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Monday, March 3, 2014

St. Louis blues: But not that St. Louis - Kate Voss - Guest Writer

At first glance, it might not seem all that odd that Minard Shattuck is building a growing blues following and carving out a niche for his favorite genre in an historic theater in downtown St. Louis.

But Shattuck’s St. Louis isn’t that St. Louis.

He’s in the middle of farm country, in St. Louis, Michigan, smack-dab in the center of the mitten.

Melding his love of blues music with his entrepreneurial spirit drove Shattuck’s ambitious effort to transform a vacant movie theater into a popular nightspot back in 2007. Inspired by the greats, like B.B. King and Buddy Guy (the latter of whom just performed an excellent set for DirecTV’s Guitar Center Sessions; more details are on his homepage) Shattuck is perhaps not wildly unique, but he’s an inspiration to similar spirits across the country who love blues music but live far-removed from the hotbeds like Chicago and Detroit and that other St. Louis that have traditionally driven the genre.

The fact that Shattuck has made a decent living and successful go at it, though, is pretty impressive.

St. Louis, Mich., is as milquetoast as a town can get – a tiny enclave of just over 7,000 people where the local livestock auction attracts crowds far bigger than those for live music of any kind.

Perhaps best known as the place that made and distributed PBB that was accidently mixed with cattle feed – as depicted in the 1981 Ron Howard film Bitter Harvest – St. Louis, Mich., is still struggling with contaminated water, an EPA Superfund site and a forever-polluted river.

Not the kind of place that lends itself to a rocking blues scene, and, for that matter, not the kind of town with a thriving downtown climate at all, let alone nightlife.

But Shattuck’s venue – known as Center Stage at the Gem – hosted its first summer blues festival in 2007 and now in the midst of its first-ever Winter Blues Series, which features weekend performances by noted regional acts from January through April.

Shattuck’s Winter Blues Series kicked off Jan. 4 with Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday, the Jackson, Michigan-based blues band that recently made it to the semifinals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

The 2007 series continued with eight more acts, ending with an April 5 appearance by Louisiana-based bluesman Larry Garner and an April 19 show featuring the Chicago-based Biscuit Miller and the Mix.

A pretty solid blues mix for a tiny town in the middle of Michigan’s farm country.

"It doesn't seem possible that was five years ago," Shattuck told the local newspaper, the Morning Sun, back in 2012. "Larry McCray played and put on a great show. He's been back a number of times since then and we've been pleased to host many other fine blues artists over the years. Five years is a pretty short history, but it's been very rich in talent.”

This summer’s annual St. Louis Blues Festival, slated for July 5-6, features Willie Dixon, the Chicago bluesman, composer and bassist.

Beginning as a one-day event in the midst of the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration, the St. Louis Festival is now a highly-anticipated two-day festival taking up an entire downtown city block.

For more information about the St. Louis Winter Blues Series or this summer 2014 St. Louis Blues Festival, visit:

Kate Voss is a blogger in an entertainment blogger in Chicago with Her favorite blues musicians include John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy.

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