Hittin’ the blue note

. June 17, 2014.
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Nestled away in the woods off of S. Berkey-Southern Road near Oak Openings in Swanton Township, Griffin’s Hines Farm stands as a reminder of days gone by, when 12-bar blues, horse racing and juke joints ruled Swanton’s social scene. Opened over 60 years ago, the club was a place where people of all ethnicities could get together for concerts, baseball games, good barbecue and cold beer in pre-Civil Rights America.

“Everything we have done is dedicated [in my Dad’s honor},” says owner Steve Coleman. “My dad bought this place because of his love for the blues. He used to sneak away to the farm when he was young and come up here to listen to music. He vowed that one day he would own this place and, after being told no several times, was able to purchase it.”

Opened in late 1940s

The farm, which was opened in the late 1940s by Frank and Sarah Hines, was originally an important social gathering place for many African-Americans who traveled to Ohio from the South in search of a better place to live. It was an entertainment destination for decades, featuring concerts by legendary bluesmen such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Freddie King, who stopped at the club on their way from Chicago to other hot-spots like New York or Detroit.

Following the death of Frank Hines in 1981, the club was purchased by local man Henry Griffin, who attempted to revive the once-famous blues venue. While he was able to partially rebuild the club and hold occasional blues concerts, Griffin was unable to achieve his dream of restoring Hines Farm to its former glory. When he died in January, 2013, Griffin willed the property to his son, Steve Coleman, who re-opened the venue on Saturday, May 31 with a performance by Buddy Boy Slim and the Blues Rockers. The concert had almost 600 people in attendance.

“A lot of people would say ‘You have to change with the times,’ but not here,” says Coleman. “It didn’t matter the amount of people who came through the door, it mattered which people came through the door to listen to the blues. People come here to see the blues, it is synonymous and it is what we will continue to do.”

Ribs, live music and dance

Walking into the venue is like traveling through a time machine to the America of the late 60s. A large horseshoe bar sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by walls covered with  concert posters of past shows at the farm. The original kitchen and stove are still intact, ready to pump out barbecued ribs, fried catfish and fried chicken dinners for hungry patrons. Outside in the back, a large cement dance floor is bookended by rows of wooden tables and an old stage that Coleman says will be rebuilt before the next outdoor concert, Eddie Shaw and the Wolfgang on Saturday, June 21.

“We have 35 acres in the back that we are going to turn into a baseball field with volleyball, soccer and flag football for children’s activities,” says Coleman. “My dad loved working with kids, so that is big for me. We will also have our COMBATT program, which stands for ‘Community of musicians battling against teen troubles.’ We are focusing on getting kids a safe place to go where they can learn, play and enjoy themselves.”

Coleman eventually plans on having an event once every week. “I am doing this in honor of the man on the wall,” Coleman says as he points to a picture of his father. “I want [my dad’s] legacy to continue on and this place to grow as much as it can.”

Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang perform on Saturday, June 21, with Buddy Boy Slim & The Blues Rockers to open.6pm. $18. Griffin’s Hines Farm Blues Club, 3950 S. Berkey Southern Rd., Swanton. 419-826-0230. griffinhinesfarm.com