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 State of the Blues in St. Louis

Bootigrabbers DelightAs I write this article, listening to the live Blues of Bootigrabbers Delight on a Blues Deli saturday afternoon, it drives home this very story. Everything evolves, so it's natural that also happen to the Blues here in St. Louis. The Blues City Deli is the newest addition to the blues community of St. Louis, a idea come true of Vincent Valenza (former drummer for Pennsylvania Slim). Great place to catch some Blues and get great food!

Backtrack 10 years here in St. Louis, and it was the heyday of the St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival down on the Landing. The folks at the St. Louis Blues Society ran the show, and it was a spectacular event to behold! It was then on it's way to becoming the 3rd largest Blues Fest in the USA. Always an artistic success, some venue and financial woes led to the disbanding of the St. Louis Blues Heritage festival, and the emergence since of the Big Muddy Blues Fest.

It was about this time that STLBlues moved our headquarters to Soulard, right in the heart of the St. Louis Blues scene. On a summer night, music could be heard wafting in from the Great Grizzly Bear up the street - where Billy Peek and the Soulard Blues Band had alternating weekends for years - and just down the street from Mike and Mins, where Tommy Bankhead was still holding court.

If you were a tourist visiting St. Louis at that time, and asked the concierge 'where do I go for Blues?', invariably you were told "go to Soulard"! It was a Blues lovers delight, since you had numerous Blues clubs, all with the historic flavor of Soulard. Each within a block or less of each other, a summers night made a pub crawl a rewarding night of all the flavors of St. Louis Blues.

BB's was just re-establishing it's 3rd incarnation on it's way to becoming a Blues Institution, the Broadway Oyster Bar was rolling steady on their blues course, and the Beale on Broadway was still boarded up, awaiting the transformation into the funky Blues hotbed it's since become.

These 3 clubs have formed what's locally known as the Blues Triangle, all located on South Broadway in the shadow of the new Cardinals stadium (still under construction!)

Soulard has gradually changed it's theme, now the music scene more resembles a night on Lacelde's Landing - rock, alternative, but very little Blues. Hammerstones is one big exception, where blues loyalty drives them to keep the flame alive. Lots of the clubs have new owners, and the importance of keeping Soulard a 'Blues Town' has given way to the business end of filling the club. Understandable yet sad, as it's led to the end of an era.

Recently a vist to the Millenium Hotel gave me the opportunity to once again ask the concierge 'where do I go for Blues? This time the answer was very different - "go to the South Broadway Triangle!" I remember busloads of Blues-seeking conventioneers arriving in Soulard, but no longer! It's too bad the club owners of Soulard haven't realized they've lost this valuable tourist crowd who hunger for a taste of some St. Louis Blues.

The old Off Broadway brought some great Blues talent into St. Louis, only to change ownership and morph into a rock/alternative club. And let's tip our collective hat to the efforts of Johnnie Richards out at Generations, who also created a series of concerts that St. Louis may never see again. Johnnie often lamented 'Blues don't fill the place", yet he kept it going for years. It was difficult to understand why such talent as Tab Benoit, Guitar Shorty, and a number of others who filled much bigger venues elsewhere, couldn't seem to get the Blues lovers of the City to cross this invisible Blues 'chasm' for shows in St. Louis County. Backstreet Jazz & Blues is still going strong, due partly to their location at Wesport Plaza, and the fact they share space with the Funny Bone Comedy Club, capturing part of that crowd.

The Big Muddy fest, as it's now known, has kept the annual Blues festival event alive. Thanks primarily to the efforts of Dawn Massey of Laclede's Landing, and John May of BB's, this event still showcases over 40 local and national bands over a 2 day event. Last year it seemed to backslide some in both promotion and size, with a smaller amount of stages, and less local media exposure. Having previously served on the B.O.D. of the old Blues Heritage fest, it's hard to see this event begin to lose steam. Dawn Massey stated there's been shrinking corporate and local merchant support, and informed us "we do the best we can with our limited resources" (we provide our take on last years Big Muddy right here). We at STLBlues continue to publish the Big Muddy site www.BigMuddyBlues.com, add it to your 'favorites'.

What can be done to improve the State of St. Louis blues? More city, corporate and merchant involvement would be nice, and promotion of St. Louis as a music town would be great - we're much more than a sports town! Let us know your suggestions on improving the State of St. Louis Blues - take our poll, and/or send your comments and suggestions to Publisher@stlblues.net!

Dave Beardsley
Publisher :: STLBlues.net

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