The never-ending stink over exactly what qualifies as “authentic” blues is enough to, y’know, give a body the blues.
The debate, unfortunately, isn’t just limited to the music. Between fighting over whether white people can have the blues and if a clarinet is an “authentic” blues instrument, authenticists and their adversaries, as I’ve recently discovered, also like to tussle over red Naugahyde booths – are those comfy, stainless seats “authentic” or not?
The answer: Who! Cares!
If the music’s good, the music’s good. If a club is friendly, comfortable, and safe, it’s friendly, comfortable, and safe. Life’s too short to get caught up in categorizing stuff.
There are a handful of cool blues clubs here in town, and two of the coolest are also two of the most popular. One is the BlueBird Blues Club: Formerly owned by a legendary bluesman and beloved Fort Worthian, the late Robert Ealey, the Como hangout was re-opened by several neighborhood folks last summer. The other is J&J’s Texas Roadhouse and Blues Bar, near downtown. Owned by the same guy in whose name J&J’s Oyster Bar and J&J’s Hideaway both stand, Jim Schusler’s Blues Bar has been open for more than 20 years.
The sad thing is that both joints are usually ravaged by stereotypes. People talk about the BlueBird in the same reverential, hushed tones used to describe Notre Dame – as if saying anything bad about St. Robert’s bar is tantamount to blasphemy. Conversely, Schusler is a white Yankee, and his blues spot, as a result, is often dismissed as merely quaint. For the record: While both joints have their bad qualities (naturally), they both have a lot of good, too.
Last week, one of my favorite soul singers, Pittsburgher Andrea Dawson, performed at both clubs, giving me the chance to compare and contrast.
The remodeled BlueBird is cleaner than most Sundance Square restaurants, but it still has that same down-home, modest vibe. How down-home and modest? The bar couldn’t even break the 20-spot I used to order a $4.50 Jack on the rocks.
I ended up having just as good a time at JJ’s the following night. Sure, the place has a kind of biker-frat-boy feel, but the sound system is beyond peer in the blues scene, and the crowd on the night of my visit struck the perfect mood, somewhere between laid-back and joyous.
The best part is that at both places, I didn’t once hear the word “authentic.”
Caves in the Plant
As you know, the two-year-old Arlington tiki bar Caves Lounge is severely dear to me. Until recently, owners Eric and Tom Osbakken spent a lot of free time scouting for a second location, somewhere near downtown Fort Worth. Now that rent is through the roof here, the Osbakkens have slightly altered their plans. The boys are still going to open a second location, but this one will be closer to A-town, specifically in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived but cool Power Plant.
“We’ll definitely pick up where they left off,” Tom said. “Except you’re gonna walk in the door, and you’re not even gonna know it was the same place.”
Which stings my heart a little, considering that the Power Plant was named Best Bar Bar in the Fort Worth Weekly’s 2005 Best-Of awards.
Still, if there are two people who can do the resurrection justice, it’s the Osbakkens. Though they haven’t come up with a name yet, they plan to be open by October.
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