Hines Farm Blues Club offers southern touchWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
The smoking barbecue pits out front let you know this is the place.
And you will wonder where exactly the place is as you near this music venue sometimes described as being “in the middle of nowhere.”
Griffin’s Hines Farm Blues Club is a storied, almost mythical part of the Northwest Ohio music scene.
And while it’s hardly the middle of nowhere, it definitely isn’t your typical live music outlet located on a downtown street corner or among a strip mall’s pizza places and tanning salons.
The fact it’s located in a nondescript building on a rural, wooded plot of land on state Route 295 in rural Swanton helps keep the “mythical” label alive, as most people have never seen it.
Even those who have would likely never imagine the place to be a juke joint, home of many a fedora hat, tapping toes, southern-style barbecue and hot guitar licks — they’d probably just think it an abandoned garage with lots of junk cars inside.
For the better part of six decades, Hines Farm has been a low-key temple of blues music. Its wood-paneled walls have hosted blues royalty acts such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Big Jack Reynolds and Count Basie. Not content to rest on its historical laurels, the modest-looking club continues to draw top acts — recent shows have welcomed the Chicago legends Magic Slim and B.B. King’s daughter, Shirley King.
Bought for history
Current owner Henry Griffin purchased the club in 1978 from its original owners and founders, Frank and Sarah Hines.
By that time, the once-jumping club had been boarded up and abandoned, an afterthought on the at-one-time thriving blues scene in Northwest Ohio.
Griffin, born in Mississippi and raised in the Farm’s neighborhood, just south of U.S. 20 near
Toledo Express Airport, had fond childhood memories of the club, where his parents would come for everything from blues music to carnival rides to motorcycle racing.
He decided to buy the club from the Hineses, eventually returning it to its basic yet proud state.
“I bought it because of the history,” Griffin said prior to the Shirley King show, acknowledging the local blues scene is different now than it was in the 1940s and ‘50s, when it was fueled by a large number of southerners who migrated to northern states like Ohio.
“The blues will never be the same as it was at that time,” he said. “[The club today] has got a little southern flavor to it, though, with its country setting,” he said in between trips to check on his barbecue ribs, cooking in the pits out front.
Griffin does his part to maintain the club’s mythical status by opening its doors for just one show each month, usually announced on the club’s Web site, www.hinesfarm.com, a week or two before the show. A man of few words, Griffin is clearly proud to throw a monthly party for an average of 175 or so blues fans each show.
“I’m going to keep it going as long as my health allows,” he said above the groove of an early 1970s Stevie Wonder track playing over the sound system. “[Places like this] are about dead, except in southern states. I’m happy to keep this going. It’s clean music, clean fun.”
Friends and neighbors
“Welcome to the farm!”
This is the exuberant greeting offered by Jackie Ellis, Griffin’s sister, who has been an integral part of Hines Farm since her brother bought it nearly two decades ago. Serving as the club’s unofficial manager, she can be found walking throughout the facility on show nights, making sure all patrons are enjoying themselves.
“This place is like ‘Cheers,’ ” she said, trying to put the club’s appeal into words. “People that come here are all local, friends and neighbors. You can just be what you want to be here.”
Pamela Scialoia wants to be down on Griffin’s Hines Farm every chance she gets. The New Hampshire native fell in love with the blues as a teenager living in Virginia, and appreciates the authentic, no-frills vibe she found at Hines shortly after moving to Toledo in early 2006.
“It’s like it was 50 years ago,” Scialoia said, pointing out the wood-burning stove located directly behind the drum set to her left. “If it was a fancy club I wouldn’t come here,” she said. “It should never change.”
Watching the opening band, the Athens, Ohio-based R & B Station, warm up the crowd, a couple of things stand out to a first-time visitor to the Farm.
As Scialoia pointed out, there’s the highly unusual, glowing wood-burning stove situated right behind the band, making the drummer’s seat an enviable position on a chilly December night. Two, there’s no spotlight or colored lights on the band — they’re illuminated only by a couple of low-wattage light bulbs located above them. If it weren’t for the fact they were filling the room with rollicking blues music, they’d stand out no more than the older couple nodding their heads in the corner.
While the place gets into a decent rhythm without much trouble, it’s when Chicago’s King — appropriately introduced as the Daughter of the Blues — takes the stage that the energy level jumps up a notch — or 12.
“Let’s have some fun!” she sings, instantly putting the audience’s hands into a rhythmic clapping mode. “You only live once and when you’re dead, you’re done.”
Waste-deep in a Muddy Waters groove, King, who grew up in blues clubs, tells the crowd, “I know a lot about this place — this place has a lot of history. I know juke joints and we’re in a serious juke joint!”
Channeling Etta James, King walks into the crowd, sitting on fold-out chairs at small tables. She finds a man’s lap to sit on.
“I was thinking about this man, mmmm,” she sings. “I was thinking about your good loving, honey!” The song’s tone switches from a tender one to a more ominous one, as King warns in her deep voice, “Don’t you leave me baby!” Her fist rises to the man’s face. “’Cause if you do, I swear I’ll kill you!”
Those in the immediate proximity are eating it up, laughing at the impromptu role played by their husband, friend or brother at the table.
When the band breaks into a soulful version of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business,” Ellis’ statement that people can be whatever they want to be at Hines Farm comes to life.
Apparently, many in the audience want to be dancers — severely uninhibited ones, at that.
It quickly becomes apparent the slogan “Dance like no one’s watching” just might have been coined at this old blues club in rural Swanton.
Those who just minutes ago had been sitting calmly in their seats seem driven to head to the dance floor, swinging and shaking and grooving to the beat.
These people just don’t care. Not even the elderly woman sitting at a table against the wall who King recruits to lead the Soul Train throughout the bar.
In between signing autographs for fans during a set break, King said clubs of the Griffin’s Hines Farm ilk are few and far between.
“There’s not too many places like this around, unless you’re in Mississippi,” she said. “This is exactly what I remember growing up, it’s so good. There’s something about this place that brings the real (feeling) out of the blues magician. You can feel all those old guys’ spirits here.
“This is where we got our groove on,” she said.
Blues enthusiasts can look forward to getting their proverbial groove on in January when Griffin’s Hines Farm hosts its first show of 2007. Although a date and performer could not be confirmed, the information will be on the venue’s Web site (which includes a map) prior to the show.