Ivas John stepped onto Tres Hombres’ dimly lit stage Saturday with the sound of his guitar and smooth jazz vocals permeating the venue. He sang an old Albert King song, “Don’t you lie to me,” as the stage’s green and red lights flashed across his face.
The audience responded in several ways, including snapping fingers, shaking legs, bobbing heads and dancing through the long evening.
John said Carbondale has a lot of great local talent and a big blues scene considering the city’s size, but he doesn’t think it compares to the metropolitan blues scenes in St. Louis or Chicago. However, the area’s performer quality is just as good as anyone on the national scene, he said.
“People like Big Larry, Rip Lee, Tawl Paul and Sharon Clark are from the same generation as a lot of blues greats,” he said. “That kind of experience makes an impression on an audience, and you can feel that it is the real thing.”
John said he has played at countless venues in and around Carbondale, but mostly at Key West and Tres Hombres.
Will Stephens, president of the Southern Illinois Blues Society, said people can check out different blues musicians every week despite the city’s smaller blues scene. According to his website siblues.com, numerous blues and jazz bands play in Carbondale, Marion and Cobden venues at least once a week.
One band from Saint Louis most blues fans should expect to see in Carbondale is Alvin Jett and the Phat Noiz blues band, Stephens said.
Alvin Jett has roots in rock, funk, R&B and soul, and the band has entertainined St. Louis for more than 25 years. In the past, Tres Hombres and wineries such as Blue Sky Vineyard have booked the band to host different blues events.
Stephens said people might not be looking hard enough if they crave a good blues scene but can’t find one.
Those looking to hear the blues shouldn’t enter a venue with a narrow minded view of what the blues are, he said. Blues can be more than just music that makes people sad, he said, but it could be something you can dance to.
“I think Carbondale has got a strong blues scene, but if enrollment continues to decline at SIU, it’s not going to get any stronger,” he said. “Being a college town, there always seem to be blues bands that crop up and sort of fade away every two to three years.”
Stephens works as an area blues band promoter, and he said he wants to draw fans to his blues society.
He said many Carbondale blues legends have been on the scene for a long time, including Billy Dan Langley, Richard “Rip Lee” Pryor, Big Larry Williams and Ivas John’s Band.
Some businesses such as Walkers Bluff, Tres Hombres, The Newell House Grotto Lounge, Hangar 9 and PK’s are likely to bring in blues artists, Stephens said.
Caylan Hill, a Hangar 9 booking agent, said blues bands don’t particularly get booked often unless they meet the target market’s demands. Genres such as Americana, bluegrass and punk rock have been successful for the venue in the past because that’s what it’s customers crave, he said.
“We’ve always been a rock club,” he said. “We do our best to listen to the demands of the area.”
While the venue typically books rock bands, Hill said it is open to book any music genre, including blues. Tres Hombres is the perfect scene for people who look for a more soft music environment because of its close intimate setting, he said.
Dan Goett, a booking agent for Tres Hombres, said it’s typical for Tres Hombres to book a lot of local blues talent, which includes Carbondale’s own John. Because of the small dance space available at Tres Hombres, Goett said he thinks blues artists such as John are perfect for venue’s environment.