The bucket labeled “Tips” hits the table with a hollow plastic “thunk.” The wooden boards of the stage squeak as Randy Anderson steps up. He stoops to grab his acoustic guitar out of an open case, and then sits down in a wooden chair. The legs scrape the stage as he positions himself at just the right angle. He looks comfortable and relaxed on the illuminated stage, as if he was at home.
The crowd is very small and spread out sporadically at different tables around the room in Amazing Grace Bakery & Café. The evening is windy and brisk, but the atmosphere in the café is warm and welcoming. The crowd is almost silent as Anderson’s first chords shock the air waves to life.
His first song is minor and almost eerie. His foot taps along with the rhythm of the blues that his guitar is singing, and the audience begins to feel the music. Heads bob, shoulders sway. A man air drums on his table as Anderson adds his smoky, smooth voice to the music.
Anderson’s blues are saturated with emotion. His body sways and his eyes close while his fingers tease the eerie, beautiful notes from his guitar. He looks down at his left hand as it forms the chords, and occasionally glances out at the crowd.
He’s been entertaining crowds like this for a long time.
“I started when I was 15,” says Anderson. “I’ve always been in bands basically.”
From the Willow River area, Anderson makes the drive to Duluth on the first Saturday of every month to play at Amazing Grace at 8 p.m. He plays in the blues trio, Azure du Jour, but doesn’t mind playing solo sometimes.
“As I get a little older like this it’s harder to re-organize a band,” says Anderson.
While Anderson’s neatly trimmed beard has grayed with his age, his talent certainly has not.
He begins to play his second song, a little more upbeat. His voice gets smokier as he hits the higher, louder notes, and it is evident that he knows a thing or two about playing the blues.
“I’ve always liked blues, so I’ve stuck with blues-oriented bands,” says Anderson. “It’s always kind of grabbed me.”
As twilight begins to throw its dark blanket over Canal Park, Anderson’s music attracts people from outside the café. A group of young women walk by the window, bobbing their heads to the music that they hear playing inside. A couple comes in and they order coffee, standing and swaying with the music while they wait.
A young couple that had been cuddled together while watching Anderson, gets up to leave. The young man walks to the front of the room and drops a few folded dollar bills into one of the tip jars.
The workers are in the back, cleaning up the day’s mess, as Anderson begins another song.
“You’re my baby, I ain’t crazy, I’m just your fool,” he sings.
The silver band on his left ring-finger glitters in the light as his hand runs up and down the neck of his guitar. His brown, brimmed hat casts a shadow over his eyes when he looks down.
A man in a grey sweater gets up to stir honey into his blue mug of steaming coffee. A woman in the corner picks up her sewing and begins to cross-stitch. Another couple sits in the easy chairs, having a quiet conversation. All the while, Anderson continues to sing the blues.
“I’m goin down to New Orleans…my troubles had just begun,” he sings with strong emotion.
Anderson knows just how to make his blues shine.
“It’s not a complicated style of music, the form is simplistic,” he says. “If you want to do better, you have to play at an emotional level. It’s not as much about the technical stuff – it’s more how you play it.”