The blues began in the southeastern USA on front porches and ramshackle juke joints that encouraged dancing, drinking and music.
If you know where to look, you can still find off-the-beaten-path places to hear the blues in venues inspired by the masters, dive bars and original juke joints as well as modern, intimate spaces.
Atlanta, Georgia: Blind Willie’s
The brick walls, small stage and strong drinks at Blind Willie’s make for the perfect blues-bar ambiance. In the Virginia-Highland area a few minutes outside of downtown Atlanta, Blind Willie’s is named after Georgia-native Blind Willie McTell (there’s an annual blues festival in his honor in nearby Thomson, Georgia). You’ll be treated by to live music seven nights a week, with many local acts and the occasional touring band. Atlanta’s major attractions, such as the Georgia Aquarium and High Museum of Art, in addition to historical sites and a top-notch culinary scene will easily fill out the rest of your itinerary.
A panoramic view of the Atlanta skyline
Chicago, Illinois: Buddy Guy’s Legends and Blue Chicago
A leading name in the Chicago blues scene, Buddy Guy is one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time. Inside Buddy Guy’s Legends are guitars signed by B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, great Cajun and Southern food and, of course, an amazing musical lineup. Guy is known to frequent the club and you might snag an autograph. At Blue Chicago in the River North district, bands perform on a platform the size of an area rug. It’s a welcoming, down-home atmosphere with no extravagance, just great music – the late greats Koko Taylor and Magic Slim performed here – seven nights a week.
Legendary Blues musician Buddy Guy onstage at his club in Chicago
Clarksdale, Mississippi: Red’s Lounge and Ground Zero Blues Club
You can expect to find some of the best blues around in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of the 12-bar delta blues. At Red’s Lounge, sit back and experience the closest thing you’ll find to an original juke joint. Award-winning actor and part-time Mississippi resident Morgan Freeman co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club, another Clarksdale favorite with great food, a full bar and nightly blues.
Bluesman Christone “Kingfish” Ingram performing at Ground Zero Blues Club
Indianapolis, Indiana: Slippery Noodle Inn
The oldest pub in Indiana, the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, was founded in 1850 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s so much fascinating history here: It’s housed a bordello, a stop on the Underground Railroad, a slaughterhouse, a brewery and distillery. Now, the Slippery Noodle is a downtown Indianapolis hotspot to hear blues music. Enjoy live music nightly; it’s open microphone night on Wednesday. During daylight hours, visit popular Indianapolis attractions, including the Indianapolis Artsgarden and the historic City Market.
The Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis
Zachary, Louisiana: Teddy’s Juke Joint
Nearly every square centimeter of wall space in Teddy’s Juke Joint is adorned with blues memorabilia, personal mementos and many, many Christmas lights. Most nights, the bar’s namesake, Lloyd “Teddy” Johnson, spins soul and blues tunes while his wife serves Southern food like giant turkey wings and red beans and rice. On nights with live music, listen to local artists or the occasional touring act. Either way, you’ll have a great time – and get to talk to Teddy himself. The attractions, Cajun cuisine and nightlife of Baton Rouge are just 30 minutes away.
Austin, Texas: Antone’s
Clifford Antone was credited with bringing worldwide recognition to Austin’s live music scene as well as helping launch the career of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Although the nightclub moved from its original location and is now co-owned by rock and blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr., Antone’s is still an Austin institution. Explore the rest of the Sixth Street entertainment district for more blues music in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Statue of famed Bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan at Lady Bird Lake in Austin
Bessemer, Alabama: Gip’s Place
From Birmingham, take a 20-minute drive to Bessemer to catch live music at Gip’s Place. The place is hard to find, they do not serve alcohol and they only offer shows on Saturday nights, but it is well worth your time. The juke joint is in the backyard of Henry “Gip” Gipson, who has welcomed music lovers from every walk of life since 1952. Just bring $10 cash and your own drinks, and it’s guaranteed you’ll be dancing by night’s end. Also, while you are passing through Birmingham, don't miss the Civil Rights Institute and other historical landmarks.
Full house for a rousing night of music at Gip’s Place in Bessemer, Alabama
Memphis, Tennessee: B.B. King’s Blues Club and Minglewood Hall
Home of the blues and world-famous Beale Street, Memphis is no stranger to top-notch performers. Head to B.B. King’s Blues Club to be treated to some of the greatest blues, rock and soul music around – the Southern food and Memphis barbecue is tasty, too. Named for the 1928 song “Minglewood Blues,” Minglewood Hall is a concert venue housed in an old bread factory in Midtown Memphis. Inside Minglewood Hall is the 1884 Lounge, a smaller venue where local musicians perform.
Tallahassee, Florida: Bradfordville Blues Club
On Friday and Saturday nights, Bradfordville Blues Club lights up with live music in an authentic juke-joint atmosphere – a concrete-block house off a dirt road, surrounded by live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Each table is topped with an autographed painting of previous performers, including Bobby Rush, Percy Sledge, Big Jack Johnson and Eddie Kirkland. In the Florida Panhandle, the club is on the historic Chitlin’ Circuit, a collection of entertainment venues that catered exclusively to African-Americans during the first half of the 20th century.