Just in time to celebrate the twenty fifth year of the Carolina Downhome Blues Festival, the event is back in full swing after a few years. Kershaw, most famously known for its horse races, is also home to a city-wide blues festival that draws attendees from miles around, and even from clear across the country.
This year’s festival, in honor of its impressive quarter century run, will be a full-blown takeover of the city of Camden from October 6-9. “The atmosphere is electric, and the streets are alive with people having a good time,” says Stephen Manion, the marketing director for the Arts Center of Kershaw County, which oversees the blues festival.
The Arts Center’s Bassett Gallery will showcase an exhibition that features a variety of paintings, sculptures, and photography inspired by blues music and artists. A poster exhibit of all 25 years of festival posters will also be on display in the gallery beginning October 6. A reception will take place that evening from 5:30-7 p.m.
The weekend will kick off early, beginning on Thursday, October 6, and will fill the air with the sweet, somber notes of the blues through Sunday. Beyond the gallery exhibition, the town green in Camden will be the site of a free blues performance for the entire family on Thursday evening. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and enjoy dinner and snacks from the food trucks while soaking in the soulful sounds of Eugene Hideaway Bridges and Jared Petteys and the Headliners.
Friday brings a special ticketed performance at the Black Box Theatre with musician Eliza Neals. Tickets include light refreshments and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Baron’s Bar will be hosting late night performances both Friday and Saturday nights. These adults-only ticketed events benefit the Arts Center of Kershaw County.
The main stage event for the weekend is a ticketed outdoor event at the Arts Center featuring Eugene Hideaway Bridges, Hitman, Bennett Matteo Band and 61 Ghosts. There will be food trucks and adult beverages available.
The entire slate of performances — both ticketed and free ones — can be seen online at www.carolinadownhomeblues.com/schedule. There are multiple performances each evening, especially Friday and Saturday nights, at bars and restaurants throughout Camden. Tickets to individual events can be purchased online as well.
Kershaw may seem an unlikely place for a world-renowned blues festival, but the event began in 1996 as a small fundraiser for the Arts Center. Over the years it has grown to become internationally known. “It’s such a social event for Camden, and that’s what we really love about it,” says Manion. The gallery’s exhibition will give those who are curious about the festival’s history a look into how it came to be what it is today.
Education is a big part of the festival’s mission as well. “Blues is a genre that’s getting smaller in terms of its fanbase,” says Manion. To introduce this genre of music to a younger crowd, the Arts Center does a lot of outreach in the schools, including bringing some of the blues performers to the Lugoff Elgin High School Theatre for a show for the students. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the festival,” Manion offers.
Plan your whole down home weekend in Camden by checking out the full event calendar online at www.carolinadownhomeblues.com and make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time as many of these smaller venues may sell out ahead of time.