Aptos on the Bayou

Arts-Lead-bluesAptos St. BBQ’s blues are the village’s best-kept secret

Walking west along the railroad tracks toward Aptos Village on any evening of the week, the smell of smoked ribs and the curious bass line of a field shout are the first signs that we’re almost there. There, is the rustic roadhouse-style dining room of Aptos St. BBQ, which swells with local families and live blues music seven nights a week—with two sets on Saturday.

Sure, we could have driven like everybody else, but there’s something satisfying about meandering down 138-year-old tracks to hear music almost as old as the rusty railroad ties. Stepping inside invites two immediate thoughts: so this is where everyone in Aptos is on a Wednesday night. And, there is something really special happening here.

“I definitely think there was an experience enhancement,” says owner Larry Ingram about his decision, shortly after opening six years ago, to bring the blues into his dining room. “I felt like on those nights, I myself even enjoyed being here more. And I wanted everyone to experience it, not just on a weekend or Friday night, it should be every night.”

The blues were a natural marriage with the traditional barbecue coming out of his kitchen, says Ingram, but also with this part of town. “The first night we had live music here the Blues Festival was going on, and that’s actually when it dawned on me that this is our thing, we need to run with this,” Ingram says.

Ever since that aha moment, Ingram has worked to promote a music-friendly ambiance, expanding the dining room and stage area in 2012, and refinishing the walls and ceiling with salvaged redwood boards to improve the acoustics.

“We don’t do anything larger than a trio,” says Ingram. “We’re really looking to stick to this intimate vibe. We don’t want to blast people out with a full band.”

Call and Response

Al Frisby, one of Aptos St. BBQ’s regular blues acts, is a one-man-band with a wealth of rare and archetypal Americana songs stored in his cellular memory, most of them from the Deep South. He reaches for a different instrument at the start of each one.

“These songs I do are all the spices you would need to make a pot of American music,” he says. Tonight, he’s surrounded by six guitars, including a hollow-bodied Hawaiian guitar and a resophonic steel guitar, an electric mandolin, accordion, 35-pound banjo and several shakers he hands out to willing listeners. Oh, and also, a pair of Italian boots, which house two feet that never stop moving—his stomps and taps amplified by a mic he rigs up beneath the stage just before the hungry crowd arrives.

For Frisby, the hollow wooden stage at Aptos St. BBQ is a godsend of percussive tone, and he leaves his drums at home.

“I’m from New Orleans, I need to hear that bass drum kickin’, especially to play horns or what not,” he says.

As a full-time musician, Frisby’s survival depends on club owners like Ingram who see something special in a type of music that “the majority of society would walk right by,” he says. It seems unlikely that they would, though, as Frisby can captivate an entire room with nothing more than his voice, claps and stomps.

“I told Larry when he hired me three years ago, ‘Larry, these people don’t know this music. What are you doing?’” says Frisby. “And he said ‘We’re gonna teach them, we’re gonna provide an environment that you don’t see much, give them music that they don’t see much and give them something really special.’”

Other local performers gracing the Aptos St. BBQ stage include Delta bluesman Lloyd Whitney; Christopher Watkins, a.k.a. Preacher Boy; and the downhome-styled Hawk N’ Blues Mechanics.

As we leave the show, Frisby is promising to take the audience “down the back road” as he launches into a field shout by Son House called “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in Your Face.” Frisby has explained to me how the call-and-response vocals of the field shout were originally augmented by the boom, crack rhythm of railroad and field work, and now it echoes with our steps on the tracks all the way back home.

INFO: Music is 6-8 p.m., seven nights a week, plus 1-4 p.m. on Saturday at Aptos St. BBQ, 8059 Aptos St., Aptos, 662-1721, aptosstbbq.com. PHOTO: Blues and Americana solo artist Al Frisby plays Aptos St. BBQ every Wednesday night and sometimes twice a week: CHIP SCHEUER

Managing Editor at Good Times Newspaper |

The former managing editor at Good Times, Maria Grusauskas contributes to the column Wellness, and also gravitates toward stories about earth science. She won a CNPA award for environmental reporting in 2015. Her interests include photography, traveling, human consciousness, music, and gardening. Her work has also appeared in Astronomy magazine, High Times magazine, Los Gatos magazine and on shareable.net.

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