Concert promoter and producer Steve Simon, the CEO of Steve Simon Presents, wants very much to get rolling with a series of blues-themed events in the Lowcountry. "I thought that doing an evening concert in a very nice venue would let people see the type of show we put on and get a sense that when they hear Steve Simon Presents, they'll know they're in for a wonderful evening of entertainment," he says.
One of the stand-out events within this year's Lowcountry Blues Bash is a four-band concert organized by Simon. Billed as the Charleston Blues Festival, the gig is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sat. Feb. 13 at the Charleston Music Hall.
The Charleston Blues Festival features vocalist Shemekia Copeland, singer/guitarist Zac Harmon, the harmonica player Billy Gibson, and local soul-rock trio Dan Wright & The New Beat (see story).
"My passion my entire life has been music, but my career went in an entirely different direction," Simon says. "About 11 years ago, when I sold my company, I dove head-first into concert promotion. I started in the Caribbean, and then branched out all over the world."
As a youngster in New York, Simon cut his teeth on jazz and swing music. "My folks were big music lovers and they encouraged me to pursue a musical instrument and have a love for music. That's the foundation from which I grew. I was in my 20s when I discovered the blues, and I just fell in love. I've been there ever since."
A successful entrepreneur in finance, banking, and auto trading, Simon spent over 20 years in St. John, Virgin Islands, before relocating to Charleston last summer. Simon produced his first blues festival in St. Thomas last month. His eighth annual blues festival in St. John is set to take place in March.
Simon researched the local music scene, looking for the cool venues and happening events around town. He was drawn to Gary Erwin's annual Blues Bash series right away.
"Having been a promoter and producer for many years, I know how difficult it is," says Simon. "For 20 straight years, Gary's been able to put on a 10-day pub crawl that's nothing short of spectacular. And he's not a professional producer or promoter; he's a musician. I reached out to him and asked if I could add something to what he was doing. He was as cordial as he could possibly be — and a real, certified bluesaholic. He embraced what I wanted to do, and I felt really good about that.
"The Music Hall is a wonderful venue," he adds, "but my vision and my dream is that the Charleston Blues Festival will morph into a real, two-day, outdoor blues festival somewhere in downtown Charleston ... a real festival where families could come, bring blankets and chairs, and enjoy celebrity and local blues acts."
Charleston's audience is certainly hip and interested enough in blues/roots music to handle additional events like the one Simon envisions. Hopefully, the Charleston Blues Festival will establish itself as a vital entity alongside the Blues Bash, Piccolo Spoleto, and other well-produced annual musical events. If anyone can pull it off, Simon surely can.