•The weekly dance party has bounced between venues
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•The night is a showcase of Bay Area blues man Ron Thompson
UPDATE: The Central Valley Blues Society can now add Club Habanos to the list of venues come and gone. The group was just informed that next week’s Thursday night dance party will be its last at the club due to conflicts with the retails center’s management. The show will still serves as the group’s 12-year anniversary. CVBS president Don Heflin says the weekly blues show will continue on at another venue and that he is eager to find a new spot.
“Hopefully, we won’t miss a week doing it,” he says.
The Central Valley Blues Society has hosted 624 Thursday night dance parties since 2003.
Save for the odd time when the night fell on Christmas or New Year’s, the group has only missed one week in those 12 years.
Even as venues were shut down, lost liquor licenses or got flooded, the show went on.
“We started at Porky’s Ribs,” says CVBS president Don Heflin. “When they closed, we moved to Crossroads. When they closed, we moved to the Babylon Club. When they closed, we went to Audies Olympic.”
The group moved to Pinot Wine Bar in the Tower District last October.
“And then they closed,” Heflin says.
In January, the weekly event moved to Club Habanos on Palm Avenue in north Fresno. That’s where the group will host its 12-year anniversary show Thursday, April 30, with Deja Blues and the Central Valley Blues Society All Stars (and a few surprise guests, Heflin says). The music starts at 6 p.m., and there is no cover.
The Weekly Dance Party started as a showcase for blues man Ron Thompson.
The guitarist traveled from the Bay Area each week to play, either with his group — The Resistors — or with a rotating cast of local musicians.
Fans came out to see him play — and to see who he might be playing with. From time to time, Thompson would bring in some blues heavy hitters, guys like Johnny Rawls.
If there were times when the show had a cover charge, it was to pay for those special guests or for Thompson’s travel expenses, Heflin says. Most of the time, Thompson got paid from the tip jar.
Which worked out well, until a venue closed and the show was forced to move.
“Over the years, we have lost touch with a lot of folks,” Heflin says.
The crowds were better or worse, depending on the venue and the year, although a few hardcore fans have come almost every single week. There were moments when the Blues Society really felt like it had found a home, Helfin says. The group spent three years at The Crossroads nightclub at Cedar and Shields avenues. The owners really bought into the idea of promoting the blues scene and helped bring in some touring blues musicians.
It was at the Babylon Club in the Tower District for almost five years, where it had the best production set up by far; even if the musicians had to load in through an elevator or lug their gear down the stairs. It was better than the places where Heflin had to bring in his own PA system.
Of course, he did so happily because he believes in the event that he says is a platform to promote the blues and keep the scene alive.
After Pinot Wine Bar closed, Helfin almost walked away. He didn’t want to convince another venue owner to give him a chance. He wouldn’t have approached Club Habanos if other members hadn’t kept telling him the place would be a good fit.
So far, they seem to be right.
The owners seem happy with the crowds and the fans seem happy to have a new home, Heflin says. He hopes the anniversary show helps them connect (or reconnect) with more blues fans.
Thompson won’t be at the show. For the last year, he has been in and out of the hospital and sometimes is too sick to travel. But his presence will be felt.
“It was always Ron Thompson’s gig, even when he couldn’t make it,” Heflin says.