This weekend, San Luis Obispo is feeling kind of blue.
The San Luis Obispo Blues Society celebrates its 30th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 18, with performances by Grammy Award-winning blues guitarist Chris Thomas King and local favorites Guy Budd and the Gypsy Souls.
The event includes cake, champagne and a silent auction.
“Chris Thomas King is this wild innovator of trying out different approaches to the blues,” said Dan Levi, president of the San Luis Obispo Blues Society. “He’s spending some time trying to do more touring and reconnect with audiences, which is lucky on our part.”
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According to Levi, blues fans founded the San Luis Obispo Blues Society in response to a lack of alternative music venues.
“There was live music for college students and not much live music for anyone else,” said Levi, a Cal Poly psychology professor who joined the group more than 20 years ago.
Blues guitarist Phillip Walker, best known for his hit single “Hello My Darling,” played the first Blues Society show on Sept. 28, 1980.
Early on, the society specialized in booking “fairly famous blues musicians from the ’50s and ’60s from Chicago,” Levi said, performers such as Albert Collins, Floyd Dixon and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
“Some of these people were the original creators of electric blues,” Levi recalled.
More recently, the society has turned its focus to what Levi calls the “second generation” of bluesmen. Past acts include James Armstrong, Robert Cray and Earl Thomas.
The San Luis Obispo Blues Society stages seven to eight concerts a year at the San Luis Obispo Veterans Hall, the Monday Club and other small venues, Levi said. The group also held a summer festival in Santa Margarita during much of the 1990s.
Whereas some venues only book established acts, Levi said, the society isn’t afraid to invite up-and-coming artists. “We’re more interested in showing where blues is going,” he said.
Thankfully, Levi added, audiences have been willing to go along for the ride.
“People that are regulars to our shows, if you ask them if they know who the performer is, they’ll say, ‘No. I don’t know who’s playing. (But) I know it’s a Blues Society show,’ ” he explained.
A typical concert draws 250 audience members and 50 volunteers.
The San Luis Obispo Blues Society currently counts about 200 official members, with a mailing list of more than 2,000 blues lovers. Levi would like to see that number grow.
“We offer a great alternative to the college bars for people who like to go out and dance and listen to music,” he said, adding that he’d like to target the under-40 crowd. “It’s a good way of meeting people.”