Local musician Andy “Smoky” Weiner, a transplant from Brooklyn, N.Y., is responsible for coordinating much of the blues programming at Piccolo Spoleto. Every year, Weiner, 56, scours the country for some of the best –– and most affordable –– blues acts around. His ultimate goal: Adding some rough-and-tumble soul to a festival steeped in high-brow art. The Post and Courier got a chance to speak with Weiner about this summer’s Piccolo Spoleto blues events.
Q: A lot of the musicians that you select are local, which could lead to booking the same acts each year. How do you go about keeping the blues programming at Piccolo Spoleto fresh?
A: I try to get the best act that I can possibly afford, maybe a national or regional act. In this case I got a national act from Danny Kalb, founder of The Blues Project. Now most people right now are not old enough to remember him but a lot of people do remember a band called The Blues Project.
A lot of the time you get a guy you can afford and that’s interesting, who was very big, at the top of the charts years ago. And then you want to check out and see if he’s still viable. Some people kind of use (up) some of their powers –– you might get arthritis, or your voice might go, so you have to make sure that they are still a good performer and not just a novelty for people to see. That’s not what you want.
Q: How do you think folks have received the line-up this year, thus far?
A: The response has been great. We had a blues and jazz picnic. And everybody asked whether it would be cancelled because of the rain. I said that you get in your car and you start driving there and if you can’t make it –– I mean, visibly can’t make it, then it’s probably cancelled. But we wound up with a lot of people. And it was great.
Blues guys were playing with the jazz guys. That picnic was the first time the blues club and the jazz club really got together and everybody had a great time.
Q: Would you say that each of the four venues –– Home Team BBQ, Mad River, The Dock, and The Blues Cruise –– have their own specific flavor in terms of music or style?
A: At Home Team BBQ, they have a strong opinion of what they want there. Every place wants good entertainment, but the people at Home Team BBQ, Tony McKie (Home Team BBQ owner) and even the bartenders actually, have a strong music background. They care about the blues in particular, so all year long you can hear blues there.
Mad River likes to have entertainment. They’re open-minded.
In the case of Bowen’s Island (The Dock), I’m pretty much in charge whenever they have an event. They don’t have regular music at Bowen’s Island, it’s usually an event or benefit. I pretty much steer stuff there.
The Blues Cruise brings in a lot of regional acts. So people have seen them the night before at a bar somewhere. Gary (Erwin, Blues Cruise coordinator) is a good one –– he knows the blues scene as it exists today better than anybody alive, because he puts on all these festivals, and that’s his year long business. Myself, I’m an electrician who’s just interested in music.
Q: I saw that you have Skye Paige and The Original Recipe, and she’s pretty young compared to the music she plays –– the rockabilly, blues stuff. Do you get excited when you see younger folks playing the blues and keeping the tradition alive?
A: Oh, yeah I really do. Skye is fabulous. She has dabbled in a lot of different things, which I kind of have done in my day. I don’t feel like people want to hear me sing pure blues even if I could sing it for three hours. I started my whole music career doing Western swing music. I was in a big western swing band and I was in New York and we played all over. She does a little rockabilly and she’ll do some punk stuff. The first time I heard her she was playing pure blues.
People are always going to say, that’s not blues and what they really mean is that they want to hear Mississippi Delta blues. But there’s other kinds of blues that reflect where the artist is from. Like Chicago blues. Like New York blues. You don’t hear of New York blues, but it does exist.
The young people, they come to this low country blues club jam that’s in the Piccolo guide, it’s free — I thought it was good to have this free thing. I’ve got plans for some people to come and jam, people from other states, it’s gonna be hell of a jam this Saturday, I guarantee it.
A lot of these people like, Charlie Kendall — he’s 18 years old. He just started at the Berklee school of music in Boston. He’s from here, and he played years in the blues jam. Some of these kids have embarked on a career.
So the blues club is a great thing. People were at home, and they never really were in a band and they were off being an electrician or something, and they would nervously get out. I like playing by myself or with my friend, but I had to get my feet wet, playing in front of people and collaborating with other musicians.
Q: Who is your favorite blues artist?
A: I’ll tell you what though, I love Drink Small, I really do. He grew up in Bishopville, South Carolina, and he’s almost 80 years old. I don’t know what it must have been like for him where he grew up. Picking cotton, and then he went into barbering. I’ve known him since 1980. He’s got this voice, a basso profondo you’d call it. You can’t mimic that. You’d have to have these God-installed vocal chords, you know?