Blues Music

Take a road trip to these points of interest, venues and festivals celebrating the Georgia blues.

Spend a day exploring Georgia blues, begin with the early Paramount recordings of Gertrude “Ma" Rainey, known as the “Mother of the Blues,” and those of her early pianist and arranger, “Georgia Tom” Dorsey. Then spend time with Piedmont Blues stylists, including Blind Willie McTell, whose song “Statesboro Blues” became an Allman Brothers Band standard. A look at the blues from the Georgia/Alabama border would include Precious Bryant and George Henry Bussey. Finally, listen to the artists who have pushed the spirit of the blues forward in the last couple of decades, including Robert Lee ColemanDanny “Mudcat” DudeckTinsley Ellis, and Francine Reed, among others.

Below, use the itinerary to find must-see music venues, festivals and more points of interest, and listen to music by blues artists in the "Our Blues Picks" playlist.

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  • Points of Interest
    Little Joe Burton - Diane Kirkland
  • Music Festivals
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1. Bay Street Blues

There's no shortage of bars and entertainment in Savannah, but Bay Street Blues is a great bet for live music on weeknights. The rotating schedule for early 2016 includes the Ben Keiser Blues Band on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and The Hitman Blues Band on Thursdays.

2. Blind Willie's

Six nights a week, Monday through Saturday, Blind Willie's brings the heat to the pedestrian-friendly Virginia Highlands neighborhood with blues, jazz and roots music. The schedule features touring acts and regular appearances by Georgia favorites Bob Margolin, Joe McGuiness, Bill Sheffield, The Electromatics, and Beverly "Guitar" Watkins plus Sandra Hall and Sweet Betty, who are backed up by The Shadows, the longtime house band. 

3. Darwin's Burgers & Blues Bar

Just north of Atlanta in Marietta, Darwin’s serves up lip-smackin' burgers and live blues Mondays through Saturdays. The club features touring bands and local crowd-pleasers including Cody Matlock, Heather Lutrell and The Cazanovas plus the John McKnight Jam on Tuesdays and open Blues Jam on Wednesdays.

4. Fat Matt's Rib Shack

Cue up the fun when you dive into hot blues and slow-roasted cuisine at Fat Matt's Rib Shack. Fat Matt's focus is on Atlanta blues with a lineup that often features Fatback Deluxe, The Pork Bellys, J. T. Speed, Mojo Davis, Garrett Colllins, Little G. Weevil and on Thursday nights, don't miss Chicken Shack featuring 89-year-old piano player and Ink Spots veteran, the fabulous Eddie Tigner. House rules? "If you must wear a tie, at least loosen the knot before entering."

5. Northside Tavern

Iron bars on the windows of the concrete block building, PBR flowing, portraits of music legends lining the walls and live blues blasting out every night of the it any wonder Northside Tavern quickly becomes the favorite dive bar of all who enter? The West Atlanta institution presents the sweet sounds of Uncle Sugar on Sunday nights, Lola Gulley's open jam on Mondays, the soul-stirrin' Nathan Nelson on Tuesdays, the life of the blues party Danny "Mudcat" Dudeck on Wednesdays, the Chicago-style blues of the Breeze Kings on Thursdays and a variety of top-notch bands on the weekends.

Points of Interest

1. The Atlanta Blues Society

The all-volunteer organization is dedicated to preserving the blues and providing educational opportunities about the art form. Atlanta Blues Society’s comprehensive online calendar of blues events, concerts and open jams is a must-read before embarking on any Georgia blues road trip.

2. Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum

Known as the "Mother of the Blues," Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was born in Columbus in 1886 and began performing as a young teen. She toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and in 1923, made the first of her over 100 recordings. Upon her retirement in 1935, Rainey moved home to a two-story shotgun house, but sadly, she died four years later. By 1991, the dilapidated house was in danger of being razed, but locals stepped in, purchased it, renovated it and opened the museum in 2008 with restored rooms, memorabilia, music and more. Ma Rainey is buried just a few blocks away in Porterdale Cemetery at 107 10th Avenue.

3. Blind Willie McTell Historical Marker and Gravesite

Born in 1901 in the Happy Valley community near Thomson, Ga., Blind Willie McTell performed not only blues, but also ragtime, folk ballads, spirituals and popular music. Known for his clear tenor voice and fluid fingerstyle technique, he recorded nearly 80 cuts from 1927 until 1956 for labels including RCA, Columbia and Victor. A historical marker honoring McTell is located on GA 17 at Happy Valley Road, five miles south of Thomson, near the Jones Grove Cemetery where McTell, who died in 1959, is buried.

Mentioned in this Itinerary

Music Festivals

1. Atlanta Blues Festival

The Atlanta Blues Festival marks its 12th anniversary in 2016 with its annual March concert, now held at the fabulous Fox Theatre. National artists and old-school blues/R&B favorites who have participated in the past including Clarence Carter, Theodis Ealey, Latimore, Millie Jackson and Sir Charles Jones.

2. BBQ Boogie & Blues

On the last weekend in April, Calhoun, Ga. hosts is BBQ, Boogie & Blues festival in conjunction with the annual Georgia String Band Festival and the Gordon County Fiddlers’ Convention.

3. Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

Celebrating its 23rd anniversary in 2016, the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, Ga. honors the community's native son every May. Staged in a huge grassy field surrounded by vendors selling barbecue, fried fish, fresh pork rinds and more Southern fare, the event is all about the music. Each year, the collector-worthy posters advertise as stellar lineup of blues and roots artists that in the past has included Hubert Sumlin, Trombone Shorty, Marcia Ball, Delbert McClinton, Tab Benoit, Mike Farris and more.

4. Blue Ridge Blues and BBQ Music Festival

Nothing's finer than September in the North Georgia Mountains, yet it only gets better when the Blue Ridge Lodging Association presents its annual Blues & BBQ Festival. The Friday night Blues Crawl and the Saturday festival bring the party to Blue Ridge.

5. Blues, Brews & BBQ Concert Series

Evans Towne Center Park, home of the Lady Antebellum Pavilion, hosts its annual Blues, Brews & BBQ Concert Series in April. Patrons bring their chairs, blankets and Frisbees, purchase barbecue and craft beer onsite and enjoy live blues from groups that have included the Barry Richman Band, Electric Voodoo and Funky Bluester.

6. Chicken Raid

Every March in Atlanta, Northside Tavern hosts two days and nights of gospel and blues to honor the memory of Mr. Frank Edwards. From the early 1940s until his death in 2002 returning from a recording session in North Carolina at the age of 93, Mr. Frank played and sang the blues. Each year, Chicken Raid (the title of one of Mr. Frank's songs), attracts dozens of artists and hundreds of fans who joyously celebrate one of Atlanta finest blues pioneers and live music patrons.

7. Ida Cox Music Series

The pioneering vaudeville and blues artist Ida Cox, whose signature song "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" has been sang by artists from Cyndi Lauper to Francine Reed, was born in Toccoa, Ga. in 1896. Her hometown invokes her memory every Saturday night in June and July with a concert series featuring a local and headlining acts.

8. WRFG Labor Day Blues Barbecue

Each year, Atlanta's 89.3 WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) presents its Labor Day Blues Barbecue as a fundraiser for the non-profit, community radio station. Hosted by all the good folks who host and contribute to WRFG's long-running, Monday through Friday program, "Good Morning Blues," the event is held at the Park Tavern on Piedmont Park. 

Mentioned in this Itinerary