Sunset Concerts return to “connecting people in-person” after COVID hiatus


Chris Bishop | @quippedmediallc

Rocky Athas performs at SIU’s second Sunset Concert event July 29, 2021 at Shryock Auditorium.

The “Sunset Concerts” have returned for the 41st year with a new lineup of bands after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The concerts began on July 22 with a blues performance from Shawn Holt and the Teardrops, and will conclude August 26 with Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.

Tena Bennett, the director of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale student center, said the “Sunset Concert” series has been a staple of community life and family fun for decades.


“It started as an event for the university and community to enjoy music during the summer, and it carries that through today,” Bennett said. “It has come to be an expected part of the summer experience in Carbondale.”

Ricky Tate, a member of the band Steel City Jug Slammers, which is based in Birmingham, AL, performed at the “Sunset Concert” August 12. He said it was his band’s first time playing in Carbondale, and he loved the community’s welcoming and energetic spirit.

“It seems like the whole community gets behind it. I wish there was more stuff like that that I could get involved with because they have it all taken care of for you,” Tate said. “It’s cool to be invited in like that, and everyone’s just all on the team everywhere we went. It felt like a community effort.”

The Steel City Jug Slammers are a jug band, playing a mixture of blues and folk tunes inspired by the early 20th century. Tate said it is the goal of the Steel City Jug Slammers to bring back some of the popular music styles of the 1900s.

Tate said the genre has always been appealing to him because of the community of positive and supportive musicians involved, which began with the influence of the original jug bands from Memphis, TN.

“Whoever was willing to play and had tunes in the moment was in it, and that’s definitely translated over into the modern jug band. When there’s another jug band, we all kind of link up. We’ve got friends from Canada and all over the country that are in jug bands. If we’re in the same room, we’re in the same band — it’s like a big family,” Tate said.

This social aspect of music took a hard hit during COVID-19 when bands such as the Steel City Jug Slammers were unable to perform in person. Similarly, Josh Gilbert, from the Josh Gilbert Band, who performed at the “Sunset Concert” August 19, said he also thrives in live performance settings.


“The current digital livestream platform, or even just music videos or studio recordings, I have never gotten comfortable with,” Gilbert said. “I just love connecting with people in-person and drawing them into an experience. And even though I have a story to tell, I love to hear others’ stories too!”

The Josh Gilbert Band plays an original blend of southern blues, rock, pop, soul and country music. Gilbert said the music business has been extremely difficult throughout the pandemic, but he encourages student musicians to adapt to the circumstances as best they can.

“Be open to offering your music as a service in any kind of way you can think of — offer your music to all kinds of folks and businesses, and connect with many different organizations outside of the box,” Gilbert said.

The Sunset Concerts this year have given Carbondale students and community members the opportunity to gather and enjoy many different genres of music after a year of isolation. Tate said he believes events like this have been given new meaning, and music is just the remedy people need to lift their spirits.

“People that have been happy-go-lucky for as long as I’ve known them were all down and out during the quarantine,” Tate said. “I don’t know anybody that wasn’t suffering from that. Coming back out and playing helps people. When we get to pretend like we’re normal at a concert for a minute, it alleviates that stress, even if it’s just for an hour.”

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.