Labor of love is a two-way street for club owners and their ‘irregulars’
In December 1976, Gary and Kim Anton moved to Jacksonville from Fort Lauderdale to attend college. They had just gotten married. He was going to law school and she was studying to be a nurse. After graduation, they would return to south Florida, where Gary would join his father’s law firm.
That was the plan. The plan changed.
“That was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life,” says Gary. “I had to tell my dad, ‘I’ve fallen in love with Tallahassee.’ I’ve spent the last 42 years here.”
Gary and Kim earned their degrees and pursued their respective careers. Along the way, they developed a passion for what has become a nearly two-decades-long labor of love.
Now both retired, that labor of love has become a full-time job. It’s also where they have created a second family.
“I’ve always been a music fan,” Gary says. “I got that from my dad. He had me in guitar lessons when I was about 5.”
His love of music—particularly of the blues—led Gary down what he calls a “goat trail” that would shape the rest of his life.
“I heard about this blues club called Dave’s C.C. Club,” Gary says. “I said, ‘I’ve gotta find that place.’ The first time I came here, I got lost.”
He and Kim now own that club, which sits at the end of a rutted dirt trail off of a gravel road near a two-lane highway outside of Tallahassee.
“When I walked in, there was Dave, who owned the place, his wife, Elizabeth, the guitar player and me,” Gary says. “When I stepped inside, I knew I had found nirvana.”
Gary and Kim became fast friends with Dave and Elizabeth, who had re-opened the club—previously a juke joint on the site known as a community gathering place since the 1930s.
The Antons volunteered during events and helped run the club. They loved the music—the “vibe,” as Gary describes it—and they loved the community of folks who gathered there.
“If the door was open, we were here,” he says.
When Dave decided to close the club in 2001, the Antons were compelled to keep the vibe alive. In March 2002, they reopened it as the Bradfordville Blues Club.
“I had no desire to be a club owner,” Gary says. “We just couldn’t let the thing die … such a unique place. We’re still doing it and loving every minute of it.”
The Antons are there when the doors open Friday and Saturday nights—and many more hours, too. Kim works the door, greeting patrons and escorting them to their seats. Gary welcomes musicians and works with the sound crew. They are joined by a legion of friends and fellow music lovers every weekend.
“We have many, many folks—we call them irregulars—who come here all the time,” Gary says. “Blue collar, white collar, young, old. It’s a great cross section of Tallahassee. People who wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths.”
While the emphasis is on the music, throughout the evening laughs, hugs and stories are shared, along with a meal from the fry shack out back.
Thanks to the Antons, the club’s tradition as a community gathering place and its reputation as a blues mecca lives on.
In 2018, the couple saw just how much the place they love means to the community. They were dealt a major blow as one of the property’s trademark towering oaks fell through the club’s roof after Tropical Storm Alberto came ashore, splintering crossbeams and destroying the stage and all of the sound equipment.
Local patrons and musicians showed up right away to clear debris and start the cleanup.
“It’s family,” musician Mike Lanigan told a news reporter. “If you played here, you’re family to Gary and Kim. No doubt about it.”
Mike was among the many who came to help. He also launched a GoFundMe page that raised $27,000 in one week to help with repairs. He and others also organized a benefit concert.
“They are like family,” Gary says. “They may not see each other outside of here, but when they’re here, they are family.”
Donations came in from as far away as Ireland, Australia and China.
“We got lots of donation from bands, agents and record labels,” Gary recalls with a smile. “The community, and the larger blues community, wasn’t going to let this place die.”
Kim recalls the aftermath and cleanup fondly, as a time of camaraderie.
“It was great,” she says. “People came out with their coolers and worked all day. Some worked almost every day.”
Given that, the couple knew for sure they had to reopen.
“We’ve got to give back,” Kim says. “We can’t take all this and then not give them what they want.”
After eight weeks of work, the doors reopened and the “irregulars” and others returned—not to work, but to enjoy the vibe, appreciate the music and spend time with family.
While Gary refers to the blues club as an “unintentional nonprofit,” he remains dedicated to it.
“You have to be committed to it,” he says. “It’s not a profitable endeavor. Kim and I have had this place for almost 18 years. We haven’t worked a day yet. It’s a labor of love.”
About the Club
Described as a place that is hard to find but impossible to forget, the Bradfordville Blues Club is in a rural area of Leon County, just outside of Tallahassee.
The only Florida location recognized as part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, the club combines a historic location with a true juke joint atmosphere and the best blues music around. The one-room, cinder block club is surrounded by fields and ancient oaks. Out back is a bonfire and a fry shack serving fresh-out-of-the-fryer catfish. Inside, dozens of original portraits serve as table tops and wall hangings, noting the legends and up-and-coming stars who have performed here.
If you go, go for the music because there are no televisions or bar room games. It’s all about the music, which is performed by different artists each week.
The Bradfordville Blues Club is at 7152 Moses Lane off Bradfordville Road. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.bradfordvilleblues.com.