Saturday Blues Jams
Original lithograph by Neil Harpe
Bluesman and barber Archie Edwards operated his barbershop in Northeast Washington, DC, for nearly 40 years. In a tradition he began in the late 1950s, “Archie’s Barbershop” became the place to be on Saturday afternoons when musicians gathered for an informal acoustic blues jam. Archie would close his barbershop about mid-afternoon, pick up his Gretsch steel pan guitar and preside over a blues jam with his friends. It was a haven for all who loved the blues – a place for friends to socialize and to play, listen to, and learn the music. All “Brother Arch” asked as he sat in his lone barber chair was that you respect the music and the people who came to the shop.
Weekly Jam Tradition
Archie’s passing in 1998 threatened to close the door of his ministry of the blues. To keep that from happening, friends and fellow musicians formed the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation.
The blues jams have thrived ever since. Widely recognized as the only all-acoustic blues jam in the country, the Saturday jams draw musicians and visitors from near and far.
Musicians of all skill levels are welcome to join in, and many music-lovers stop by just to listen. Besides being a good time for everyone, Saturdays at the Barbershop allow the young to learn from the old and the Piedmont blues tradition to be passed down to the next generation.
The music played at the jams spans the acoustic blues repertoire. A jam might include an eclectic mix of guitars and harmonicas, a piano, fiddles and mandolins, “bones” and other hand percussion instruments, horns, and upright bass. Unusual instruments might include a fujara flute, washtub bass, or musical saw. The only rule is that no electric instruments are allowed. Over the years, visitors to the Barbershop have
included such blues artists as Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, John Jackson, John Cephas, Flora Molton, Phil Wiggins, Warner Williams, and Jay Summerour. In recent years, memorable visitors have joined the jams from Russia, Japan, and a harmonica player from Brazil who was so inspired by his experience that he started a “barbershop jam” in his home town.
To get a flavor of what happens at the jams and the range of people and acoustic instruments they play, go to the Sights and Sounds section of this site. But the best way to experience Archie’s Barbershop is to come to a Saturday jam – to play, to listen, and to soak in the fellowship that comes with sharing a love of music.
After Archie’s original building was sold in 2008, the Foundation moved to a historic building next to the railroad tracks in Riverdale, Maryland. The new home of the weekly jams soon earned the building its affectionate nickname, the “Barbershop.”
A corner of the building housed artifacts and memorabilia from Archie Edwards, including his barber and shoeshine chairs. The larger quarters also allowed the Foundation to expand its program beyond the weekly Saturday jams to holding concerts,
workshops, and special events. Adding to the enjoyment of many a concert was the sound of a train whistle, coming at just the right moment in a blues song.
For the next 10 years, the weekly jams and the Foundation continued to thrive and grow in the Riverdale building.
New Home: Hyattsville “Barbershop”
In early 2019, the Foundation lost its lease when the Riverdale building was slated for redevelopment. With help from a large community of friends and supporters, the Foundation was able to quickly find a suitable new home in the nearby arts district of Hyattsvlle, Maryland.
The vintage storefront has been fitted with all of the art, photographs, and memorabilia from the previous home, including Archie’s barber and shoeshine chairs. The new site for the Saturday jams, concerts, and workshops soon earned its “Barbershop” nickname too.
Find Archie’s Barbershop
The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation and the weekly Saturday jams are now located in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Address: 4502 Hamilton Street
Hyattsville, Maryland 20781
Parking: There is limited parking behind the building and some street parking in the neighborhood. There are three public parking lots located within one block of the Barbershop.
The jams take place Saturday from 1-5pm - with very few exceptions. However, the jam might be canceled due to bad weather or an emergency such as an equipment failure. The jam is skipped if a major holiday falls on a Saturday. On very rare occasions, the jam may be held at a community event instead of at the Barbershop. Before setting out, please check the Events page on this site or the AEBHF Facebook page to check for announcements affecting the jam.