This past Friday evening, while folks waited in line to see the great B.B. King tell it like it is at our very own Johnny Mercer Theater, they also had an opportunity to learn more about the city’s newest non-profit cultural organization.
The Savannah Blues Society, led by President Brian Prewitt (who many may know as the bassist in the long-running electric R&B combo Bluesonics) kicked off their first membership drive at that concert, figuring that a captive, blues-loving audience in the lobby of the Civic Center was the best place to introduce area residents to their group.
It appears that was a wise maneuver.
With the continuing growth and success of the Savannah Music Festival, the time seems ripe for another community-based outfit dedicated to preserving and promoting indigenous American music, and Prewitt hopes to spearhead a group with potential, appeal, and most of all, staying power.
I caught up with him by phone to find out what he and the rest of the founding members hope to accomplish, as well as how everything turned out at the show.
Connect: Now, a lot of the folks involved in the SBS are not musicians themselves?
Brian Prewitt: Correct. By no means do you have to be a musician to join this society. We were formed to educate the community about the history of blues music, and why it’s so important.
Connect: How is the SBS similar to the Coastal Jazz Association?
Brian Prewitt: Well, obviously we’re promoting a musical genre. The roots of both types of music are similar, but they’re distinct. The blues community in Savannah doesn’t seem to have really crossed over into the jazz community as one would think it might. The Coastal Jazz Association does support blues with a blues night every year during their festival, and that’s wonderful. But there’s room for collaboration between our groups. We’re supposed to see if we can find a way to hold hands on that event and maybe make it even better than it already is.
Connect: Was it odd to you that Savannah didn’t already have a blues society?
Brian Prewitt: That was kind of odd. But at the same time, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a blues society till about five years ago! That was a real surprise to me. I was traveling down the road with (local guitarist) Eric Culberson, and he said, “You know, what Savannah really needs is a blues society.” I said, “What’s that?” And after we talked about it, I decided I wanted to put it all together.
Connect: Tell me about your educational goals for the society.
Brian Prewitt: There’s a program called Blues In The Schools. That was developed by the National Blues Society, and our plans are to develop a program that we can take into the elementary, middle and maybe even the high schools that teaches its history.
Connect: Are you a branch of national?
Brian Prewitt: We’re completely independent, but we will be full-fledged members of the national society. That will give us rights and privileges. For example, every year they hold the W.C. Handy Awards, and as members we’ll be able to sponsor bands to go that event. They also set up guidelines for how to run local societies like ours, and they’ve given us an awful lot of help so far. There’s no reason for us to reinvent the wheel when they’ve already done such a good job of it themselves... As far as I know, us and the Atlanta Blues Society are the only two groups in Georgia.
Connect: You’re actively looking for corporate sponsors?
Brian Prewitt: We are hoping to bring in some very well-known artists at least four times per year, and we’re actively looking to partner with local businesses who believe in the importance of what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m also very proud to say that we have signed up our very first corporate sponsor, and it’s the Mercury Lounge. They’ve been a big supporter of blues music in Savannah for years, and so I’m sure this makes perfect sense for them to come on board. The owner is very sincere about recognizing the need for their to be a lot more effort made to educate young people about the rich and wonderful history of this American art form.
Connect: What does membership cost?
Brian Prewitt: Annual membership dues will be $30 for a single person and $50 for a family, with discounts given to students. For that you’ll receive a t-shirt, and reduced admission to all our shows, voting rights within the organization, and plenty of other things as we grow.
Connect: Will you focus on one type of blues music more than another?
Brian Prewitt: We’d love to showcase all types of blues music as well as blues art (like paintings and photographs). That sort of thing will come on down the road.
Connect: I know you were planning to officially launch your membership drive in tandem with the recent B.B. King show at the Civic Center. How did that go?
Brian Prewitt: It was really, really great. i was very happy with the turnout of people for the concert, and we had a lot of people that were definitely interested in what we’re trying to do. We wound up signing a few folks up, too. but, because we’re not set up to accept credit cards yet, they had already planned to spend their cash on drinks or merchandise. So, a lot of those people said they plan to get back in touch with us and join at some point. So, we got great exposure.
Connect: Were a lot of people surprised to learn about the SBS?
Brian Prewitt: Oh yeah. A lot of ‘em said, I didn’t even know we had a blues society, and I was proud to tell ‘em we’re brand-new. (laughs)
Connect: How was the show itself?
Brian Prewitt: You know, it was very good. B.B.’s gettin’ on up in his years, and it’s a different kind of show than it probably used to be. He talks a little bit more than he used to, which makes it a bit more like sitting around and having a conversation with him, which is pretty cool. They sounded great, though.
Connect: How was the crowd? I know that Savannah audiences – especially in the Johnny Mercer Theater for some reason – can often be extremely impolite to the performers onstage.
Brian Prewitt: Some people were rude... There were a few folks who just wanted to yell and make noise. But, for the most part, it was a very appreciative crowd. They were very responsive to him.
Connect: So, did you get to meet B.B.?
Brian Prewitt: Sure did.
Connect: Was he gregarious? He seems like he’d be very nice to deal with.
Brian Prewitt: He was super. Just super. Very personable, and a good human being overall.
Connect: You need to get B.B. to join!
Brian Prewitt: Actually, we had a plaque made up for him, so he could be our very first Honorary Lifetime Member.
Connect: So now he’s an official member of the Savannah Blues Society?
Brian Prewitt: Yeah! We were able to present him with the plaque, and chat for a little bit. He was gracious enough to sign some things for us as well.
Connect: Did he have any words of wisdom for your organization?
Brian Prewitt: I mostly wanted to talk to him about his experiences. You know he still plays close to 200 dates a year! They’ve been to ninety different countries! That’s unbelievable to me. (laughs) So, I asked him what it was like to be seventy-nine-years-old and play two hundred dates a year, out on the road.
Connect: And he said?
Brian Prewitt: He said, “I don’t even think about it. I just do it.” Isn’t that amazing?
Connect: So, what’s next for the Savannah Blues Society?
Brian Prewitt: We’re in the planning stages of our very first show, and we hope that it will take place towards the end of July. We still have some things to firm up with the artist that we have in mind, but we have high hopes that everything will work out in regards to their schedule and ours. If this comes to pass, we’ll be bringing in a nationally-known act that would probably never come to Savannah otherwise. That’ll be just the start. w
For more info call 748-3200, or go to www.savannahbluessociety.org.