Tallahassee rallies to keep the blues alive


 The historic Mississippi Blues trail marker, placed by the Mississippi Blues Commision to represent the historical significance of the Bradfordville Blues Club. The trail marker was placed in front of The Henry Heritage Oak Tree. This is the tree that caused damage to the club during Subtropical Storm Alberto. 

Photo credit: Jessica Gardner

The Moon was the place to be Saturday evening. A sold-out benefit concert was held in hopes of reopening and rebuilding the historic Bradfordville Blues Club. Ticket sales for the concert exceeded 700 with over 1,000 people in attendance. The fundraising goal was well over the anticipated $10,000.

“I never thought in a million years that we would get that many people out here tonight. It just shows how much the community is behind the club. I guess we struck a chord with the community, they love us. It feels good. I would not have expected this type of a turn out. I’m so glad people came out to support us,” Gary Anton, owner of the iconic blues club in eastern Leon County, said.

A 250-year-old water-logged live oak tree fell through the roof of the blues club during Subtropical Storm Alberto on May 29.

“It looked a whole lot worse than it was but it was pretty bad. It took out a good portion of the roof,” Anton said.

Caroline Smith worked at the blues club after graduating college in 2010. She worked there on and off until moving to Colorado a few months ago. Smith was devastated when she received the news.

“I woke up that morning and I had all these messages about the tree. Then I got a message from my dad and regulars at the club. It was all over Facebook,” Smith said.

“It was like hearing your best friend just got into this horrible accident and you’re a million miles away.”

Within days of the incident, thousands of dollars were raised in support of the club.

“The support we got from the music community and the blues community was absolutely phenomenal. A lot of bands contributed money, a lot of the booking agents donated money, individual band members committed money. We got money from Ireland, China and Australia. That was just from musicians. Plus, the local community chipped in unbelievably,” Anton said.

Smith spoke about the positivity behind all of the support in this tragic time for the club.

“I think it’s brought a lot more attention back to the club, the live music, the blues and just how special that place is. It’s not just the music, it’s the people, it’s Gary and Kim, it’s Miss Ernestine and her fish fry outside, it’s the bonfire and everyone staying after the club closes to sit around the fire, drinking and singing,” Smith said.

“There’s no place like it. I have yet to find a place like the blues club anywhere else in this world. I think this whole thing that happened, has made people realize how special the place is.”

The Bradfordville Blues Club holds over a hundred years of history. The property and building itself is owned by slave descendants of the 1880s. Footsteps from the doors to the club sits an open field that once was home to the mixed-race C.C. Saints baseball team. Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member Andre Dawson, who attended FAMU, played on that very field.

“Music kind of grew up around the baseball games. People would gather there days before the games. This is back in the Jim Crow era of segregation. Folks would come out there Friday before the game and spend all night out there playing music around the bonfire. The game would be played on Saturday, sometimes Sunday and thousands of people would come out. The music just grew from there,” Anton said.

“In 1964, they built that club. The music then moved from outside around the bonfire, into the club itself. Music has been going on out there for over a hundred years or more.”

In 2002, Gary and Kim Anton took over the club from the previous owners. This was the birth of the Bradfordville Blues Club. Over the years, standout musicians from all over the world have played at the blues club.

Anton said the reason people have retained so much love for the blues club over the years is due to its uniqueness. 

“The bands tell us there’s nothing like it in the country that they’ve seen,” Anton said.

“When you walk in, it’s got a vibe. It’s just a feeling and the community has supported the club for so long that it’s like a family out there. It’s a slice of Tallahassee. There’s a little of blue collar workers, white collar workers who are all ages, all races and religions. It’s just a very unique setting. We bring in music from all over the country and all over the world. People get to see real blues, in a real blues setting, in a juke joint.”

Due to the success of the benefit concert, the club is set to reopen July 21, and the blues remains alive in Tallahassee.

“I’m ready to go back to work. I can’t wait to get back at it again. We’re going to have a lot of fun for the next couple months, as we get people reintroduced to the club. We’ve been away for a while,” longtime member of the club, Jim Barnes, said.  “As a result of this benefit, we’ve been brought back to the blues.”