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Baby Blues Showcase grows up; stays young

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 23, 2012 - The 11th Annual Baby Blues Showcase provides a spotlight for up-and-coming blues artists in the St. Louis area and young blues musicians from other cities.

But according to Jeremy Segel-Moss, guitarist for the Bottoms Up Blues Gang and the founder of the Showcase, the idea for the event actually came up while he and the band were playing at another blues club.

“Back then, all the great old blues guys were still alive – Henry Townsend, Oliver Sain, Benny Smith – and all of them were playing at BB’s,” states Segel-Moss during a recent phone conversation. “So for us younger musicians, playing BB’s was like playing the Fox would be for a rock musician.

“I remember one night we were playing across the street from BB’s at Beale on Broadway, and on a break outside we were sitting around looking at BB’s and talking about how great it would be we to get a chance to play there. I guess it was the hippie in me that came up with the thought that if Bottoms Up Blues Gang couldn’t do it by ourselves, maybe we could do it in combination with other bands and musicians.”

Segel-Moss took the concept to John May, manager of BB’s. May decided to take a chance on the event – primarily because Segel-Moss wisely pitched it to May as a way to fill a schedule slot that wouldn’t take away a prime slot at the club.

“Jeremy was smart because he didn’t ask to have the showcase on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving,” explains May. “Instead, he suggested the Sunday of that holiday weekend, which was not a major draw for us. So we agreed to do it, and it went over well enough that it’s become an annual event.”

The next step involved Segel-Moss and his musician friends coming up with some basic criteria for choosing bands to perform at the Baby Blues Showcase.

“There were only two rules,” he recalls. “First, the median age of everyone in your band had to be under 30. And if you were a solo performer or you were the leader and the band played under your name, you had to be under 30 –though the other musicians in the band could then be older. So after a few years, Bottoms Up Blues Gang ended up aging out of the Showcase!”

The first Baby Blues Showcase in 2002 did feature Bottoms Up Blues Gang, as well as Brian Curran, who has become a staple performer on the St. Louis music scene. In 2003, Melissa Neels was part of the lineup, and she has also become a regular on the area music circuit. Later editions of the Showcase brought a spotlight to such St. Louis talents as musician Marquise Knox and bands such as the Rum Drum Ramblers.

In addition, Segel-Moss worked to broaden out the music presented at the Showcase in terms of styles as well as geographically. He brought in gospel groups and the University City Big band, a jazz band of high school students led by Stanley Coleman, a music instructor there.

With the high school band,” says Segel-Moss, we were bringing kids into BB’s who normally could not go there, and exposing them to the St. Louis musical tradition. They see all these photos on the wall of the great musicians who had played the club. And we were also showing them there was a way to make a living as a professional musician.”

In terms of featuring musicians from other cities, May credited Segel-Moss and the other musicians in Bottoms Up Blues gang for their advocacy of the St. Louis blues scene in cities they play on tour.

“Jeremy is definitely an ambassador for the St. Louis Blues scene – as well as the other musicians in Bottoms Up Blues Gang,” May says. “He’s always encouraging musicians in other cities to come here and play, So we’ve had some artists and bands perform at BB’s as part of this event that have gone on to much bigger things. Sean Costello and the Sugar Thieves are one example. And the Carolina Chocolate Drops made their St. Louis debut here as well.”

Segel-Moss is looking forward to this year’s lineup, which features three St. Louis artists as well as two from New Orleans. “From St. Louis, we have Monica Valli, a 16-year-old guitar player prodigy who learned from Jimmy Lee Kennett,” says Segel-Moss. “And we’ve also got Aaron Griffin, the son of blues musician Larry Griffin, who is really coming into his own now with his band, Mojo Rising. And we’re also featuring Paul Niehaus IV, who is a great sideman for Matt Hill and has subbed in lots of other bands. He reminds me of what I was like 10 years ago.”

A backing band of talented St. Louis musicians including drummers Joe Meyer and Derek Bonn, trombonist Brice Payton and other musicians will also be part of the Showcase.

Rounding out this year’s lineup are vocalist Mykia Jovan and the duo of Luke Winslow King and Esther Rose – all from New Orleans.

“Bottoms Up Blues Gang now spends about four months a year in New Orleans,” Segel-Moss says. “And we’ve asked some great young musicians from there to come up and be part of this. I’m really excited they’re going to be part of the Showcase this year.”

In addition to providing a full evening of music at BB’s, the Showcase will also benefit St. Louis area food banks as well as the nonprofit group, Play It Forward, which works to provide musical instruments to school districts in need.

“Jeremy has always been an advocate of helping food banks and people who are in need – especially this time of year,” adds May. “And the raffle that goes to help Play It Forward is a great tie-in for a Showcase that is focused on providing a spotlight for young musicians.”

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.

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