Blues Club

September 2022

Still casting a spell with music legends and a Delta vibe

By Mariana Brown, Visit Florida

On a deeply rutted road in the North Florida woods, the moon shines through a tangled crochet of oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Tallahassee is only minutes away, but at the Bradfordville Blues Club the sensation of its urban pulse is far behind.

In the days of segregation, African American musicians played the “chitlin’ circuit” — a network of safe venues where they could perform. The Bradfordville Blues Club continues to present headliners in the same authentic setting that emerged in the 1930s, when Black farm families gathered beside a bonfire with guitars, their field hollerin’ calls and the earthy pounding of Southern blues music.

Already the smell of deep-fried catfish and onions is wafting your way. Miss Ernestine, one of the local ladies, may even be serving up some red velvet cake. For 50 years, every night the Blues Club is open, Miss Ernestine has been setting up her kettle to bubble while her ex-husband starts a roaring bonfire.

“It’s tradition,” says the club’s current owner, Gary Anton, an attorney who long ago fell under the spell of the blues. “During a break from the music inside, we sit around the bonfire the way the old folks did, swapping lies and telling tales and eating the best catfish this side of New Orleans.”

But inside is where the tales are born. The walls are black, the floor concrete. The stage is framed by blinking Christmas lights. The room can pack no more than 50 at small round tables, painted with the lacquered portraits of the greats in the business. More paintings of those shades-wearing, homberg-sporting blues legends stare down from the walls circling the room.

And then the band cranks up. At the Bradfordville Blues Club, bikers, architects, laborers and professors all mingle in a hand-clapping melting pot, swaying with the beat. A bass guitar pounds in the low-down 1,2,1,2 rhythm that has visitors and regulars alike bobbing their heads and pumping their knees. The wail of a singer rises, dancers pack the floor, and the sound of traditional blues carries up and out over the Southern oaks.

The historic Bradfordville Blues Club, which recently received a Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, is one of only 10 venues outside the state of Mississippi to be placed on the historic Blues Trail. Radio station WTTL 106.1 out of Tallahassee broadcasts live from the BBC every Saturday night at 10 p.m.

“What do I like about playing here?” asks James “Pookie” Young, of Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. He rubs his formidable jowls and puts it plain and simple. “The vibe is amazing, man. It’s unique. It’s rawbone. Way down Delta, man!”

It may be all about the blues, but Bradford Blues Club is a joy.