It’s been about ten years since I was last here. At the time, I was in the middle of an intense love affair with Adderall, so I can’t say I retained every detail. Though, I do remember how cool I felt at this funky little blues club in the middle of the Tallahassee forest. I drank cheap beer and listened romantically to one of America’s greatest exports, likely with a smug look on my face. I was in the know. During this go-round, I pay closer attention to the details around me, but I somehow lose that feeling. Maybe my definition of cool has changed over the last decade. Perhaps I’m more jaded.
I bump along an uninviting dirt road that will eventually lead me to a drab cinder block cabin known as the Bradfordville Blues Club. I pass through a forest that feels sparse compared to my last visit, and I’m a little bummed to see a few new houses that weren’t there before— a perfectly good feeling of isolation tarnished by the evermore invasive presence of suburbia.
The club sits under three large oak trees. Lights string along from the outdoor seating area to center stage. Tonight’s featured guest is The Sauce Boss, and he’s halfway through his first song by the time I arrive. There are two large aluminum pots on either side of the band. One has a guitar inside it. The other seems to be emitting smoke. Are they cooking on stage? To the far left of the building are a roaring bond fire and small shack where you can buy fried catfish. We’ll get to that, but first, I need a drink.
It’s an older crowd, predominately white. I don’t give too much energy deciding if this is surprising or not and make a beeline to the bar inside. Portraits of important blues musicians line the walls. The tables and chairs are stacked up near a small empty stage. A reminder that this place struggles to keep the lights on during COVID. At the bar, a handwritten sign reads “Bacon salt for the afflicted.” This is presumably an inside joke which I have decided I am now a part of forever. I order a Yuengling and ask the bartender to keep the tab open.
I stand in line for some catfish, and I immediately recognize the cook. She’s an older lady with short white hair and a relaxed round face. Maybe my memory’s not so bad after all. I don’t remember who I came with the last time I was here, but I remember her. Ced, my old friend who joins me later in the evening, correctly points out it’s because she fed me. She’s about to do it again. Bless her. The fried catfish sits on a bed of white sliced bread and comes with thick-cut fries. I take a seat near the shack and dig in. The fire dances to the music with a renewed vigor after a fresh pallet is sacrificed.
Man, there is a lot of white people here, I think to myself. Is that a bad thing? I’m unsure. I know very little about the blues genre, except it is a Black art form born out of America’s unsavory past. No one here, except for the men on the walls, the woman who served me catfish, and my friend Ced is Black. How much should I worry about this? I’m vibing right now. The music is great, the beer is cold, and I’m almost sure something is cooking in the big pot on stage.
The Bradfordville Blues Club feels more like a public service than a for-profit business. The establishment is now a historic landmark, and a significant iron plaque summarizing its history stands tall to the side of the building. No one here is getting rich, except maybe The Sauce Boss, who took the opportunity to hack some of his white label hot sauce during intermission (I bought one). Tonight is a benefit concert to help keep the lights on, and in turn, maybe even help keep the blues alive. That’s a good thing, right? Even if what I fear I am watching is the Margaritaville-ification of Black art, it’s better than forgetting entirely...right? I turn to my friend Ced for answers since he is now the representative of all Black people within a 20-mile radius. He shrugs. “I don’t know either,” he answers.
The show comes to an end, and The Sauce Boss invites everyone up for a bowl of gumbo that’s been simmering on stage the entire set. I knew it. The Sauce Boss can shred a guitar and cook a mean pot of gumbo. Okay, so maybe sitting on a lawn chair with a belly full of food and Yuengling isn’t what Muddy Waters had in mind when he sang Standing Around Crying. Maybe The Sauce Boss is closer related to Jimmy Buffet than Jimi Hendrix. And perhaps the last time I was here, I was a little less sensitive to the concept of cultural appropriation. But this was fun, and I hope the Brandfordville Blues Club lives on as one of the historic stops on the Chitlin’ Circuit.
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