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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Juke Jointin’ with Little Ed and the Blues Imperials

Editor's note: I saddened to report that Bushman's Brewhouse, the subject of this piece, closed on July 2. Thankfully, Little Ed and the Blues Imperials continue to rock on.

About a year ago, I first heard about an interesting place called Bushman's Brewhouse in rural Brown County, Ind. Located at a former country club several miles away from downtown Nashville, and definitely off the beaten track, this place is a revelation.

There’s no barbecue on the menu, but it does have one of the best pork tenderloin sandwiches around. With the re-appearance of the Gnaw Bone tenderloin – first made famous in Gourmet magazine – Brown County is certainly blessed when it comes to Indiana’s official state sandwich.

It also has an extensive beer list that runs the gamut from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Texas’ own Shiner Black, and regularly features the best in blues.

In other words, it’s the closest thing to a real juke joint here in southern Indiana. On Friday (2/18/11), it only seemed appropriate that the band was Little Ed and the Blues Imperials. One of the first Little Ed LPs I ever bought was “Chicken, Gravy & Biscuits.”

Admission charge: $5.

John Hall, proprietor of the Bushman Brewhouse, advised me that we should come early. The place would start filling up after 7 p.m., two hours before show time, he said. We made our way through the narrow and hilly roads of Brown County, passing through the tiny towns of Unionville, Trevlac and Helmsburg. Unless you had a map or knew where this place was, you’d never find it.

The definition of a juke joint is a “vernacular term for an informal establishment featuring music, dancing, and drinking, primarily operated by African American people in the southeastern United States.” It’s also called a “barrelhouse.”

Even though we’re up north, this is southern Indiana. Hall quickly made us and everyone else feel right at home. This is HIS place and it IS a juke joint.

In addition to running this place, Hall also has companies that make harmonicas and ukuleles, has a Frisbee golf course and stages a major blues festival in nearby Bean Blossom, Ind., at the site of Bill Monroe’s famous bluegrass festivals. You can find out more about his business empire at

Matthew Socey, host and producer of “The Blues House Party” on Indianapolis public radio station WFYI, introduced the band, but many of us already had met band members Little Ed Williams, Michael Garrett, James “Pookie” Young and Kelly Littleton, who were happy to mingle among us.

I could write in detail about the performance, but needless to say, if you weren’t there, you missed a heck of a show. After nearly 25 years, Little Ed remains an unquestioned showman with his slide guitar. His brother and bass player Pookie and drummer Kelly kept the beat and Mike is a great guitarist and someone you could have a beer with (Many did).

Let the good times roll.

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