So many people were packed into Darwin’s in Sandy Springs, GA Saturday night. Most of us knew each other, so there was lots of hugging and .chattering. All of us were there for the incredible night of music, and it was all to honor Sean Costello. Sean was a fantastic bluesman, and songwriter who died at the age of 29 ten years ago, but as the musicians, many of whom knew and played with him, performed, it was impossible to think he was
not present there.
The performance benefited The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, which was founded by his family to try to shed some light on this difficult disorder. Many musicians, like Sean, and other creative people have it. Bipolar Disorder causes extreme highs and devastating lows. It is a serious issue that destroys lives and the memorial fund is a great cause. But it was certainly not a solemn occasion. We celebrated Sean’s life and the music he loved with his mother, stepfather and many, many friends and fan and it was joyous!
The evening began with Kyle Smith, who is a very talented local musician who knew Sean. He put together a crack group of local musicians to deliver an energetic performance that set the tone for the evening.
That band was followed by The Breeze Kings, one of the most popular bands in Atlanta. For the night the band was enlarged by two extra guitarists, former members who came out to play to honor Sean. I was thrilled to see Jim Ransone, back, as lead singer and harmonica player Carlos Capote said, from semi-retirement. They all did their usual bang-up job with Carlos delivering vocals an harmonica that easily dominated three lead guitars, a bass, and drums, just as it should be.
Then Little Gee Weevil got up and did a solo set that met with great appreciation from the audience. It was a slightly quieter interval with a master guitar player, bluesman, and songwriter. Gee, like me, barely missed getting to know Sean personally, but has great respect for his music and the love that he generated in the blues community that lives on undiminished.
After Little Gee Weevil came Jason Ricci, backed by Sean’s original band. Jason weaves a magic spell on stage. It’s partly the way he looks, so thin and with his pink-topped blonde hair, and the way he moves.A lot of it is the strong vocals and the really incredible harmonica playing, marking him as one of the best in the world. He plays many harmonicas, from very small to very big, and makes them all sound fantastic. I am a big harmonica fan, but beyond that, I find Ricci utterly enthralling onstage. To me, the only other performer who had that sort of stage presence was Johnny Winter.
Jason Ricci has BiPolar disorder. He knew Sean when they were both talented teenagers, only four years apart in age. My favorite story of the evening was told by George Klein, who once saw Sean and Jason skateboarding on the riverbank at a blues festival in Wheeling, West Virginia. Jason has written, sung and spoken very openly and honestly about his struggles with this disorder and other mental issues. He talked this night about the importance of removing the stigma from mental illness and talking about it without shame. It gave extra depth and poignancy to his rendition of Sean’s “Double Trouble,” because you know he’s lived some of the lows Sean lived, but Jason is still here with us and given his story, that is almost a miracle. Hey, he played happy, dancing music with Sean’s band too, and it was all so great that we, like most of the crowd, stayed to the official end. We were in the middle of covering a convention, too, so we got back to our hotel about one o’clock. It was so worth the exhaustion!
Kudos to the Memorial Fund staff, the musicians, the venue staff and everyone involved in this great event!
If you want to know more about The Sean Costello Memorial Fund or BiPolar Disorder, please visit the website.
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