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Steve Clever Siders is the man behind the open mic

Chip Ellis
Oliver Dawgs front man and open mic champion Steve Clever Siders believes open mic nights are an important way for budding musicians to advance their music and grow as performers and artists.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A kind of weary energy swirled around musician and ubiquitous open mic emcee Steve Clever Siders as he waited outside The Charleston Cellar on Capitol Street. He looked a little pale and a bit thin, like he could fall down anywhere if given half a chance.

"I was up all night," he explained. "Insomnia."

The 30-year-old said he's a regular sufferer, but that's really only a side effect of the greater problem. Siders has Crohn's Disease, a debilitating immune deficiency disease that can cause abdominal pain, bleeding, internal upset and a host of other problems.

With medication, a special diet and lifestyle changes, the disease can often be managed, even put into remission, but never cured. Some sufferers of the disease, especially when symptoms are active, can have trouble functioning.

"I've had it for years," he said. "I could tell I had it from what I read, what I saw on TV, but I didn't get diagnosed until 2010."

Siders said he waited so long to see a doctor because he didn't have insurance until 2010.

"After I got the diagnosis, I spent a week in the hospital getting cleaned out, getting medicated," he said.

He's struggled with it ever since, and some days it's very hard. Having Crohn's Disease makes doing a lot of things difficult, but it hasn't stopped him from playing music or hosting open mic nights at The Charleston Cellar and The Blue Parrot and performing on his own or with his band, Oliver Dawgs.

"I can't work a regular job," he said. "Crohn's affects every part of my life. Most of the time, I only get a couple of hours of solid sleep and the worst part is the pain, but I love doing the music. I love the music and I want to help other people be part of the Charleston music scene."

Siders said it took him long enough to join the local music community. He'd like to make it a little easier for others.

Siders got started in music when he was only 9 years old.

"I was banging on drums. Then I got into poetry around 11. It was all loss and love," he said and snickered. "I started singing when I was 12 and began playing in a [Christian] band with my brother by the time I was 16."

But by the time he was 18, he'd moved away from live music. He'd embraced hip hop, spun records as a club DJ and cut tracks for a hip hop project that never came to fruition.

"You can still find stuff online if you really look," he said.

He drifted out of music for a while then picked up the guitar in 2007 and later started playing the open mic night at Griff's in South Charleston. Siders said that through those shows, he built up his courage a bit, became more comfortable with his songwriting and struck up a friendship and musical partnership with Mike Selbe.

Eventually Sider joined Selbe's band, Happy Minor. The group folded several months ago.

"That was Mike's band. Good guys, but there were some outside forces," he said, trailing off. "Mike and I are still friends."

After the breakup, Sider has stayed busy. In July he formed Oliver Dawgs, his own band.

"It's a kind of Motown, white boy funk and reggae," he said. "We're indie rock with some dance and jazz."

Siders has also become a champion of local open mics. The ones he hosts are at The Charleston Cellar on Sundays and Wednesdays and at The Blue Parrott on Tuesdays. He also oversees a singer/songwriter night Thursdays at The Charleston Cellar and performs at the club as Steve Clever and Friends on Saturday nights.

He thinks it's important to have open mics and open stages. Music scenes need to be refreshed constantly. New talent has to be added to replace musicians who've moved on or just given up.

"I think we're here for the local artists," he said. "We make it possible for people to get out and play."

About his own musical aspirations, Siders doesn't know for sure. His health presents problems. Still, he dreams big.

"I just want to build," he said. "My intention is to build and give back musically. I'd love it if I made it, you know? I'd try to bring artists from here up with me."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195. 


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