In the 1990s, Charleston enjoyed a thriving blues and roots scene, populated by bands with an uncomplicated approach to the traditions of the 1950s and '60s. Local blues/rock singer and harmonica player Andy "Smoky" Weiner stepped into the Charleston blues scene during this period, forming his now-notorious band The Hot Links.
Affable and witty, Weiner became known as a wild-eyed character on stage and off, and the band quickly established itself as a versatile and entertaining blues-rock staple in Charleston.
A native of Brooklyn who relocated to Folly Beach in 1987, Weiner, found himself with some new off-stage duties as he organized the first annual Homegrown Blues Series in 1999 in conjunction with Piccolo Spoleto. During that first year, he organized blues gigs with an array of local blues acts at six local clubs. He has remained as a dedicated blues event organizer over the years.
"I kind of got drawn into this little by little by being political — and by complaining about things — and then by doing benefits for Camp Good Times and other [causes]," Weiner says. "It kind of manifested into producing the blues shows. We did real good this year. Each show was kind of like a highlight, you know what I mean? People from the last one came, and people found out about Bowens Island. We've been figuring out how to do it for 10 years, so things are getting to where it's smoother, and we're trying figure out what to do in the future."
According to Weiner, prior to the launch of the Homegrown Series in 1999, it was difficult for local, strictly blues players to get a spot on the Piccolo schedule. When the Homegrown Blues Series took shape and kicked off in '99, Weiner focused his efforts on the event at Bowens. The Blues on the Dock gigs have since developed a healthy reputation.
This year, a slew of talent played in the rustic dockhouse over the tidal creek at Bowens Island. The series also featured three gigs at A Dough Re Mi Pizzeria and 10 early-evening sets at Mad River Bar & Grill.
"Gary Erwin helped [this series] earn a good reputation by bringing in a lot of out-of-town people to spice it up and disperse them with the local acts," Weiner says. "It's really good. Me and him together, doing the tandem thing — it really does work out."
Attendance was reportedly quite strong at most of the blues-related Piccolo shows this year — at the Early Bird Blues at Mad River, the Blues on the Dock at Bowens, and the Triple Dose Blues at A Dough Re Mi.
"I think this year's was the best one ever," Weiner confirms. "Last year, I tried to do too much ... too many shows, too many bands, too much equipment, and too many expenses. This year was the first year I tried to scale back a little bit. Bowens is such a great venue. It's more like a party when you're at Bowens. At Mad River or A Dough Re Mi, it's like a club gig. There not exactly the same thing.
"I was hoping my sound equipment would hold up, because I didn't have a fancy sound company," he adds. "I just rented some sub-woofers and some mics from Andrew Higdon, God bless his soul [laughs]. People helped me out a lot, and we made do. Everything just worked out great."
Each year, the Blues on the Dock series and other blues events impact the local music scene. Fortunately, things are pointing in a positive direction more than ever. If Smoky and his dedicated cohorts lead by example and maintain their high level of enthusiasm, they might just expand the dynamics of the blues scene far beyond its heyday in the '90s.
Smoky Weiner hosts a weekly jam at Bowens Island (1870 Bowens Island Road) every Wed. at 8 p.m. He provides a P.A., drum kit, bass, and amps. "Jammers must bring their own instruments, drum sticks, or whatever else you they want to bring," says Weiner. Admission is $3 for "jammers," and $5 for the general public.