No compromise yet on Bessemer juke joint

Supporters of Henry "Gip" Gipson, owner of Gip's Place, gather outside of Bessemer City Hall before a Bessemer City Council meeting/ CBS 42
Supporters of Henry "Gip" Gipson, owner of Gip's Place, gather outside of Bessemer City Hall before a Bessemer City Council meeting/ CBS 42

BESSEMER, Ala. (WIAT) -The future of the backyard blues tradition at a Bessemer home called Gip’s Place  is still in question.

On Saturday, May 4th, Bessemer Police responded to break up the party- which is a tradition that stretches back about 60 years according to supporters.

On Tuesday, May 7th, supporters of the world reknowned juke joint took their message to the city council and mayor.

Gipson was greeted with applause from dozens of people, many of whom he hugged before having a group prayer and marching into Bessemer City Hall to the sound of Amazing Grace with  a harmonica playing supporter at his side.

“There’s only 5 or 6 traditional blues juke joints in the United States and uh, we’d hate to see it go  because it’s a really lovely thing to get together with friends and family and listen to local musicians. Plus musicians from all around the world play there just because they want to play at Gip’s, because of the tradition and the tradition of the blues and the joy we have there.  It’s just fantastic,” said Marshall Foster.

Bessemer City Hall was filled to its capacity and supporters of Henry “Gip” Gipson spilled out onto the street when police stopped allowing anyone else to come upstairs.

There was a diverse crowd of people of different ages,  backgrounds, and addresses, but they all share one thing in common – they’re determined keep Gip’s Place open.  The tradition reportedly began in Henry “Gip” Gipson’s backyard about sixty years ago, but  the crowds have grown considerably in the last several years.

“I think it’s a good spotlight on the city of Bessemer with the bands that’s playing the blues and stuff. We all love it though, but you know I’m sympathetic to both sides. Maybe they can come to some kind of compromise,” said Kerry English, Gipson’s nephew.

Mayor Kenneth Gulley says the crowd has changed quite a bit since the tradition got rolling and now it’s gotten out of control.

Supporters say it’s a treasure, a truly unique establishment and an important part of history.

“As some have said it is a magical place it’s a place where prayers are said laughs are heard and friends are made. It is a wholesome place. Gip’s Place is a historic landmark. To move Gip’s to a building downtown will turn it into a bar,” said Ginger Barbee.

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said it wouldn’t matter if 1,000 people spoke out on behalf of Gip’s Place, that wouldn’t change the fact that the city considers it an illegal business.
Gulley told the room that no one set out to close the historic location, but that was the result of about a year of ongoing issues between the city, the neighborhood, and Gip’s Place.

Gulley told the room full of supporters that they were asking the city to ignore certain laws and enforce other laws.
“It is not licensed. It is not zoned. It is not permitted,” said Gulley.

“With all due respect to Mr. Gipson and everyone in this council, I have not heard one word from the actual people that ring   my phone every Monday morning saying my driveway is blocked, about I’m having to pick up trash… ,” said Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley.

“You would think that with this many people in a council chambers we could come up with a solution.”

One city council member proposed an alternative, offering to let Gipson use a location in a different district, but then the Bessemer City Council President added that that was not an offer one council member could make.

Henry “Gip” Gipson told us he has no intention of moving Gip’s Place anywhere.

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