The National Blues Museum’s community-informed approach to presenting music is part of what’s made our programs so cherished by audiences. Celebrating locally significant styles of Black heritage music like blues, R&B, and soul, the museum attracts majority-Black audiences often underserved by mainstream arts programming. Our dedication to local musicians is the center of this community engagement. The museum gives musicians regular, equitable opportunities to reach their audiences. Blues on the Block has become one of our most popular events, each season becoming more significant than the next!
Each weekend, NBM closes the street to host free concerts in the downtown MX district at 6th and Washington all summer. Blues on the Block presents the best live blues and heritage music to the public and showcases artists working in many other disciplines, including dance, step, chalk art, drumline, and electronic music. Blues on the Block is a celebration of the richness and diversity of Black culture in the United States!
NBM started this program to support our struggling musicians and downtown community at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19’s impact on the music industry hit the blues world especially hard. In an era dominated by inequitable music streaming models, musicians of all kinds require income from live music and touring to sustain their livelihoods. For the musicians who dedicate their time and resources to providing this joy to audiences, the pandemic threatened their vocation and a sense of purpose.
Confronted with this reality, the NBM made operating a safe venue for music a priority and set the pace for other venues in the St. Louis area. The museum started Blues on the Block, a free outdoor concert series in the summer of 2020 for musicians to reach their audience safely. Since 2020 we have continued to bring accessible, family-friendly outdoor performances to the walkable streets of downtown St. Louis, easily reachable by public transit.
Blues on the Block is an innovative live music presentation with a creative placemaking component; this is part of a larger plan that brings dancers, artists in residence, and other creatives to one place. Audiences at Blues on the Block engage with a vast repertoire of Black music and increasingly develop an appreciation for many styles of music, dance, poetry, and spoken word. The audience is exposed to many artists – this is a multi-disciplinary experience.
Music is at the heart of what the National Blues Museum does; without it, the institution would not exist. Blues, the genre, exists for everyone, and blues reflect the genre that came from its foundational element. Blues is the foundation of all American popular music. The blues isn’t just about the blues. Jazz, rock, country, soul, R&B, funk, and even ska all descended from, developed out of, and were influenced by the blues.
The blues has served as the backbone of all these styles, probably for many yet-to-be styles. The musicians and bands expanded on it and created new sounds and ideas in the music world. This event showcases the vast diversity of artistic disciplines in St. Louis. Its block party element with contemporary Black music allows the audience to enjoy their favorite genre in a comfortable family-orientated setting. Music is the one thing everybody loves!