Getting the Blues On in Rome

Big Mama blues bar in Rome

It’s hard to feel blue in Rome, even if you are traveling alone.

Rome is a well-spiced soup full of local color, art, chattering people, shops and bars. Life is moving all the time, from early morning when fresh markets set up, into the wee hours when couples and groups straggle home. Even as a solo traveler, one doesn’t feel fearful or tense—although I hasten to add that as a city dweller, I am always aware of my surroundings.

I enjoy live music—any kind. One night, I found an opera recital—old warhorses old—wrung out by two soloists in a church across the river at Ponte S. Angelo. The duo, with their brave accompanist trilled away at top volume practicing their repertoire: Tosca, Puccini, Verdi and rousing German duets, which especially pleased that crowd.

But I wanted to hear some jazz or Blues.

Trastevere, where I am staying, is home to one of the city’s iconic blues clubs, Big Mama’s. (www.Bigmama.it) It’s been going for thirty years, a favorite for locals and tourists. I went searching for the place one afternoon.

Via S. Francesco a Ripa is a well-travelled street with cafes, shops and businesses frequented by locals. In fact, it’s where I found a Laundromat, a used Italian bookstore and a vintage clothing shop called Twice with great high-end used pocketbooks, clothing and shoes.

After numerous inquiries, I honed in on it: Vicolo S. Francesco a Ripa, a tiny alley off the main drag. I expected a marquee proclaiming, “This is Big Mama’s.” But the doorway was unassuming, easy to pass by. Finally number 18, there it was.

Big Mama Entrance
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A group of young men were outside smoking (friendly) and I went to the box office window to purchase my ticket (about 10 Euros). Down a twisty stairway into a cave-like basement room with a small bar, a stage, two-dozen tables, and benches, I found my spot. The band was the “Coffeegrinders Blues Band.”

After a brief tune up and sound check, the music started rocking. Four guys, rhythm and slide guitar, bass, drums and lead singer began a rousing set of sort of recognizable American blues songs. I ordered a glass of wine (about 6 Euros) but given the heat generated by the crowd and the music, I should have ordered a long cold beer.

The lead singer was howling his lungs out, snapping his fingers and rocking to Johnny Cash. Soulful if not inspired…it was awesome to feel the pounding of the drums and bass in that small space It was a good long set and worth every penny for an evening’s entertainment.

Here are a couple of notes: Get there early or make a reservation, (06 5812551) as tables are few. Order the beer, as it will hold you for a set if the waitress doesn’t make it around again, (the wine pour was small). Accommodate the owner’s polite entreaty to be respectful of neighbors when leaving the club, because it’s nestled in a tight little residential neighborhood. People are tolerant in Rome and we don’t want to see that change. When you purchase your ticket, you will sign it, which enables you to step out and comeback in again.

Don’t know who big mama is…but I walked the few blocks home still humming “because you’re mine, I walk the line” in a thick Italian accent.

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Jane Goodman
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Jane Goodman

Jane Ranallo Goodman grew up in a lively Italian American family in New England. Her career included TV commercial actress in NYC, a public relations consultant and manager of public affairs for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, DC. Presently, she lives in Virginia where she runs her marketing business and small art gallery. She enjoys writing and painting and slow travel.
Jane Goodman
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