illustration of a guitar

The Bradfordville Blues Club

It’s been ten years since I was here last. It was during my intense love affair with Adderall, so I doubt I remember many details. Just vibes. Very, very focused vibes.

I 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 best exports. Oh, I bet I was smug about it too. I was in the know, after all.

The Bradfordville Blues Club is what some might call unassuming. I think it makes a whole bunch of assumptions, though, like people's ability to find the place:

Head north on Bradfordville Road from Tallahassee. When you see a lit tiki torch, turn left. Don't let the thick brush and the general feeling of doom deter you. This is the place. Continue down the dirt road for a half mile until you hear the music. When you approach a drab grey cabin, find a parking spot.

Three mossy oaks surround the central area, which consists of a stout cinderblock structure with an outdoor stage and seating area (bring your own lawn chair). Sprawled strings of light hover above the crowd and convene center stage. The crowd, I think to myself. There's a lot of older white folks here. More than I recall the last time. It's giving Cheeseburger in Paradise. Perhaps I'm just a forty-year-old lost in his own projections. But, I don't feel as cool as I did when I was here last; I feel a little less "in the know." The forest is sparse now, and I can clearly see a new subdivision behind the stage.

Tonight’s featured guest is The Sauce Boss. He and his band are halfway through the first song when I arrive. Two large aluminum pots sit curiously on either side of the stage. One pot has a guitar poking out. The other is emitting smoke. Are they cooking on stage? I'm hungry.

To the far left, a small shack embraces the light from a bonfire. If I remember correctly, and I think I do, there’s fried catfish inside that shack. I take a quick inventory of my feelings and decide a drink is in order first.

I make a beeline to the club. There's a bar inside.

Tables and chairs are stacked near an empty stage— a reminder that this place struggles to keep the lights on during the pandemic. Portraits of important blues musicians cover the walls (I assume they're noteworthy. I'm a little rusty on my Blues history). At the bar, a handwritten sign reads “Bacon salt for the afflicted.” This is presumably an inside joke that I decide I'm a part of forever. After what feels like an eternity of waiting in line, I order a Yuengling and ask the bartender to keep the tab open. I then head back out towards that shack.

I join a second line for catfish. I immediately recognize the chef. She’s an older lady with short white hair and a round face. Maybe my memory’s not so bad after all. I don’t remember who I came with the last time, but I remember her. Ced, an old friend I reunite with later in the evening, astutely points out why I remember her. She fed me. And she’s about to do it again. Bless.

The fried fish sits on a bed of sliced bread, store-bought and doughy from the steam. The meal comes with a generous helping of thick-cut fries, too, prepared straight out of a Great Value bag and into a frier. None of this matters. The catfish is the star of the show. I plop down on a nearby picnic table and dig in. A man tosses a pallet into the bonfire, and I watch the flames dance with renewed vigor as I eat.

Man, there are a lot of white people here, I think to myself. Is that a bad thing? I’m unsure. I know little about the blues genre, except it is a Black art form born from an 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 sure something's 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 landmark. An iron plaque inscribed with a historical blurb stands outside the club. 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 apparently represents all Black people within a 20-mile radius. He shrugs. “I don’t know either,” he answers.

The show ends, and The Sauce Boss invites everyone up for a bowl of gumbo. I knew it. The Sauce Boss can shred a guitar and cook a mean pot of stew. 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 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. The blues is worth preserving, even by imperfect protectors... right?

Update: I wrote this piece in 2020. Since then, it appears The Bradfordville Blues Club has permanently closed its doors and only offers streamed shows from its Facebook page. This is sad news. I'm glad I got to visit one last time.

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Plot travel
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Author Jason Velazquez
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Assumed audience everyone