I had only been there about 15 minutes. Half a dozen people had already approached me, asking if I was going to sing that night. But I was not the only one who was invited to sing. Just about everyone there was given some kind of invitation to participate in the music. If someone said they couldn’t play or were obviously shy, the musicians said they could dig up a tambourine for them.
Since June, 2018, Cranford’s Tea Tavern has hosted the The Blues Party, a recurring Wednesday night hang for musicians, from those who only know three chords to experienced professionals who’ve played their whole life.
When Aaron Wooten first opened the tea tavern, he wanted to provide a space for music in downtown Greeley. A guitarist himself, he understood the importance of providing live music and nurturing the now impressive scene Greeley has to offer. But The Blues Party was a way to provide an opportunity to bring different walks of life together. He, along with with the help of host Chris Haug, decided to start a weekly jam session.
“The Blues Party is about community,” Wooten said. Throughout the night, he made his rounds through the tavern, helping his team expedite food orders, sitting down for a couple minutes to chat with friends, and checking in on how his guests were doing. He pointed to several people.
“She’s here visiting from Fort Collins and this is her first night here… I’ve seen him here a few times and he is such a great player… And Dick. We picked him up a few months ago.”
Dick Buchholz, a staple member of the party, is a blues guitarist from Cincinnati. A self-taught musician, he had a tuned ear since childhood. There isn’t a song that he doesn’t know, Wooten said.
After Buchholz opened the evening with some holiday music and a cover of “All of Me,” musicians started lining up to take their turn at a tune. It didn’t matter what instrument they played, Buchholz and Haug gave them an equal opportunity to play. In between songs, the players exchanged song choices, guided each other through grooves and made sure they knew how to kick off the songs. There could be three guitarists and two frontmen, but that didn’t matter. What did matter was that everyone was playing together and having a great time.
And that attitude went beyond the stage into the audience. While Wooten wanted to create a space for anyone to have a spotlight, the ultimate goal was to create a space for everyone to enjoy themselves. While people were sharing music on stage, others were enjoying each other’s company. The packed house of people was keeping up with the Oklahoma State basketball game, talking and listening to the music. And while some were digging the soloist, others were digging into their sandwiches.
The chef, who prefers to be known as “Chef Dave,” came to the tavern a month ago. One of his goals was to offer a daily sandwich special. On Wednesdays, he serves the blues.
The blues, he said, have their own regional flavor, like Bourbon Chicken inspired by Tennessee. To Dave, the food is just as important as the music, providing him his stage to share his passion with the community.
As I left for the evening, everyone waved goodbye – even the guys on stage who I didn’t know before the night began made a gesture. “We’ll see you next week,” they all said. Oh yeah. Next week. I promised them I’d be back after I learned a new tune or two to sing for them. Guess I’ve got a fresh case of the blues and new friends to share them with.
The Blues Party runs from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday night at the Cranford’s Tea Tavern, 823 10th St. in downtown Greeley. It is free to listen and participate and is open to anyone regardless of ability.