5 places to catch the blues in Atlanta

  • Avery Newmark
8:37 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 Atlanta Music
Jason Getz / Special to the AJC
A blues music fans has a "Blues" jacket on her chair at Darwin's Burgers & Blues Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Marietta, Ga. Darwin's Burgers & Blues recently won the Keeping the Blues Alive award from The Blues Foundation in Memphis. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Atlanta is a big enough town that finding a list of a dozen bars offering life-sized jenga and another dozen where bocce ball is close to club sport is easy to do.

Bringing the Blues to a new generation in Atlanta

Yet, if you wanted to make a list of bars to listen to the blues — slim pickings.

That may have something to do with shifting generational music tastes. There just aren't many hot new blues acts (exceptions: Valerie JuneEarl St. Clair). 

If you're a blues fan or just blues-curious, Atlanta has a handful of spots to post up with a cheap beer to listen to how music used to do it.

Blind Willie’s has been a Virginia-Highland blues destination since 1986. JIMMY MAYNARD / special

828 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta

Blind Willie’s namesake − Georgia's own "Blind" Willie McTell -- was the legendary songwriter who wrote "Statesboro Blues" and "Broke Down Engine Blues." It's that spirit that keeps the dim North Highland Avenue spot humming all these years later. Like the neon guitar-playing alligator sign, the artists who've played at Willie's have a certain vintage cool: Artists like Taj Mahal, Rufus Thomas and Charles Brown have played here over the years. Willie’s gets crowded, so get there early.

Bradley Huchteman, via Flickr
Zydefunk's Annual Mardi Gras Party at Northside Tavern.

1058 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta

Northside Tavern is the famous dive bar on the west side. It's the first stop of the night or the end after bar hopping between Little Trouble and Ormsby's. It's proven to be one of the most reliable spots in the city to catch a blues show. Built in the 1940s, the Atlanta locale first served as a grocery store and gas station and then as a blue collar bar called Northside Package. Today, the blues bar is famous for offering cheap beers and live music seven nights a week.

Spend an evening at these 5 quintessential dive bars in Atlanta

820 Ralph McGill Blvd., Atlanta

Perhaps the most millennial-focused environment among the blues bars of Atlanta, Two Urban Licks is as much a restaurant about Beltline lifestyle and foodie culture as it as about the blues. It's an environment place first. A food place second. And third? A blues bar. They offer live blues music Tuesday-Saturday.

FILE: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack is small but has presented some blues legends, including Cootie Stark, seen here at the rib joint in a photo from 1997. Courtesy of Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

1811 Piedmont Rd., Atlanta

Fat Matt's Rib Shack has been a go-to for people in the know since 1990. The BBQ is on point, which is the perfect culinary backdrop for the live nightly blues they serve up in the no-frills environment. Hey, they even made it famous beyond Atlanta. Travel Channel wrote about them.

Jason Getz / Special to the AJC
Photographs of past performs are shown during a Jam at Darwin's Burgers & Blues Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Marietta, Ga. Darwin's Burgers & Blues recently won the Keeping the Blues Alive award from The Blues Foundation in Memphis. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

234 Hilderbrand Drive, Sandy Springs,

You have to get outside the city limits to round out the blues bar list in Atlanta metro, where Sandy Springs' burger joint Darwin's offers a small, locally owned bar housed in a converted house. The space offers a casual, approachable vibe, and some of the best blues in the city Tuesday through Sunday, courtesy of their ongoing weekly blues jam series and stopovers from local and touring acts.

Can the Blues be taught or is it something you’re born with? It definitely can be taught. Just ask Chicago Joe Jones. Chicago may be where he was born, but Atlanta is where he put down his roots. Watch him bring the blues to a new generation.
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