By Marina Brown
On a deeply rutted road in the North Florida woods, the moon shines through a tangled crochet of oaks dripping with Spanish moss. You might think you've stepped back in time.
Tallahassee is only minutes away, but here's the sensation its urban pulse is far behind. Here, you feel you might have entered an era when speakeasies, juke joints and honky-tonks could be found along the out-of-the-way rural roads of South Georgia and Florida's northern line.
Then, in a kind of time travel, you bump off Sam's Lane and onto Moses' Lane. You're not far now. The Bradfordville Blues Club – a pulsing, literally throbbing holdover from the days when bluesmen traveled the "chitlin' circuit" – is just through the trees.
In the days of segregation, the "circuit" referred to safe venues for African-American performers. The musicians who, from Detroit to the Mississippi Delta, avoided the Klan, plied the highways and belted out the blues wherever they could.
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. Descendants of slaves, many sold vegetables from cabins by day and played the blues by night. The cabins and tomatoes are gone now, but the land still rocks after dark.
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, 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 it's inside 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 seats 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?" James 'Pookie' Young, of Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, 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.
Portraits are a unique surprise at the BBC. Painted on wood and heavily lacquered for tables or looking more formal hung on walls, each painting is autographed by its subject. Club owner Gary Anton says all the performers would like to see their faces so immortalized.
The list is impressive: Pinetop Perkins, Honey Boy Edwards, Big-Eye Willy Smith, Bob Margolis, Charlie Musselwhite, Guitar Shorty, Little Milton, Johnny Winter, Hubert Sumlin and many more who have headlined at the Bradfordville Blues Club.
When You Go
What: The Bradfordville Blues Club combines a unique location and atmosphere with the best the Blues has to offer. Hidden in a rural part of Tallahassee, the one-room cinder block "juke joint" has hosted an impressive list of nationally renowned Blues acts.
Where: 7152 Moses Lane, Tallahassee