A Saturday Night at Beulah's Red Velvet Lounge- You're driving down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in north St. Louis, a few miles from the river, air conditioning blasting to fend off the 100 degree-and-humid heat. For some reason you stop your car and get out, maybe to take in the view or take a picture on this almost deserted street that looks like it hit its peak when Truman or Roosevelt was president. From the sidewalk you hear electric Mississipi blues coming from an outdoor speaker, its cord running into the door of Beulah's, a non-descript storefront on this non-descript block.
Stepping inside the dark room, you get a live performance from Blues Crusher, Beulah's "matinee band", which is halfway through their 4-8pm set. The five-piece outfit outnumbers the customers by maybe one, but counting Beulah, behind the bar, it's about even. "It's still a little slow", she says apologetically. But the Blues does not apologize. They take you down the Mississippi, back in time, down home to place you've imagined but have probably never been. The music, at once dark and joyful, fills the room with the sounds of the South and of a culture you weren't sure still existed until you stumbled on Beulah's.
A couple of the customers are on the other side of 70, Mississippi natives, and this is their "old school". They are not here for socializing or to drink so much as they are to listen. They both say the music reminds them of home, laughing while they talk about picking cotton as kids, celebrating the melancholy. They'll stay through the evening, sipping beers, staying cool in the blast of the fans, as more people arrive. Night falls and Blues Crusher breaks down and the house band sets up and takes over around 10, late as usual. Beulah only has live music one night a week here, but they're still playing it and they'll be back next Saturday night, and the one after that, too.
-David Butow June 2011