s lineup but did not recognize any of the names. Many appeared to be well-known around the blues circles: Daddy Mack Blues Band from Memphis. Paul Geremia from Rhode Island. Wanda Johnson out of South Carolina. Drink Small (I love that name) of South Carolina (“our state’s blues legend, in biz since the 1950s and about to turn 79,” according to the program). The performers came from all over: Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Canada, Sweden, St. Louis, New York and Detroit. It seemed to be a festival to honky tonk the heart, and trouble and ease the soul at the same time. Wish I could’ve been there.
The poster’s designer, John Carroll Doyle, was described as the bash’s artist-in-residence. He had allowed the organizers to use his paintings as posters for the bash in 1999 and several other years.
Doyle is a Charleston artist whose works are very eclectic – from blues musicians to sport fishing to flowers. He started out by painting for sport-fishing magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. He was described as an impressionist painter whose subjects encompassed Charleston, the lowcountry, its people and its habitat and culture.
At auction, I was hoping to pay 5 bucks for the poster because I wanted to donate it to a silent auction. I was sure that someone at the silent auction would be as struck by it as I was – just as someone wanted it as much as me at the current auction. Another bidder went tit-for-tat with me but finally gave up. So I brought home the street blues singers.