Where Are The Blues?

Back in the mid-1990s, I was a total blues freak, and a bunch of my friends were too. To some extent, I still am. I suppose it’s characteristic of my generation; big business picked up on this, so this era is also around the time the House of Blues chain was being created and promoted. Blues was everywhere; it was sort of the “in” music at the time. There were a couple of national blues publications back then.  We went to a lot of blues festivals back in those days: several in Mississippi, the King Biscuit in Arkansas, and others. Blues was really proliferating. I remember that even Tabasco event put together a “blues cookbook” to hop on the blues bandwagon.

But nationwide, the blues trend is nowhere near what it used to be, I suppose because the baby boomers don’t go out as much as they used to. Now, before you get your feathers ruffled, I’m not saying that blues is less popular, I’m just saying that blues is not as top-of-mind musically as it used to be in the mainstream consciousness. We had a similar trend on jazz in the late 1990s, when Ken Burns created the PBS series on jazz. These things are cyclical. The fans will always be the fans. It’s creating new fans from a younger generation that’s always the most difficult. But that’s cyclical too. They’ll both come back around.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the late Marva Wright. (Photo: Zack Smith)

Back in 1995, we created a blues society (New Orleans didn’t have one at the time), and currently, there’s the Voodoo Blues Krewe that carries the torch. There’s a blues festival of sorts (it’s really more like a concert) this weekend at the UNO Lakefront Arena (the Big Easy Blues Festival), and of course, there’s the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival that’s organized by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in October. There are still obviously a lot of folks who want to experience the blues.

We have so much music in New Orleans, but there’s no club in town that specializes in blues. At OffBeat, visitors ask us all the time on where the blues clubs are, and we have to shrug our shoulders and refer the inquirer to a club locally who’s hosting a blues act but frankly, blues is not always easy to find here. The House of Blues is no more a blues club than the Howlin’ Wolf (named after a famous blues musician). While they occasionally feature blues acts, blues certainly isn’t a mainstay.

Baton Rouge is more oriented towards blues than New Orleans, and blues lover and promoter Johnny Palazzotto created Baton Rouge Blues Week; he also presents the Slim Harpo Awards to honor bluesmen and women, and anyone associated with the blues. This year the event takes place on May 1 at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge. The Slim Harpo Music Awards ceremony is named for James Moore, known as Slim Harpo, an internationally-known Baton Rouge musician who became a significant influence on many musicians worldwide, including the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Van Morrison, and others.

It seems to me that there’s a space in the New Orleans market for a venue that regularly and prominently features blues. God knows there are enough of them in this town and nearby to provide regular quality blues music to a market that’s looking for blues. There seems to be a disconnect between what the market wants, and what we’re offering. What do you think? Take our poll