By Benjy | September 29, 2017
Why would we name our workshop event “Brickyard Blues?” It was not even a glimmer in our minds when we started brainstorming names, but when we uncovered something buried in Atlanta’s blues history, we could not conceive of naming the event anything else.
Read on to find out why.
Down in Atlanta, GA
Under the viaduct ev’ry day
Drinking corn and hollerin’ hooray
Pianos playing till the break of day
- Bessie Smith. Preachin’ the Blues (1927)
Atlanta has always been a good-time town.
Her first mayor was a whiskey still maker.
Her first three mayors were a different sort. Not Democrats, not National Republicans, not Whigs.
Nope, Atlanta’s first three mayors were members of the Free and Rowdy Party.
Decatur Street Blues
In the wake of those raucous beginnings, Atlanta’s Decatur Street rose to prominence during the early part of the 20th century as an African-American entertainment district. It was ground zero for the early Atlanta blues scene. Decatur Street had a bustling collection of bars, pool halls, dance halls, music halls, theaters, bawdy houses, barrel houses and blind tigers – much like Beale Street in Memphis or Storyville in New Orleans.
The blues was real there.
Entire waves of blues musicians came and went before commercial recording became widespread. There were many blues songs memorializing Decatur Street and there are a ton of blues legends who played out of Decatur Street.
The biggest you’ve likely heard of was Bessie Smith. She traveled extensively, but her home theater was Bailey’s 81 Theatre on Atlanta’s Decatur Street. The 81 played an important part in the early history of blues before its center of gravity shifted to the regions that are now more closely associated with the genre.
Many cities kept the cradle of their blues; Atlanta tore hers down. Before the blues revival of the 1960s rekindled interest in the genre, the 81 Theatre and much of Decatur Street had became parking lots.
In 1963, Georgia State College began construction on a new facility in an empty Decatur Street lot where Bailey’s 81 Theatre once reigned. As the College’s president plunged his spade into the earth to turn the first shovelful of soil, he instead struck the hidden remains of Atlanta’s blues heart and exclaimed,
“It must have been a brickyard!”
Yeah, a brickyard.
There’s a funny thing about bricks, though.
- Fires sweep through, but the bricks remain.
- Structures collapse, but the bricks remain.
- A city reinvents itself, but beneath the new spires, the bricks remain.
- A people forget, but the bricks remain.
You can leave those bricks in the earth and forget what came before, or you can pick them up, honor the source and build something that celebrates the prior service.
We want to build something in Atlanta, but we also want you to build something for yourself.
We have bricks passed down from those who came before, but each of us is also going to make some new bricks. You have to put yourself into what you create.
A vast brickyard lies before you.
Are you ready to have a good time and build something solid?