The rain and Fourth-of-July-worthy display of lightning that had earlier threatened to displace Beverly Watkins' performance on Friday night gave way just in time. It seemed like all those nasty clouds drew back just so that we could enjoy hearing the scented air around the College of Charleston's Cistern fill up with bluesy goodness.
The show kicked off with a short intro from Tim Duffy, who explained how his organization, Music Maker Relief Foundation, is actively helping the living blues legacy by assisting its sometimes forgotten pioneers. Music Maker offers career revival to those who now stand in need of a helping hand. But more than a simple act of charity, for over 15 years now, Music Maker has reacquainted audiences with the unheralded sidemen, vocalists, and songsmiths who helped shape America's blues heritage.
In short order, we were treated to one such Music Maker alum: 83-year-old Eddie Tigner who wowed and charmed the crowd with his skill on the ivories, tracing a bopping trip down "Route 66" on his keyboard.
Joining in with his honey-toned guitar, Albert White traded saucy licks with another blues great, trombonist Joe "Little Joe" Burton from Chicago who's backed B.B, King and many other marquee blues acts. The groove was so good, my only unfulfilled wish was that the sound guy would search his soul, defy those noise ordinances, and crank that thing up.
Beverly Watkins took the stage. White introduced her as a "70-year-old woman, a cancer survivor" and later prefaced his call for the audience to give it up for this "heart attack survivor." It was an odd, off-the-rails way of pitching this guitar hero who made her bones with her six-string pyrotechnics. Watkins needs no misplaced sympathy to get a crowd worked up.
Audio glitches seem to have plagued more than one of this year's Spoleto offerings. Watkins' Telecaster pickups sounded like they were hiccupping, choking on the low-E and A strings. But no matter. She ripped into those skinny treble strings, tossed the axe behind her head, and played as though nothing could stop her. Nothing did. And she gave Chuck Berry and James Brown a run for their money with some impressive dancing footwork. She had the crowd dancing in the aisles, too.
It was a glorious show and all too brief. We could have sat there for another 40 minutes drinking in the groove and those refreshing shifts in the breeze that carried the mingled scents of moss and Chanel perfume. But even if it was for a mere handful of songs, Watkins filled out a splendid evening of authentic blues. —Jon Santiago