What Comes Next for the Bradfordville Blues Club?
Down a goat path on land bought by freedmen, the Bradfordville Blues Club rocks on
They had been free about 15 years when a group of formerly enslaved families bought a big piece of land northeast of Tallahassee. They grew corn, potatoes and sugarcane, and drank moonshine made from cane skimmings. They’d start up a bonfire. Then somebody would break out a harmonica and a diddley bow, a one-stringed guitar that sounds like background music to a story about meeting the devil at the crossroads.
It was nothing more than that until the 1930s. Then traveling blues musicians started heading to the outpost after Tallahassee bars closed for the night. These days it’s called the Bradfordville Blues Club. Owners Gary and Kim Anton first read about the place in the Tallahassee Democrat in 1992, when it had just been reopened after a decade of sitting empty. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, and finally I came upon this cinderblock building down a couple of dirt roads and a goat trail in this entirely unlikely location. There were three people in there,” Gary says.
We are an unintentional nonprofit. We stay alive through donations from the community.
— Gary Anton
The Antons went out to the club just about every weekend until Gary was hospitalized for pancreatitis in 1999. “I learned real quickly how fragile life is,” he says. The blues club went up for sale in 2002, and Gary bought it. The club’s oral history has been passed down from the landowners, the Henry family. They told about the old one-room schoolhouse, the baseball diamond and the sheriff who harassed them about the music, then hauled off a Black man whom nobody saw again.
The current building, the size of a two-bedroom house, was built in 1964. It’s full of portraits of blues greats who are said to have played there. The space comfortably holds about 80 people, and the bonfire, in the same spot where freedmen once gathered, roars during shows. The place makes little money, Gary says. “We are an unintentional nonprofit. We stay alive through donations from the community.”
That local support has seen the club through hurricanes and even the pandemic. The Antons say they are grooming longtime fans William Stinson and Tammy Makowiecki to take over the place, hopefully sooner than later. “We’ve had a lot of fun, but we have grandkids, and we want to travel,” Gary says.
No matter what happens to the club, music will continue, at least on the day after Christmas. That’s when the Henry family holds a reunion. They might play baseball and barbecue, and gather around the bonfire, a lot like folks did way back when.