Way of Life: Soulard embraces vibrant blues music scene with B3 Festival

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The oldest neighborhood in the city is always in the middle of a never-ending concert.

The Soulard neighborhood, just south of Downtown, has been a hub for live blues music for over a century. The brick-lined streets are home to several of St. Louis’ oldest and most popular blues bars. 

The neighborhood is set to host the Soulard Blues, Brews and Bites Festival (B3 Festival) on May 21 at Soulard Market Park. Now in its second year, the festival features notable musicians, micro-breweries, restaurants and family activities. The event kicks off at 11 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. 

Guitarist John Logan (left), drummer Rob Lee and harmonicist Eric McSpadden play the weekly Sunday jam session at Hammerstone’s in Soulard. The three musicians are members of a group called Paul Bonn and the Bluesmen. Contributed photo from Kaiden Klein.

The B3 Festival is produced by “SHARE Soulard” (Soulard Heritage, Arts, Revitalization and Education). The nonprofit organization was created independently by several Soulard community members who wanted to develop the B3 Festival and Soulard’s blues culture.

“I and a group of like-minded individuals decided we wanted to take it to another level. We wanted a festival that was its own entity,” Dave Beardsley, co-founder of SHARE Soulard, said. “So we formed a 501(k) group called SHARE to support the various cultures we’re trying to promote at the festival.”

Soulard’s riverfront location and bevy of musical talent paves the way for blues events like the B3 Festival. The neighborhood’s blues culture is supported by locally owned bars. This includes Hammerstone’s, located at 2028 S Ninth St., that holds nightly live performances all days of the week.

“People aren’t afraid to go to the riverfront. They love the Mississippi River. [There are] so many activities going down there as of late, especially in the last three years,” Bernie Hayes, executive director emeriti of the National Blues Museum and former Webster University professor, said. “[There are] so many different talented musicians. They’ll rock any club, but there’s just so much there to offer. Hammerstones, BB’s Jazz club, you name it.” 

The festival yielded positive feedback from the community in its first year, partially because the B3 Festival aims to promote attendance from all demographics and musical backgrounds. In order to promote inclusion this year, tickets are free and available at soulardb3fest.com. 

“When you add a ticket price, you start to keep people out right away. The higher the ticket, the more people you exclude,” Beardsley said. “It creates a music economy. Musicians work hard, especially blues musicians, to make a living and do what they do. So the fact [that] we can put bands to work and pay them nicely, that’s the No. 1 priority. We want to celebrate these musicians and raise them up.”

Artists scheduled to perform at the B3 Festival are local blues musicians who tour St. Louis. SHARE Soulard’s effort to benefit artists allows local blues musicians to continue enriching the Soulard blues culture.

St. Louis guitarist John Mondin has been playing the blues in St. Louis for decades. He will perform on the main stage at this year’s B3 Festival. He was offered the gig by his longtime friend, St. Louis blues organist Bob Row, who is actively involved in the development of the B3 Festival. 

Mondin will be performing in a trio with Ben Schaeffer on the drums and Bob Row on the organ. For Mondin, the B3 Festival is another chance to perform the blues for a dedicated audience. 

“It’s important to me because it’s an outlet. It’s an emotional outlet. It’s the enjoyment I get out of communicating to people, and maybe it’s making them forget about their troubles for four hours. For me, it’s a release. It’s a chance to perform my art and express my art,” Mondin said. “I think anything that’s gonna promote the blues, and St. Louis Blues in particular, is going to be beneficial. It’s still delivering the blues to an audience that can appreciate it. I think the B3 Festival, on its merits of promoting St. Louis Blues, it’s an important event.” 

The B3 Festival is receiving booming interest from local musicians. The main stage lineup includes Marsha Evans and the Coalition, Bob “Bumblebee” Kamoske and the LA Blues Band. The event is providing a centerpiece for the blues culture in Soulard. SHARE Soulard plans to take advantage of the growing interest from local musicians by securing sponsorships for the future.

“I absolutely think [the festival] will live on. It’s gaining energy. So it’s really fun to see what happened from year one to year two. Year three is going to be even more spectacular because it’s just its own magnet,” Beardsley said. “So many bands want to play. So many artists want to be there, and so many food vendors. Once we get sponsorships to catch up to all that energy, it’s really going to be good.”  

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Baird McDaniel
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