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Union blues
Worcester blues musicians in training

WORCESTER ó Blues and railroads have been connected since the musicís early days, when Robert Johnson compared his broken soul to a trainís tail lights in "Love in Vain" and W.C. Handy was inspired to set the genre to notation for the first time by an itinerant guitarist playing knife-blade slide at the station in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Fast-forward nearly eight decades to Worcester, where a new club called Union Blues opens this Saturday, February 14. As Chicago blues singer-guitarist Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson holds the upscale roomís elegant dark wood stage for the inaugural Valentineís Day performance, as many as 200 patrons will also have a trackside view of passing freight and passenger trains through the glass walls of the cityís beautifully restored Union Station, where the venue occupies part of the second floor.

The club is owned and run by Lee J. Beaudoin, a Millbury resident and former chief administrative officer for Fallon Community Health Plan. Beaudoin, with help from the city of Worcester, has invested some $400,000 in Union Blues, which will be open Tuesdays through Sundays offering blues and jazz, a full bar, and a menu of sandwiches and finger foods at lunch. After this weekendís grand opening, New York City guitarist Popa Chubby will appear on February 20 and 21; Roomful of Blues on February 24 and April 16 and 17; guitarist Debbie Davies on February 27 and March 5; saxist Greg Abate on February 28; Texas songwriter Randy McAllister on March 11, 12 and 13; West Coast blues outfit Little Charlie & the Nightcats on March 25; and gospel-blues-soul group the Holmes Brothers on March 27. (Check www.unionblues.org for further bookings.)

"This is something Iíve been thinking about for 10 or 12 years," Beaudoin explained at a low-key press conference at Union Blues on February 3 as workmen put final touches on the space and a long freight train shuttled cars onto a siding. "I want to present the best blues and jazz around in a setting thatís nice for the audience and performer friendly." To those ends, the club offers table seating and unobstructed views of the centrally located stage and a suspended $30,000 sound system designed for the room by engineers from the Framingham-based Bose Corporation. Beaudoin, who is also a former sax player, says he is using Bostonís Scullers as a model for his venue, which will be Worcesterís only upscale music club and is arriving just as the cityís Club Zara has stopped booking blues.

Performances will typically start at 8 p.m. and end in time for Bostonians to catch the final Purple Line train home. (The MBTA Web site lists that departure time at 11:40 p.m.) , Beaudoin explains, "The audience for this music is adults with kids and jobs who canít be out until 2 in the morning." Valet parking will be available, and thereís a public garage with 500 spaces two blocks away. Union Station reopened in 1999 after the city of Worcester, at a cost of $32 million, restored the two-towered structure to the polished marble-and-granite splendor of its original 1911 dedication. Built by the Boston & Albany Railroad, itís New Englandís second-largest passenger depot, after South Station, and itís considered a jewel of American railroadingís golden age.

Issue Date: February 13 - 19, 2004
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