By Mark Gauert
Two roads diverged ahead in dark woods in North Florida. I took the one so less traveled, I started to wonder if it was even a road.
“I remember the time I took a first date out [here],” my guide, Gary Stogner, laughed. “We turned off the main road [onto this one], and it was dark and foggy and a little spooky, I guess. She must have wondered if this man she’d just met might be an ax murderer, taking her down that country road in the night.”
Crashing off the main road into the dark, I started to wonder if there might be reason for concern, too.
I looked at his business card again.
Gary Stogner. Senior Marketing Director. Visit Tallahassee.
No, I thought. Probably not.
“I tell that story often, as does my [now] girlfriend who was the subject of the adventure on her first trip here,” he said.
No, I thought. Definitely not.
It was dark, foggy and a little spooky on my night out near Tallahassee, on the road so little traveled I’m pretty sure it doubled as a creek bed. There was a slight turn to the left, then a right, then a glow up ahead.
More like a twinkle, actually.
We had reached the “legendary backwoods” Bradfordville Blues Club. The headlights lit up a metal sign post confirming its hallowed station on The Blues Trail from Mississippi here to North Florida. Back when giants B.B. King, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker walked the earth.
Garlands of twinkling Christmas lights laced an entranceway that looked like the grounded cabin of a backwoods private jet. Deep bass inside pulsed to get out. A woman with a blonde haystack sat in dim light at a low desk, taking tickets.
“We’ve been expecting y’all,’’ she smiled. “Go on in.’’
Gary led the way into the one-room, cinderblock structure – unchanged, they say, since forever. Bar, over on the left; stage, over on the right.
In between, the Saturday-night mix of town and country folk listened as bluesman Victor Wainwright – the “piana from Savannah” – wailed “Baby, come back home!” in the night. They paired up and danced close on the tiny concrete dance floor, in twinkling Christmas-tree light.
I sat down and thought about other roads I’d followed to their unexpected ends. To the red chile heaven of Rancho de Chimayó in the Sangre de Cristos. To the sunset over the Pacific atop Mount Tamalpais, as soft fog creased San Francisco Bay below. To Burgundy vineyards scented in woodsmoke from the last harvest, kindled to make way for the new.
This was a road like those roads, leading to a place I’ll never forget.
“There’s not many places like this left,” Wainwright chatted outside between sets with the owner of the club, Gary Anton. “I even wrote about it in one of my songs.”
“I did not know that?!” Anton said.
Wainwright, a big man as soft-spoken offstage as he’s loud on, put his head back, closed his eyes, and repeated the lyrics from memory:
“I know a juke joint on the edge of town
Not too classy, a little run down
Dust on the floor, smoke in the air
Your troubles float away when you walk in there
Some are getting loose, some are getting tight
Everybody here is high as a kite
We’re gonna raise a little hell in honky tonk heaven tonight.”
Anton laughed. “Heaven!? I haven’t been drinking that much.’’
Paradise, of one sort or another, often awaits at the end of a summer road. We lead you on five of them this issue, along with some other summertime fun.
May they all lead to places you’ll never forget.