Singing the Blues for One of Our Own: A Tribute to Sean Costello, Part 1 by Dr. Paul Linden

A big part of ATLRetro’s mission is to make sure that you know about all the cool vintage-inspired activities happening in Atlanta. But equally important to us is providing a place where history can be preserved, including the impact of the talented people no longer with us but without whom this vibrant entertainment scene might not be so rich today. Both of these goals intersect in Blue Waltz: A Benefit for the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Disorder for two nights, Fri. Aug. 19 and Sat. Aug. 20 at Smith’s Olde Bar, when The Last Waltz Ensemble will headline accompanied by an amazing roster of the city’s finest blues and rock musicians taking the stage to celebrate the life of a blues prodigy tragically cut short and raise money to help others with a serious condition.

ATLRetro asked three of the performers to share a few words about Sean Costello, and we’ll be running one of these tributes every day between now and Friday. First up is pianist and harmonica player Dr. Paul Linden, who played with Sean from 1995 to 2002, opening for such greats as BB King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Delbert McClinton and Bonnie Raitt. He currently tours with Big Al and the Heavyweights, a contemporary blues, zydeco and rock n roll band out of Louisiana, and is an assistant professor in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Recording Industry Program.

Sean Costello’s legacy hangs over the Atlanta music scene in a loving embrace, bringing together young and old, black and white, traditional and contemporary music lovers in the same way his music did. Sean’s live performance came to a premature conclusion in the late winter of 2008, but in the 15 years that preceded that, friends, family and fellow musicians were treated to an astonishing artistic development.

His early years (from about 11-14 yrs old) were spent in the shed, playing along to traditional blues and jazz albums and sitting in with local blues players. He exploded onto the national scene in 1995 winning the international blues competition for solo acoustic act – a victory that garnered him his first record deal producing CALL THE COPS, a Memphis-based management deal and tour dates from the Mississippi Delta through the Florida panhandle. Sean expanded his horizons teaming up with New-Englander Susan Tedeschi at the Springing the Blues Fest in Jacksonville, FL. The dates became more plentiful, the rooms larger and cities further apart.

But Sean rebuffed the mainstream, returning to his northeastern roots in the 2000s. Following the 2001 Landslide Records release of MOANIN FOR MOLASSES, he teamed up with Amy Helm, daughter of Band drummer and founder Levon Helm. And so opened his New York years, working on his songwriting and recording with the Helm family in Woodstock, as well as Steve Rosenthal in NYC. By the time of his final studio release WE CAN GET TOGETHER (2008), Sean’s artistry had developed so quickly and forcefully, that it was almost as if by surprise attack.

His roots were laid deep in the blues, with his guitar chops and overall sensibility firmly entrenched. But he gained so much through each subsequent step, developing his vocals after the Memphis years and his songwriting in Woodstock, as well as on the road. He consumed entire genres of music month by month until his repertoire and artistic reach was immense. He had begun to achieve his artistic bloom, when it was deemed too beautiful for this world, and taken up into the next.

Come celebrate this rich legacy with those of us lucky enough to carry forth his message, music and memory.

Blue Waltz for The Sean Costello Memorial Fund features the following performers:

Last Waltz Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Last Waltz Ensemble.

Friday, August 19: Opening set by Moontower, The Last Waltz Ensemble with special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Rev. Jeff Mosier, David Blackmon, Mudcat, Joe McGuinness, Rod Hamdallah, Nelson Nolen, Aaron Trubic (Sean Costello Band), Greg Baba (King Johnson), and Greg Hester. Purchase Friday tickets here.

Saturday August 20: Opening set by: Turtle Folk, The Last Waltz Ensemble with special guests including Jon Liebman, Ike Stubblefield, Richie Jones (Donna Hopkins Band), Preston Holcomb (The Grapes), Daniel Hutchens (Bloodkin), Charlie Wooton (Zydefunk), Will & Lee Haraway (The Sundogs), Lee Schwartz (Outformation), Justin Brogdon, Randy Chapman, Skye Paige, Jessica Sheridan and more. Purchase Saturday tickets here.

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