Ocean Blues, a new restaurant/music club/bar located 1936 Hillview St. in Sarasota opened its doors this week and I went to check it out. Local blues band Bluestar was at the front of the house laying down the sound, and I was intrigued by the lap steel guitar being played by new band member Brian Byrd. A native Sarasotan, Byrd later told me that he’s been playing music pretty much all his life, drawing inspiration from great bluesmen like Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan — whose music, Byrd said, “Makes your mouth water.” Bluestar was joined during one set by Bradenton bluesman R.J. Howson, who generated a lot of heat with his Chicago-roots blues-playing.
I like the blues well enough, but judging from the good-sized crowd of young and older people listening and dancing to the music, drawn out on a slow summer Monday night, another new place to hear the blues is nothing but good news. I asked my date — a knowledgeable blues aficionado — why the blues is such a big draw for so many. After he looked at me like I had three heads (and probably was questioning why he was dating a woman who didn’t “get” the blues naturally), he explained, “It’s about roots. Blues music is the foundation of American music.” Without the blues, he explained, “American music as we know it wouldn’t have evolved.” He later mentioned these Muddy Waters lyrics: “The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.” Well, alrighty then.
Despite its name, Rick Rinear, VP of Operations, told me Ocean Blues won’t be serving up the blues exclusively; they’ll offer some diversity in the five-night-a-week line-up of live performance. That will probably make some people happy, but maybe not the diehard blues lovers who would like to see an all-blues, all-the-time venue.
Folks willing to take a spin up to Bradenton can insure their blues fix, though, by another relative newcomer to the area: the famed Blues Revue magazine, which has, for years sponsored blues festivals nationwide — including Tampa’s annual event. In June, it relocated its publishing offices from California to Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. I ran into circulation director for the magazine, Jack Sullivan, as I was leaving Ocean Blues that night and he told me the magazine’s new digs won’t just be an office — it will be a semi-regular outdoor venue for “all-star” blues performances. As a matter of fact, tomorrow night, Friday, Aug. 5, the magazine is having an open house from 6-9 p.m., as part of the Village’s monthly art walk, and Howson will be performing … for free. Everyone’s invited to see the magazine’s new offices, hear some great blues, and find out what attracted this industry superstar publication to our little neck of the words.
I may not know a lot about the blues but I know what I like when I hear it … and Howson is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t heard him yet. He’s not hard on the eyes either. He’s going to be at Ace’s in Bradenton on Saturday night (Aug. 6) and on the 13th, he’s back at Ocean Blues. So go on, get bitten by the blues.
– Write M.C. at firstname.lastname@example.org
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