A lot of people move to the Bradenton area for the weather.
Jack Sullivan moved here for the music.
Sullivan grew up in Manhattan and in 2010 was living in California when he decided to look for a new place to live. He looked at Portland, Ore., a town famous for its music scene. He looked at Kansas City, Mo., a town that has an entire genre of blues named after it.
Then he discovered Bradenton.
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“I was looking for a music scene that was primarily a blues scene, and Florida has that,” Sullivan said. “More clubs, more festivals.”
Floridians may not think of the Sunshine State as a hotbed of the blues, but Sullivan said that blues fans around the world know differently.
People call it the blues, but it makes be me feel good. When I’m down, I put on some blues and it picks me up.
And Sullivan knows the blues community. He’s a lifelong blues aficionado, a journeyman blues harmonica player — he has a cool story about jamming with Robert Cray, before Cray’s breakout “Strong Persuader” album, and another about opening for the Allman Brothers way back when — and the publisher of Blues Music Magazine.
Sullivan founded Blues Music Magazine in 2013. The glossy quarterly magazine chronicles the blues scene around the world. It is a print and digital publication, and it has print subscribers in six continents and more than 50 countries, he said.
“It’s been growing steadily,” Sullivan said.
The magazine has a three-person office in Bradenton, but it has contributing writers and photographers around the world, including 18 who have won the prestigious Keeping the Blues Alive award from the Blues Foundation in Nashville, Tenn.
The writers have no problem finding enough great material to fill the magazine, which runs about 72 pages and features album reviews and profiles of the most important figures in contemporary blues. Blues is such a diverse genre that there’s always something going on.
“The blues is a big house with a lot of rooms,” Sullivan said. “There’s blues rock, rhythm and blues, plain blues, Southern blues. We could talk all day about jazz and the blues.”
The subgenres are countless, but they all have one thing in common.
“It’s a true American art form,” he said. “It’s America’s national music.”
It’s a true American art form. It’s America’s national music.
About 18 months ago, Sullivan started the Blues Music Store, an online and mail-order service that sells the latest blues CDs, records and DVDs. In the middle of each issue of the magazine is an order form for 64 recent releases, and those who don’t have the physical magazine can shop through bluesmusicstore.com.
“Our phones were always ringing with people asking, ‘Where can I get this CD?’ ” he said. “Basically we got tired of answering the phone and saying, ‘online’ or ‘Amazon.’ Or, ‘We don’t know, that’s an independent CD with no distribution.’ ”
His next venture is a physical store in Bradenton (or nearby) that will sell blues albums. He thought he had a deal to buy a building in Village of the Arts, where he would have opened the store, but the deal fell through at the last minute. So he’s looking for another building, about 1,800 square feet, with parking.
Meanwhile, thanks in part to Sullivan and Blues Music Magazine, the eyes of the blues community are even more focused on Florida and Bradenton.
Sullivan is the co-founder of the Bradenton Blues Festival, the Suncoast Blues Festival in Sarasota and Camping With The Blues in Brooksville. All feature national acts and draw audiences from around the country.
“That’s three new blues festivals in seven years,” he said.
Sullivan is 64 and most of those years have been devoted to blues music. He doesn’t tire of it, even now that it’s his job.
“I’m sharing America’s national music,” he said. “People call it the blues, but it makes me feel good. When I’m down, I put on some blues and it picks me up.”