On January 27, 1930, Robert Bland was born in rural Shelby County, Tennessee. Most biographies place the birth at Rosemark, which is barely a wide spot in the road between Millington and Arlington, although Rosemark at one time had several churches, a gin, a telephone exchange and a public school. But Rosemark also had a twin city of sorts, a village called Barretville, which consisted of the Barret homestead, several other houses for employees and family, a bank, a gin and a general store. The community has had a long and separate identity from Rosemark, and the Barret name still carries considerable political and economic weight in the area. Since the general store closed some years ago, it has been through a couple of iterations, serving as the home of Long Road Cider Company, and now as Barretville General Store restaurant, which offers breakfasts, pizzas, burgers and baked goods. The store is said to be owned by a young faction within the Barret family who also a few years ago decided to create an annual festival celebrating Bobby “Blue” Bland, who may well have been born on Barret land.
Bobby “Blue” Bland Day 2022 was a bright, blue, coolish day that was still comfortable enough to enjoy a day of blues. Some descendants of the famous musician were present, and were given a special tent on the festival grounds. Along the wall of the store, all kinds of great things to eat were available for sale, as well as T-shirts and other festival merchandise.
A fair crowd of people gathered in front of the new outdoor stage to hear people like Dr. David Evans and Blind Mississippi Morris perform traditional blues, and the music was quite good, even if considerably different from Bland’s more urbane and sophisticated style.
Blues culture in Memphis and Shelby County is sadly neglected. Tennessee does not have a Blues Trail in the way that Mississippi does, and rural blues artists in particular are neglected. It is good to see the Barretville community and Barret family support a festival dedicated to celebrating and appreciated Bobby “Blue” Bland.