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Meet LOWVELO'S Opening Ceremony Headliners, The Blue Dogs

blue dogs band members sit on steps outside

The Blue Dogs

The Blue Dogs will headline the Opening Ceremony on Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. for LOWVELO, an outdoor bike ride that raises money for cancer research at Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The local Americana band will entertain crowds gathered at North Charleston’s Riverfront Park the evening before the Nov. 2 ride that includes three routes covering scenic spots throughout the Lowcountry. The festivities will also feature special emcee David Lee Nelson, and a Lowcountry feast, complete with beer and wine. The Opening Ceremony is free for registered LOWVELO riders and kids under age 12. Tickets are $40 for nonriders.

At their core, the Blue Dogs love to reunite and play their songs for a good cause every year. To date, the group has raised a whopping half-million dollars for MUSC cancer research in their annual Homecoming shows, which consistently sell out the Charleston Music Hall. Not only that, but upright bassist and co-founding member Hank Futch will also ride the Boeing 50-mile route the morning after their performance.

“We are entertainers by nature — we like to be heard and show everybody what we do,” Futch says. “But I think the one thing that’s been a constant is that we love to play music. We love to sing, and we really just enjoy seeing people have a good time listening to our music. And anytime that you can couple that with making a difference in someone’s life and share your talents and do what you love to do, for us, it’s a win-win. And we certainly hope to make a difference in the lives of others.”

In 2014, the band ended a decade-long break for their sold-out 25th-anniversary celebration at the Charleston Music Hall, following it every December with another Homecoming show to raise money for the MUSC Children’s Hospital. Now, they’re back for a special LOWVELO performance to give MUSC Hollings Cancer Center a hand, too.

Bobby Houck, co-founder, lead vocalist and guitarist, says there’s a personal connection for him. “It just really aligns with what we’re doing.” Houck’s close friend’s son, Brennan Simkins, is a cancer survivor and one of the Blue Dogs’ main reasons to fundraise for cancer research.

“If you meet the kid now, he’s 17 years old and playing golf,” Houck says. “But it was an intense few years after his diagnosis.”

The Simkins family of Augusta, Ga., found out that Brennan had leukemia on the eve of his seventh birthday. His parents, Turner and Tara, were told their son had a 1 percent chance of survival, but Brennan beat the odds, becoming the first patient in the world to endure four bone marrow transplants. The family’s struggle inspired Turner to turn the story of survival into a book titled Possibilities; Their story also inspired the Blue Dogs, who could not help but picture their own families in the Simkins’ shoes.

“It was really Brennan’s experience, and Turner and Tara’s experiences as parents, that drew Hank and me into the whole pediatric cancer issue,” Houck says. “It’s always touched me. Hank and I both have kids now, and mine are still under the age of 10, so it hits me hard knowing anyone who’s going through that. So I can’t think of any fundraising issue I’d rather be supporting than the fight against cancer.”

For Futch and Houck, the connection to cancer and fundraising exists behind the scenes, in their own households. Houck is a fundraiser for The Citadel while Futch’s wife, Nolie, is an oncology sales specialist at Merck, a global health care company.

“She’s passionate about her job,” Futch says of his wife. “She’s been in oncology now for three years, and it’s something that certainly goes beyond the band. For our family, it goes beyond just this one set. It’s her job to further Merck’s efforts in fighting a lot of these cancers.”

With the cause aligning with the Blue Dogs in so many professional and personal ways, it’s no wonder the band is on board with LOWVELO. Along with sharing their brand of country-bluegrass-rock with beloved fans, the Blue Dogs are devoted to saving lives.

“It’s really special when you hear the testimonies of these families that have been cared for at Hollings or the Children’s Hospital,” Futch says. “It’s soothing, and in a sense, rewarding, certainly for us, that we’re helping the fight.”

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