From The Daniel Island News
Islanders launch Charleston Blue Revue
By Prisha Verrier
Apr 10, 2013 - 9:49:42 AM
Flowertown Festival. The Cooper River Bridge Run. Lowcountry Cajun Festival. These are all great Charleston events, but what do they have in common?
They all happen just once a year.
Enter the Charleston Blues Revue, a new musical theater show which its founders, Daniel Island residents Charles Wyke-Smith and Chris Watson, are hopeful will fulfill Charleston’s lack of a continually running entertainment experience.
“It seemed like a business opportunity,” Smith says, “and the city needs this kind of thing.”
With a background in web development and independent design projects, Smith and his family moved to Daniel Island in 2007 when he was recruited by Benefit Focus. He has also worked in live event production and in 2008 organized a benefit show at the Music Farm venue downtown, which raised $6,000 for the family of a local soldier who was killed in Iraq. But it wasn’t until during a business conference in Italy that Smith began to think about the dinner entertainment experience.
He and his co-workers were taken to a small theater in a town along the Amalfi coast. They were served a nice meal and enjoyed Italian wine while a group of performers put on a show about the history of Italian music.
“They did pantomime, they did opera, they even did Dean Martin, you know, ‘When the moon hits your eye’ and so on,” Smith recalls, “just a whole bunch of stuff and it was this great look at Italian music.”
Upon returning to Charleston, Smith began noticing how the locals and tourists alike wandered the streets of downtown Charleston in search of something, some kind of activity, to do.
“They’ve been to a restaurant. They’ve spent the day looking at historic buildings, they’ve been out to Fort Sumter…Now they’re walking up and down East Bay Street, determining which bar might be okay to have a drink in,” he says. “There’s nothing that’s continuously running here that’s reliable entertainment.”
Smith began working with Chris Watson, whose background includes technology, government contracting and business automation for FEMA, when Watson needed an iPhone app created for one of his business ventures.
“I enjoy building businesses, and I appreciate the heck out of music,” Watson says. One conversation lead to another and soon, the two men were swapping ideas for the development of a Charleston-based, dinner and musical entertainment experience.
Smith had previously established the Lowcountry Blues Club, which hosts a revolving door of weekly shows around town, so the southern influence on modern music only seemed like a natural fit as the basis for the Charleston Blues Revue.
And the timing seems right, as well. With internationally acclaimed events taking place in Charleston, such as the Women’s Tennis Association and the Spoleto Festival, and the recent spotlight of Condé Nast Traveler naming Charleston the Number One City in the World in 2012, the quaint town has been receiving a lot of attention lately. And while it may not be the largest city along the east coast, it has enough viable energy and plenty of potential to sustain a regular show like the Charleston Blues Revue.
“New York is an extreme example,” Smith says as he explains the motivation behind the show. “But that’s how people plan their trips for these cities. ‘I’m going to see these shows on these nights.’ They have a specific thing you can go visit. Charleston is great during the day. But at night you either go to a restaurant, or you go to a bar, and that’s about it.”
With the Charleston Blues Revue, Smith and Watson want to entice people to extend their visits to the Holy City.
“If ninety percent of tourists stay just one extra day,” Smith points out, “those things have massive multiplier effects.”
Currently, the Charleston Blues Revue has its first two premiere shows scheduled for April 17 and 24 at Mad River Bar & Grille, directly on the market downtown. Described as a blend of “authentic sound, visual expression and historical sweep,” the show is already a sizeable operation featuring ten dancers and a dozen singers and musicians, all of whom were selected from right here in Charleston.
“We’re trying to do a show that locals will also want to go to,” Watson says. “This is not just a blues show.”
Over the course of two hours, audience members will be taken on a journey from the depths of Delta blues, progressing out of the rural south and into Memphis and Chicago jazz, the birth of 1950s rock and roll, the tumult and explosion of the 1960s, and eventually into the genres of more recent popular music. In addition to dining on classic Lowcountry fare while enjoying the great tunes, audience members can also look forward to taking part in the show, which is going to encourage crowd participation and have a strong interactive element.
“We’re packaged entertainment,” says Watson. “And what really convinced me to do this was walking downtown and seeing all those people just looking for something to do.”
Smith and Watson anticipate rolling out the Charleston Blues Revue’s regular run of three nights a week in the very near future, once the success of the premiere shows comes to fruition and they are able to gauge any final adjustments that may be needed. It is sure to appeal to all blues fans, but with the vast scope of styles that the show endeavors to pay homage to, the Charleston Blues Revue is likely to appeal to even the most casual of music listeners and Charleston buffs.
“I’m not trying to change the world, per se. I’m trying to put on a good show,” Smith says. “If people have something to take away from it, that’s great! Come for the music, leave with the story.”
Tickets for the shows include dinner and can be purchased through the Charleston Blues Revue website at www.CharlestonBlues.com.
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