Mustique blues

Nothing short of paradise, but the Caribbean is also a hot spot for top-notch music.

Nothing short of paradise, but the Caribbean is also a hot spot for top-notch music.

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One particular beach bar on Mustique has made the international news as one of the best places for anyone and everyone who enjoys quality live performances. It is now home to the Mustique Blues Festival, an annual tradition that draws people back year after year to experience the rhythm of the blues with a the backdrop of gorgeous beaches and rolling surf.

Blues on the beach

Located on the dream island of Mustique, near St. Vincent and the Grenadines (West Indies), the now famous Basil’s Beach Bar has been serving up blues and booze since 1976. Over fifteen years ago, a very good friend of the owner was visiting the island when on one particular evening something magical happened. There was a break in reggae music and some old school blues blasted through the speakers.  Dana Gillespie, a well-known Blues musician from the United Kingdom and friend of the bar’s owner Basil Charles, had joined the reggae house band to perform, and it was clear that the combination of reggae and blues worked well. As she crooned a cappella blues number, the gathered throng roared its appreciation.

Following that night, Ms. Gillespie promised a proper Blues Festival for the island as long as there was a good piano available – which by the following year was set up and ready to go. Thus was born the first Mustique Blues Festival.

On an island traditionally known for its reggae music influence, the arrival of the blues, even if only in this tiny corner, was a revolutionary moment for the local music scene, one that is now much appreciated far beyond the island’s shores. Growing stronger every year, the festival seems to attract an even bigger presence, both in terms of performers and audiences. A few of the big names from the international music scene who have been a part of the Mustique Blues Festival at some point, include Steve “Big Man” Clayton, Mick Jagger, Big Joe Louis, Earl Green, Big Jay McNeely and Larry Garner. Each year a music production company in Paris produces a CD of the tunes played live at the festival. There have even been two “Best Of” editions of the CD with the proceeds going to the Basil Charles Education Foundation.

The performances begin as early as sunset, with revellers gathering on the beach to relax and enjoy the sound and light show. The concerts play late into the night, with each hour brining new artists and consistent great music. In the laid-back atmosphere dinner, bar snacks and other local favorites are served. Some popular choices include Basil’s fresh lobster, burgers and fries and a host of delicious breakfast items – some using favorite island ingredients.

Celebrity punters

The list of celebrities who visit this famous island hotspot and regularly show up for fun and good music is a long one. One of the strengths of this modest bar and restaurant is that no matter who visits, they are all treated equally. The chilled environment allows for no superstar worship, which makes for a very casual and unassuming ambiance, one that’s highly appreciated by celebrities who normally experience life under the microscope of the media.

Queen Elizabeth visited the island and Basil’s Bar in 1977. Princess Margaret was a guest after she had been given a piece of land on the island as a wedding present from Colin Tennant. Other notable celebrities include famous British actor Hugh Grant and his socialite friend Jemima Khan, and following in the footsteps of his grandmother, Prince William and long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton have also spent time on the island and at Basil’s Bar. Adding to the A list of visitors, Kate Moss, Amy Winehouse, Carla Bruni and Bill Gates also frequent the now-famous location.

Mustique Blues Festival 2011

During the festival, tourists, visitors and locals enjoy the sounds and sights that surround Mustique’s gorgeous island environment. Under blue skies, with gentle waves lapping – families listen to the music during early evening hours, couples and other revellers get comfortable then everyone has a blast late into the night.

Scheduled for January 26 to February 9, the 2011 the lineup for the next Mustique Blues festival promises to surpass last year’s highly successful bill. The name list last year included Billy Branch, Joe Louis Walker, Hans Theessink, Ian Siegal, and Dana Gillespie and The London Blues Band with Julien Brunetaud, Enrico Morena, Jeff Walker, Michael Paice, Jacek Zaitz, Dino Baptiste and Jamie Little. A recording of the festival is available on the official website of Dana Gillespie and can be found year-round. Following this year’s performance both CDs and live recordings will also be available.

Just a fifty-minute flight away from Barbados, one can easily plan a well-rounded trip to Mustique that encompasses a little bit of everything. Large-scale resorts on neighbouring islands offer activities for children and families. Or visitors can opt for the more relaxed and non-commercial environment of Mustique itself. Whatever the dynamic, this is one musical adventure you won’t forget in a hurry.

Muddy Waters and B.B. King may have found their fame with blues music, but the far reaching influence of the hypnotic 12 bars have seeped into rock and roll music. Here are some bands that have found their roots in the blues:

  • Rolling Stone
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Cream
  • ZZ Top
  • Canned Heat
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • The Animals
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