by AARON BREWINGTON
Joel Kohen has been passionate about the Bloomington music scene since his days as an undergraduate at Indiana University, but he went from enthusiast to proprietor when he and his wife, Deana, bought the Port Hole Inn in January 2017. Since then, Kohen has kept the establishment’s musical tradition alive, bringing local talent to the shores of Lake Lemon.
Kohen, 55, discovered the Port Hole when he was an undergrad looking for live music back in 1983. “We used to come out to see bands and get crazy,” Kohen says. “Here it is 30-something years later and I own it.”
After moving back to the area in 2000, Kohen reconnected with the bar-restaurant, taking in the local lore and its colorful cast of characters. Some of the musicians who have played at the Port Hole—including Bloomington native Bobby Helms, who was the first singer to release “Jingle Bell Rock” back in 1957—have their pictures on the wall.
When the Bloomington Blues Jam abruptly ended in December 2018 with the closing of Players Pub, Kohen, along with The Movin’ Hips band members John Missik and Jeff Shew, decided they couldn’t let the Jam die. Now the Blues Jam alternates between the Port Hole and Bear’s Place, 1316 E. 3rd St., on Tuesday nights. “We decided to have it at both places for people that couldn’t drive all the way out here but still wanted to be a part of it,” Kohen says.
The revival of the Blues Jam has helped reignite the Bloomington music scene, says Kohen. “It gives people a chance to play in front of an audience, which is so important for a young musician,” he says. “Getting the younger generation out there playing music and learning from the old timers. That’s what Blues Jam is all about.”
The Blues Jam takes place 8 to 11 p.m. every Tuesday. The event is free and open to audience members and those who want to play. Visit the group’s Facebook page at Bloomington, Indiana Blues Jam for more information.