The music was hot at Pathways Community Church’s annex on Saturday night, January 19, as Santee celebrated a “Night of Blues for Our Troops.” Singer Tricia St. George and local bluesmen Robin Henkel and Billie Watson put on a fabulous show for nearly 80 residents, friends and blues aficionados, all to raise money to support America’s service men and women. The event was the brainchild of Chris Carmichael, a Santee resident and veteran, as a way to help support the annual May Ride that raises money every spring for Home Front San Diego.
“It’s all to help the troops and their families, and it’s also to help us with the May Ride,” said local radio personality and Santee resident Clint August, who heads the May Ride. August started the May Ride in 2002 as a way to help fund Home Front San Diego, which provides assistance to service members and their families. Beginning small, with just over $1500 raised, the event has grown to where the 2012 May Ride raised approximately $15,000 to support the troops.
According to August, Carmichael came up with the idea during a conversation at Santee’s Coffee Corner, which also helped sponsor the evening and provided drinks and refreshments. Carmichael first approached Henkel, an award-winning blues player who has performed with the likes of John Hammond, Jimmy Witherspoon and Papa John Creach. He then went on to secure St. George and Watson, the latter agreeing to co-headline with Henkel.
“These are some pretty bit artists for blues,” August said. “This is Chris’ baby, doing something good for the troops.”
“Clint August had to front some money out of his own pocket for the May Ride,” Carmichael explained about his idea for the Night of Blues. “I thought the event should be self-sustaining, and I felt I could get two quality artists and bring in $500, that would be great. I think we’re going to do more than that by the end of the night.”
“I found [Henkel and Watson] at a house concert in San Diego through a friend of Clint’s and mine, Andi Hazelwood, who has house concerts literally in her home,” Carmichael continued about his choice of artists. “I heard Robin and Billie play and thought, ‘This is unbelievable.’ They are San Diego artists and they are unbelievable.”
“This means a lot,” said Coffee Corner owner Duane Parks, who helped with some of the planning for the event. “It’s great to see the community come together for this. Clint caters to the military and non-profits – any event he is there. And half the people here are bikers. Any time there is an event, they show up. It’s interesting to see the different types of people who show up for one event.”
While some people see bikers as hard-core troublemakers, that couldn't be further from the truth for most of them. August, who calls himself a “weekend warrior,” has shown with the May Ride and other events he has organized that most bikers have hearts as big as their motorcycles, if not larger. “Where there is a cause, you will find a biker,” said August.
The evening started with an “American Song Book” set by St. George, who is herself a veteran of the Coast Guard, as well as a former magician’s assistant. Opening with the classic “Sentimental Journey,” she continued with hits by Johnny Mercer and Hoagie Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Reba McEntire and many more. Her hour-long performance set toes tapping and faces smiling with many familiar and well-loved tunes.
“It was amazing,” said St. George of her set, “because I could feel the energy of the room and the people and everyone wanting to be part of such a great event.”
The non-musical highlight of the evening was an appearance by legendary radio personality and former San Diego resident Shotgun Tom Kelly. Working the crowd with his inimitable style and his trademark “Bbbbbbb-yahh! You better believe it, baby!” Shotgun Tom talked about his days of local radio and his own efforts in support of service members. Now at K-Earth 101 in Los Angeles, he spearheaded efforts to build the new Bob Hope Hollywood USO at the LA International Airport. “I’m very close to this because my son is in the Navy,” he explained.
“I was looking forward to this,” said Kelly, who had been at a book signing event for a fellow radio host in Los Angeles before coming down for the Santee event, “because I've heard Billie Watson and Robin Henkel before, and I knew how quality they are. When I heard them before, they weren't amplified like this. I think they sound even better tonight.”
Henkel and Watson played two sets, sharing the music of some of the great bluesmen of past eras. Henkel, who has played guitar for over 50 years, provided the lead vocals in a suitably raspy baritone. Harmonica wizard Watson, like Henkel a San Diego resident, also provided percussion and played kazoo on the song “Steam Powered Airplane,” by John Hartford. In a nod to the Mississippi Blues, the two collaborated on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me a Few Lines.” Other music paid homage to chewing tobacco, eggs and meatballs. The pair closed out their first set with a walkabout through the audience to the song “I Keep on Walking.”
Kelly had words of praise for August for his work in the community over the years. “Clint August is doing more community events and getting involved in the community,” he said. “ I've watched him talk to the fans, and he is so personable. He is really developing a name here in San Diego, and he’s doing it at a grass roots level, which is what I did. When I see Clint August do what he does, it’s going to come back to him. People remember me – people are going to remember Clint August. So my hat is off to Clint August – and by the way, I have a hat to take off.”
Shotgun Tom will have his own personal celebration on Tuesday, April 30, when he becomes one of the few radio personalities to receive a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Kelly promises that some big names in entertainment he has worked with over the years will be on hand for the festivities. “To receive a star for radio, for which they don’t give too many out, is an honor and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
In the end, the Night of Blues for the Troops raised nearly $900 to help defray the costs of the May Ride, which will take place at Biggs Harley Davidson on Saturday, May 18. The day will include a ride, displays of cars and motorcycles, a stunt bike show, and much more. More information about the May Ride is available on the event website or by emailing Clint August at firstname.lastname@example.org.