The city celebrates the blues

Seating at The Speakeasy Alehouse in downtown Concord was packed March 6 for the Concord Blues Preservation Club's monthly Blues Jam.

The open-mic session included musicians from such bands as The Blues Providers, including club founder Shannon Hill. Hill formed the club in August 2011 and has coordinated Blues Jams in cooperation with The Speakeasy ever since.

The front corner of the restaurant was a dedicated stage area, complete with drums, guitars and microphone. Soothing saxophone tones flooded the room as guests bobbed their heads to the music.

Some guests chose to bring their work with them, sifting through paperwork as the soulful singing calmed their stress. Others sat relaxed, beer in hand, enjoying the talents of the blues players.

Wanda Maynard heard about The Speakeasy Alehouse from her daughter, who raves about the food. But she and her husband were pleasantly surprised to discover the blues event during their visit.

"It is something new," Maynard said. "Something different."

Brian Cook, a Concord lawyer, faithfully attends the Blues Jams. Until Hill started the club, Cook had to travel into the heart of Charlotte to hear blues music at the venerable Double Door Inn, where he still visits for that venue's weekly shows.

"This has brought the blues up to Concord," he said. "It's really nice."

And for the longtime biker, blues is Cook's music of choice.

"I'm old, and I'm a biker," he laughed.

Hill - who switched often between taking pictures and performing during the jam March 6 - said he has been playing the blues for 20 years. He started the club because of a desire to preserve his musical heritage, he said.

His passion was inspired by the famed 1970s band Led Zeppelin, but he laughs to remember that his music career started in a heavy-metal band in the '80s. Now he plays the harmonica and sings.

"I sing, if you want to call it that," Hill said. "I scream in key."

The Speakeasy and the Blues Preservation Club will co-host a birthday party for Hill starting at 9 p.m. March 17.

Adam Lewis, owner of The Speakeasy Alehouse and Paramount Catering, opened the restaurant in April 2011. Known for an eclectic fusion of various cuisines, his commitments to good food, live music and customer satisfaction have kept the business growing.

Cook, who saw Concord struck hard by the economic downturn of the past several years, said, "The only place shaking is this place."

Lewis said he met Hill during an open-mic night, and they immediately started planning for regular events.

"I always wanted to have a blues thing," Lewis said.

So the first Tuesday of every month, they host the CBPC Blues Jams, and, based on the favorable turnout, it just may become a community staple.