The National Blues Museum hosts multiple programs and events throughout the year to connect blues music and its history to members of the community and travelers from outside the St. Louis area. They take the form of educational programming, jam sessions, fall and spring concerts, and of course, their highly anticipated free summer concert series. Formerly known as Al Fresco, we began hosting Blues on the Block in the Summer of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 hit the blues industry and its musicians tremendously, quickly cutting off their means of income, like live shows and touring. The pandemic threatened their economic livelihoods and their purpose of connecting to their communities. Approaching these difficulties as a museum was not a small task. Still, we began thinking about best practices in creating a safe venue for our community and our musicians so their purpose would continue through the uncertainty of COVID-19. Thus, after approval from St. Louis city, NBM created the Blues on the Block concert series.
Beginning on June 4th, Blues on the Block hosted two music talents from the genres of blues, R&B, and soul; what NBM experimented with for this series of concerts culminated in several community arts performances, ranging across several art mediums. As an avenue of community building and creative placemaking, NBM wanted to create a sense of place between artists and viewers, instilling a sense of pride in where the audience lives. Our lineup this summer included community favorites like Robert Nelson, Cheri Evans, Matt “The Rattlesnake” Lesch, and Ms. Hy-C and the Fresh Start Band. All acts unite viewers through rhythm, song, and dance, cultivating memorable experiences in a family-friendly, all-ages setting. Many regular visitors encourage newcomers to participate in group step-dancing before the stage, enjoying the music as an emotional and social connection.
The full lineup included the following musicians:
June 4th – Robert Nelson / Carolyn Mason
June 11th – Jeremy Taylor / Duwaye Burnside
June 18th – Celebrate Juneteenth with Ms. Hy-C and Fresh Start
June 25th – Voodoo Blues Band / Gene Jackson
July 9th – Joe Metzka / Marty D. Spikener
July 16th – Renaissance Band / Mz. Sha
July 23rd – Cheri Evans / Tasha B
July 30th – Matt Lesch / Kingdom Brothers
August 6th – Love Jones / Usual Suspects
August 20th – Renee Smith / Skeet Rogers
August 27th – Torrey Casey and the Southside Hustle / Jake Curtis Blues Band
Multiple community artists also enjoyed displaying their work to the public during Blues on the Block. NBM’s Artist in Residence, Lillian Gardner, created numerous pieces about the Blues and the emotions evoked through the genre among its fans, including sculptures and paintings.
Poets T-Spirit and Cynthia Walker presented their written work passionately on the stage, evoking enthusiasm across the viewers. The event also highlights a mural on the Stifel Building created by Hayveyah “Hev” McGowan. NBM even invited award-winning St. Louis-based youth organizations Gentleman of Vision and Showstopper Cheer to perform for BotB listeners. Another essential aspect of Blues on the Block is learning, and we’ve provided a free Little Library containing banned books such as Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ and Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.’
Deputy Director Erin Simon says, “What I appreciate about Blues on the Block is the overwhelming support from the audience. Many people feel this event is reminiscent of block parties they had as children. It’s an informal, welcoming event that provides joy for our viewers. I also love how this event generates opportunities for artists of all mediums to express their creativity and create a sense of community physically and emotionally between artist and viewer.”
Listening to the blues and its sister genres evokes a sense of community and place among its fans. Blues on the Block intends to build on that relationship between the arts and the viewers. We want everyone to feel a sense of pride and enthusiasm when experiencing the blues, whether as a long-time listener or if it’s their first concert. Like with our jam sessions, the blues is an oral tradition, but it is also a community tradition and an act of resistance. The arts create a safe place for artists to develop their advocacy.
We highly encourage you to attend Blues on the Block and support our musicians and community artists outside this venue. Their contribution to Blues on the Block is immeasurable, and we appreciate all of them immensely. We are excited to create more memories with you at Blues on the Block next year!
The National Blues Museum (NBM) is a non-profit organization that preserves the blues’ historical significance as the foundation of modern music in the United States and celebrates the musicians that continue to advance the genre. Located in Downtown St. Louis, MO, NBM uses artifact-driven exhibits and interactive galleries to share the history of the blues with future generations and current lovers of the genre. NBM highlights the best in live blues locally and nationally in their one-of-kind performance.