'Blueseum' – Marco Island exhibit of blues memorabilia opens with a sample of the real thing

Little Eddie is joined by trumpeter Renald Richard and bassist Mike Marciano. The Marco Island Historical Museum hosted a reception and musical performance Wednesday evening for the opening of an exhibit on artifacts of the blues in Florida. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Little Eddie is joined by trumpeter Renald Richard and bassist Mike Marciano. The Marco Island Historical Museum hosted a reception and musical performance Wednesday evening for the opening of an exhibit on artifacts of the blues in Florida. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Little Eddie and his crew gave Marco Island a lesson in cooking on Wednesday night.

The blues guitarist put on a show of tasty guitar licks, augmented by some well-seasoned musical collaborators, at the opening of "Florida's Got the Blues," a traveling exhibition at the Marco Island Historical Museum. Showing that Marco Islanders have a love of roots music, or that the season is officially underway, or both, the museum gallery was packed with spectators for a two-hour plus performance.

"Little Eddie" is the nom de guitar of Ryan Bladen, who often performs with his group, Little Eddie and the Fat Fingers. Wednesday, though, the fingers were his, flying over the fretboard of his beat-up Taylor guitar, as he repeatedly broke strings prying notes out of the instrument with a wrenching, gut-bucket style.

The room was lined with posters, record jackets, and old photographs of bluesmen – and blues women – highlighting the strong connection between the Sunshine State and blues music. Although not considered in the same breath as New Orleans, Chicago, or the Mississippi Delta, Florida lays claim to a lot of the classic performers, including Bo Diddley, Guitar Shorty, Blind Blake, and the great Ray Charles.

Marco Island's connection to Ray Charles couldn't be any more direct. The musical legend's first band director and trumpet player, Renald Richard, lives on Marco and was on hand Wednesday night, playing along with Little Eddie on a number of tunes, including the classic "I Got a Woman" (way over town, who's good to me) that Richard co-wrote with Ray.

If you go

Florida's Got the Blues

What: Exhibit tracing the Sunshine State's blues heritage.

When: Jan. 2-March 30, Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Where: Marco Island Historical Museum, 180 S. Heathwood Drive, Marco Island

Admission: Free

Information: www.themihs.orgor call 239-642-1440

Little Eddie was also joined by harmonica player Wolfgang Scheelen, from Germany. Both soloists played to great applause from the audience, which got into the music, even doing a call and response on "Got My Mojo Workin'" and "Boom Boom Boom Boom," providing lots of appreciative feedback. Less in the spotlight, but providing the backbone of the sound, bassist Mike Marciano provided a rock-solid bottom for the tunes. He is the father of Lisa Marciano of the museum staff, who put the exhibit's local showing together.

Richard demanded musicianship from his stagemates, instructing the other players to change the key of "I Got a Woman" from A to G on the fly, and launching right in.

"I can't believe how these guys know how to do these songs together, when they've never played together before," said Craig Woodward. "It's like they all speak a language the rest of us don't know."

"I'm amazed you don't break more strings," called out one audience member as Little Eddie attacked the guitar, bending strings ferociously. In addition to sounding bluesy, the performer went out of his way to look the part. He was a nattily dressed bluesman from head to toe, from his Homburg hat to his two-tone patent leather shoes.

Artist Paul Arsenault showed up with his wife Eileen, delivering a painting of the recently decommissioned Dairy Queen in Naples. Artist Muffy Clark Gill sat snapping photos of the musicians on her iPad, applying filters on the spot to turn them into psychedelic, impressionistic images.

"This is amazing," said museum volunteer Lori Wagor. "We're seeing people who have never been here before." Year 'round residents greeted returning snowbirds, checked out the other exhibits at the museum, and drank enough complimentary wine that an emergency resupply run was required.

The "Florida's Got the Blues" exhibit, created by the Museum of Florida History and touring the state, will remain at the Marco Island Historical Museum through March 30. For more information, call the museum at (239) 642-1440.

Little Eddie & the Fast Fingers will be playing at Mango's in the Esplanade on Marco Island this Friday night, Jan. 4, from 8-11 p.m.

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