Love a particular music genre? Chances are it evolved from the blues. The blues originated over a century ago in the Mississippi Delta. Beginning in the 1930’s, the soulful sound migrated from TN, MS, and AR to the Midwest, the southwest, and California making distinct impressions along the way. The Delta blues are classified as country blues, while Chicago is more electrified. New Orleans blues divides into two categories – swampy, harmonica, Cajun blues, and jazz-influenced. Kansas City blues is jazz-based. Los Angeles blues influence comes from jump blues, a mixture of swing and jazz. St. Louis, Memphis, and parts of Texas have all developed subgenres of blues. Fast-forward to present day, and you can find tunes and lyrics that cut deep, are eye-opening, and triumphant almost anywhere. For the blues is about overcoming adversity. Let’s take a tour of the red, white, and the blues, shall we?
Festivals. To begin anywhere other than in the Mississippi Delta region would be wrong. Discover musical gems of old mixed with new when you attend The Deep Blues Festival in Clarksdale, MS. Enjoy the fresh air and scenic surroundings of Eureka Springs, AR when it hosts the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend. Good ole Memphis, TN grooves to sounds and songs from the Beale Street Music Festival.
Continuing in the southeast, S.C. is home to the Clemson Music Festival where performers from all over have to submit entries for a chance to perform. W.C. Handy popularized the blues and is known as the Father of the Blues. Each year Henderson, KY celebrates him with the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival.
Heading west, Chicago hosts the largest blues festival in the country. It is the second home to the blues and sadly, Chicago’s nickname “Second City” has nothing to do with music. It’s just an interesting coincidence. After an eleven-year hiatus, welcome back the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. This festival kicked off the same month and year as Woodstock when blues and jazz legends gathered in a field in Michigan to play. Far out.
Clubs/Museums. Keeping with tradition, let’s kick off our tour in the Mississippi Delta. Memphis’ most iconic street is Beale Street. Stroll along and make your way into any of the blues clubs. If you’re looking for a less touristy vibe, head over to Wild Bill’s. Don’t go too late! This joint closes at 7pm during the week. Don’t forget to make your way over to National Historic Landmark, Sun Studio to listen to recording outtakes from legends, like B.B. King. In Clarksdale, MS legend states that at the intersection of Highways 61 & 49, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the chance to be a famous blues musician. This area is known as the Devil’s Crossroads. After that photo op, learn about delta blues legends at the Delta Blues Museum or the Rock & Blues Museum. For an authentic delta blues experience, you’ll want to visit Red’s Lounge.
Heading west, Chicagoland has dozens of blues clubs. Most popular and iconic are B.L.U.E.S., Buddy Guy’s Legends, Kingston Mines (listen your heart out until 4am), and Rosa’s Lounge. Fill your stomachs with barbecue and your heads with the blues in Kansas City. Two local favorites are B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ and Knuckleheads.
Ever find yourself on the Pacific coast and craving the electric sounds only the Midwest has to offer? Look no further than Seattle’s Highway 99 Blues Club. And, while blues, brews, and barbecue all seem synonymous with one another, there’s no reason why a glass of wine can’t join the mix. End your Napa Valley wine tour with dinner, and a show in San Francisco’s always favorite Biscuits and Blues.
If you have any suggestions or tips you would like to add, don’t hesitate to send me a quick email. Happy Travels!
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