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Benefit celebrates bluesman’s too-brief career

May 12, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - The memory of Sean Costello's visits to Marquette burn brightly in Tom Hyslop's mind.

Like when the guitarist-vocalist played at the Marquette Area Blues Fest in 2005.

"That was a great time for a few reasons. Musically, it was right on because Sean had a new CD out - his self-titled disc on Artemis - and was working the material from it," Hyslop said. "But the tracks had been recorded a couple of years earlier, and he had even more, newer songs, works in progress like his rearrangement of Bobby Womack's 'Check It Out' and an early version of his own 'Hard Luck Woman' that showed up on later CDs.

"(Sean) touched a lot of people at the Fest - I've been told by more than one person that 'He changed my life' - and just smoked it at the after-fest party at the Matrixx, where things were a bit looser," Hyslop said. "The kid just had too much soul to control."

A concert at Upfront and Co. May 20 will raise funds in memory of Costello, whose star was on the rise in America and around the world when he died in April 2008 on the day before his 29th birthday from an accidental overdose.

Costello was self-medicating as an alternative to treatment he found disagreeable for bipolar disorder, a condition he had only recently been diagnosed as having.

Fact Box

More info:

Benefit Concert

3 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 20

Upfront and Co., Marquette

$10 donation requested at door. All ages welcome.

All proceeds go to the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research

Costello performed seven times in Marquette including at the 2005 Marquette Area Blues Fest. In his short life, Costello recorded with such blues luminaries as BB King, Dr. John, Levon Helm, James Cotton and Susan Tedeschi.

After his death, his parents, Debbie and Glenn Smith, created the Sean Costello Memorial fund for Bipolar Research, a charity that raises money for research and treatment for the disease, develops and supports education for early diagnosis and intervention, and works to improve outcome and resources, especially for those without insurance, including many musicians and artists.

The May 20 event at Upfront will be from 3 to 10 p.m. and will feature live music from the Flat Broke Blues Band, Travis and the St. Lous and headliner Billy Flynn; a silent auction; and the sale of T-shirts and CDs - including the most recent Costello release "At His Best Live," part of which was recorded in Marquette.

"I think the Marquette tracks come from 2000 and 2001," Hyslop said of that CD. "It's likely that tracks from those 2005 shows at The Matrixx and the Fest will eventually be released, as reviews of the current set have been very strong, and sales good, making it probable that Landslide Records will produce one or more additional live Costello discs."

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Hyslop said he had a number of reasons for getting the ball rolling on this special tribute-fundraising event.

"First of all, Sean was a great friend as well as a once-in-a-generation talent, so it's important to me that I do all I can to keep his memory and his music alive," Hyslop said. "Second, I believe that everyone should get behind the work the fund is doing. Whether or not you think you know someone with a mental illness, chances are that you do - it's stigmatized, unrecognized, and under reported.

"And anyone who enjoys music ought to back the fund because it is the only organization dedicated specifically to assisting musicians in living happy, productive lives by managing their bipolar condition. Someone the fund helps could write your favorite song one day.

"There have been annual benefit concerts in Sean's hometown of Atlanta; I attended the first one and became friends with his parents," Hyslop said. "They asked if I'd be willing to put something together here. I couldn't say no."

With strong local talent lined up, Hyslop was excited to be able to add Flynn to the event roster to put the lineup over the top.

"Billy Flynn is a Green Bay native who has 10 CDs of his own and who has appeared on dozens of other artists' albums, including the Grammy-nominated 'Cadillac Records' soundtrack, on which he was the primary guitarist," Hyslop said. "You may have seen or heard him onstage or on record with Pinetop Perkins or Kim Wilson. Billy is a highly respected guitarist, singer, and songwriter who can play just about anything in the area of roots rock, jazz, R&B/soul, and especially blues, in all its forms. His wife, Mary, hosted a blues radio show for many years; his daughter Margaret is a singer.

"All of them were - and remain - devoted fans of Sean Costello's music. ... I've been friends with Billy and Mary for a long, long time, and knowing of their affection for Sean, wanted to give Billy the 'right of first refusal' in headlining the benefit. When we talked about it, he was entirely enthusiastic and extremely accommodating, and I count us as very fortunate to have a talent of his magnitude coming back to Marquette."

A $10 donation is being requested at the door for the event. All proceeds will support the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is



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