We may be "walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match-head," but every Friday evening in August offers St. Louis blues lovers good times and great music at the Blues at the Arch concert series. Started in 2016, the series grew out of desire by the Gateway Arch Park Foundation to draw attention to the $380 million renovation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and its unique role as a national park that sits in the heart of a major urban area.
"The Foundation was established in 2009 to help fund and design the construction that begins at Keiner Plaza," explained Ryan McClure their Communication Director: "Now it was time to transform into a conservancy organization, much like Forest Park Forever. We wanted to do something to highlight the progress and call attention to the expanded facilities. The Arch was one trademark and our music, the blues, another."
The idea also coincided with the April 2016 opening of the National Blues Museum just a few blocks away on Washington Avenue. To curate the festival, McClure called on Dion Brown, the NBM Executive Director, and their board chair Rob Endicott and they loved the proposal. Brown saw it as "a partnership that would publicize the park and draw a diverse crowd to the site" as well as an "an opportunity for the NBM to spread its wings and be a bridge to blues community."
The result was a free three-week concert series at the Luther Ely Smith Square which sits between the Old Federal Courthouse and the Arch. The series featured local and national acts, including the National Park Service Centennial Jazz Band. They deliberately timed it to end on the final Friday in August prior to the Big Muddy Blues Festival. The partners were thrilled as the crowds doubled each week of the six band three-night series and drew more than 4,000 people.
This year they hope to draw a lot more fans to the free series with a new site and a program expanded to include ten bands every Friday night from 6 to 8:30 throughout August. The new location will be in the amphitheater by the Northgate entrance to the park, adjacent to Laclede's Landing and the Eads Bridge Metrolink station. The stage will face south with vendors' booths along the walkway on either side of the stage. The grassy location can accommodate and estimated 5,000 people.
The Gateway Arch Park Foundation and National Blues Museum want to fill the amphitheater. Their dual goals for Blues at the Arch remain raising awareness about the Arch grounds' renovation and St. Louis' thriving blues scene. To that end the National Blues Museum has curated a stellar mix of local talent and Delta blues musicians.
- Lil' Ray Neal Blues Band — For roughly 40 years now, Lil' Ray has played straight up blues for some of the greatest names in the business including Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Little Milton Campbell, Muddy Waters, Bobby Rush, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and B.B. King. He brings the Lil' Ray Neal Blues Band to the Arch from Baton Rouge.
- Big George Brock — Also known as "King of the St. Louis Blues," Big George Brock has been making his mark in the blues industry for nearly 70 years. Since migrating to St. Louis in 1949, he has played with many other blues icons such as his friend Muddy Waters, Albert King, Little Milton and Jimmy Reed.
- Carolyn Mason — A favorite at the National Blues Museum's Lumière Place Legends Room, Carolyn Mason sings the music of blues greats like Shirley Brown, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin.
- Mickey Rogers — Born in the Mississippi Delta, Mickey Rogers has spent over 40 years playing in clubs and festivals across the globe. He has branded himself as an R&B and Blues player, playing with his group the Soul Blues Band.
- David Dee — Vocalist and guitarist David Dee hails from Greenwood, Mississippi, but at an early age made East St. Louis his home. He has released five albums and several singles but is best known for "Going Fishing," a regional hit from 1982.
- The Green McDonough Band — The team-up between electrifying blues guitarist Rich McDonough and the tough vocals of singer/songwriter Laura Green has led to an RFT nomination for Best Blues Band in 2016 and their representation of the St. Louis Blues Society at The Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge.
- Joe Metzka — Active in a number of genres, Joe Metzka can be heard frequently at live performances in and around the St. Louis playing and singing blues, jazz, funk, R&B, modern rock, western swing and country.
- Mark "Muleman" Massey — Hailing from Mississippi, Mark "Muleman" Massey plays a mix of hill-country and soulful blues. Mark and his band have played with B.B. King, the Howlin' Wolf festival in West Point, Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, and The Chicago Blues Fest.
- Marquise Knox — A locally grown crowd favorite from a musical family deeply rooted in the blues, Marquise Knox spent his early teenage years in mentoring under the late great blues legend, Henry James Townsend. He has played with luminaries including B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards.
- Dexter Allen — From Crystal Springs, Mississippi, Dexter Allen plays a sweet blend of blues, R&B, soul and funk. With a style reminiscent of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Dexter was lead guitarist in living blues legend Bobby Rush's worldwide touring band.