Concert review and photos: St. Louis Bluesweek Blues Cruise makes a cannonball run through Soulard, Saturday, September 3
Sponsored in part by KDHX, St. Louis Bluesweek gave the city a chance to revisit its nationally-recognized blues roots. Closing out the epic week of blues was the Soulard Blues Cruise.
The more-than-week-long event dedicated the Labor-Day weekend to two nights of roaming through the Soulard neighborhood. With 10 venues participating in the cruise the scenic voyage was more like a cannonball run from concert to concert.
The event consisted of a lineup of 20 bands performing across 10 venues in the Soulard area. Purchasing a $10 wristband granted access to all 10 venues for an entire night. In essence, the Blues Cruise was like being confined to a cruise ship on the Mississippi filled with hours of live performances.
To aid in the simulation of a cruise, shuttle buses were provided to transport concert goers from venue to venue. The shuttles ran about every 15 minutes or so to get attendees across the area in a timely manner so they wouldn’t miss out on any action.
Participating venues included: BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups, Sonny’s, Broadway Oyster Bar, the Great Grizzly Bear, Hammerstone’s, the Shanti, Joanie’s Pizzeria, Johnny’s, 1860′s Saloon and Lywelyn’s Pub. Many of the venues are clustered together within blocks of each other which made for pockets of block parties scattered across the area. Soulard is located south of downtown St. Louis.
Performances for the opening night of September 2 included the Blue Tones, Bob “Bumble Bee” Kamoske, the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, Jim McClaren, Melissa Neels, Jeremiah Johnson Band, Skeet Rodgers and the Inner City Blues Band, All Roostered Up, Rough Grooves and the Soulard Blues Band. The lineup of performances for September 3 included: David Dee, Rum Drum Mat, Jake Austin and the City Limits, Uncle Albert, Brown Bottle Fever, Patti & the Hitmen, Johnny Fox’s Hot Sauce, Steve Pecaro Band and Chris Taylor and the Blues Crushers.
Upon arriving to the 700 block of Broadway, where both BB’s and the Broadway Oyster Bar are located, I knew this would be a true blues night on the town. The weather for the night was perfectly hovering around the 70s. The first bar that stood out was the Oyster Bar. The Oyster has an outdoor stage that is exposed to the surrounding streets and allows the sound of entertainment to seep through the partially-built walls. The warming up of the first act could be experienced from the sidewalk. People who didn’t purchase a pass lined up along the sidewalk to peek through the steel-barred windows and see what was going on.
My first stop on Saturday night’s cruise was BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups, one block north of the Oyster Bar. When first entering BB’s, the small entrance gave the illusion that it was a small coffeehouse venue, but once inside it opened up into a big blues hall. Although the building is narrow, making for difficult crowd maneuvering, it is vastly deep to compensate for the shot-gun-style room.
The opener (whose name I didn’t catch) was a solo artist on the guitar. Using a glass slide on his guitar produced the blues twang that he stomped his foot to to get the audience going. He provided a great opening for the night of cruising.
A shuttle ride away was the Rockin’ Jake Band performing at the Grizzly Bear. The four-piece band consisted of a guitarist, bass player, drummer and a lead vocalist who also played the harmonica. The vocalist made it his business to entertain the crowd by reaching out and shaking hands wherever the microphone’s cord would allow him to wander. The wailing of his harmonica on the small stage in the corner of the bar reminded me of the nostalgic movie “The Sandlot.” The crowd couldn’t help but stomp their feet in knee-bending approval.
The next shuttle stop was at Joanie’s Pizzeria to see Patti & the Hitmen. Patti and the guys were setup on the patio of Joanie’s as a five piece. Both attendees and the waitresses were dancing across the patio along with Patti’s flamboyant show-womanship. On the harmonica was Big Daddy, who sported a leather holster packed with 11 harmonicas.
After Joanie’s it was back over the Oyster Bar to see Jake Austin and the City Limits. The female lead of the group brought the cruise home with her raspy vocals. Behind the Oyster’s stage is a wall-sized mural of life below the surface of the ocean, including fish and other marine life. A giant fan in front of the stage blew her hair and ruffled the clothes of all the band members, making them appear to be floating under water inside the mural.
The most attended venue of the cruise that I witnessed was BB’s. By the time David Dee took the stage there was standing room only inside the bar. The crowd filled BB’s to watch Dee and his band work the stage with their blues.
Although there were 10 courses of blues offered up for the night it was difficult to make it to all the locations. I estimate the average concertgoer attended about three of the locations, myself having made it to four. People seemed to be having a good time where they were at and didn’t do much cruising.
But from time to time the shuttles would have a full load. For those who used the shuttles, the Blues Cruise brought people together who otherwise would only have visited one of the venues. In the end, the Blues Cruise succeeded in taking attendees down into the St. Louis bayou of Soulard.
All photos by Dannie Boyd.