Suncoast Blues Society throws its 18th anniversary party this Saturday at Skipper's Smokehouse

Shawn Holt and the Teardrops headline the festivities

click to enlarge The son of Magic Slim, Shawn Holt, brings the Teardrops to the Skipperdome for the SBS anniversary party on Saturday - Linda Cunningham
Linda Cunningham
The son of Magic Slim, Shawn Holt, brings the Teardrops to the Skipperdome for the SBS anniversary party on Saturday

The South gave birth to the blues, and Florida in particular has a lengthy history that dates back to 1919. Tampa Bay’s own thriving bluescape took off in the ’30s, when stops on the storied Chitlin’ Circuit included The Cotton Club and Blue Room in Tampa and the Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg. Artists like Tampa Red, Rock Bottom, Piccolo Pete, and even the late great Ray Charles made names for themselves here; the latter allegedly laid down his first recordings while living and gigging in Tampa Bay.

It should come as no surprise, then, that our region is home to a well-regarded nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping the blues alive and relevant: Suncoast Blues Society, carrying the banner for the West Central Florida blues scene for 18 years.

“This is an all-volunteer organization,” said Warren McDougle in a recent interview with CL. Along with the rest of the seven SBS board members, he not only shares a love of the blues, but a devotion to live music as a whole, “and the desire to spread it… and to keep musicians working and able to play here locally.”

In 2004, SBS earned the national Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) award for Blues Organization of the Year. “We’re still very proud of that fact,” McDougle said. “It’s a very select group of people who win it.”

Annual SBS memberships are a mere $20 (the organization is currently 800-plus strong), and the fee includes a six-issue subscription to the 12 Bar Rag — the official SBS newsletter that touches on everything bluesy happening in and around town — and regular email updates in between, as well as discounted admission to SBS shows and exclusive events. SBS offsets its overhead via merch sales and advertising in the Rag. Proceeds from the annual holiday party in early December and this Saturday’s 18th Anniversary Party go toward paying talent and other associated costs, while funds raised from raffling off guitars signed by the artists SBS brings to town go to music education scholarships. “This is not a wealthy organization,” McDougle explained. “We’re trying to provide the best possible entertainment in the area for the amount of money that we’re able to raise.”

SBS outreach programs like Blues in the Community and Blues in the Library (which brought Sarasota-based folk and acoustic bluesman Bodie Valdez to Safety Harbor Public Library recently) furthers the SBS goal to champion Florida blues. “What we are doing is introducing blues to all different generations, by presenting performances at these different locations,” McDougle said. “Local musicians play and talk about the blues, the history of the blues, what it means to them, and what it means to our community, to offer a better understanding of our blues background and roots.”

SBS also helps brings national talent to local stages, working in conjunction with the Tampa Bay, Suncoast and Clearwater blues festivals, among others, to bring in big names like Robben Ford, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Amos Lee. The organization has a vast network of contacts, and knows not only which blues artists are on tour at any given point, but which ones are catching fire, both on a local and national level.

In addition to maintaining close ties to venues like Skipper’s Smokehouse, Ale and the Witch and Ace’s Lounge in Bradenton and facilitating bookings at these venues, SBS also hooks up local artists with its country-wide network of promoters, blues organizations and venues. “We work with different promoters to get artists into our area, and we also work with promoters outside Tampa Bay to let them know our entertainers are going to be in their area as well.”

One of the most important SBS events locally is its Suncoast Blues Challenge. The winner represents SBS at the International Blues Championships in Memphis, Tenn., that are held in January each year. Soulful blues guitar great and University of Tampa grad Selwyn Birchwood went up against 125 other performers at the 2013 championships and took home the win. The following year, he was signed to Alligator Records, released his 2014 debut full-length Don’t Call No Ambulance, and earned the prestigious Best New Artist Debut honor at this year’s Blues Music Awards. “That’s a great accomplishment,” McDougle said. “In the blues world, that’s equivalent to a Grammy.”

The Suncoast Blues Society’s 18th Annual Anniversary Party brings the 2014 Best New Artist Debut winner to the Skipperdome stage this Saturday: Shawn Holt and the Teardrops. The booming-voiced guitar-slinging son of blues legend Morris Holt, aka Magic Slim, Shawn picked up where his dad left off, and has fronted the second-gen Teardrops since Slim’s passing in 2013.

“This gives us the opportunity to introduce him to our audience, because most haven’t ever seen Shawn Holt,” said McDougle. “They’ve seen his father, but they have not seen him.”

Suncoast Blues Society 18th Anniversary Party with Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
Sat., June 6, 8 p.m., Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, $12 in advance/$15 dos (discounted admission for SBS members),

More noteworthy SBS events on the horizon
Delta Moon CD Release Party, June 7, The Market on 7th, Ybor City; Bucket List Blues Show, June 14, Buckets, Tampa; Suncoast Blues Challenge Solo/Duo Round, July 26, Hideaway Café & Recording Studio, St. Petersburg; Suncoast Blues Challenge Band Round, August 23, Ace’s Lounge, Bradenton; SBS Beach Bash and Pro Am Jam, Aug. 30, Lion’s Club Beach House, Treasure Island.

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