As a show of support for the International Blues Challenge that we spotlighted last week, Chuck Porter of WEVL fame is posting updates here from the IBC, one of this city’s signature music events.
Here’s the latest as the Blues Challenge is poised to begin in earnest:
So the final day began with the gathering of the blues masses at the Orpheum. The finals orientation meeting was at noon to go over what was expected and what was about to happen.
After the orientation meeting, the Orpheum backstage began to take shape as the bands were bringing in gear and staking out a location to wait. The band competition would be first and the solo/duo later in the evening. Just before 2 p.m., the Orpheum was near capacity with only a few seats left in the upper level. The lobby was buzzing and CD’s from the artists were being sold in the lobby.
Honestly, I had not seen any of the bands who made it to the finals so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were 10 bands to compete and at 2:05 p.m., the first band, Little Rodger & The Cheap Thrills, hit their first note and the stop watch began for a 20-minute set. The Laurie Morvan Band, Lil’ Ray Neal Blues Band, Delta Wires finished at 3:20 p.m. and Trampled Under Foot began at 3:44 p.m. Immediately it was obvious the three siblings had something different.
Danielle Schnebelen, was the bass player and brothers Nick and Chris were behind her. When Danielle began to sing, there was a soulful raspy combination of Reba Russell and Susan Marshall. Their set ended with “Hard Headed Woman” and a standing ovation.
Backstage, the Doghouse Daddies were already on stage, and there was a call from the front of house as Trampled Under Foot CD’s were sold out. The seventh band in the line-up sparked interest as a tall lanky lady entered the stage with a long white coat on a voice that definitely turned everyone around. Shakura S’ Aida with her band, which included a female guitar player she referred to as “firecracker.” Awek, from France, played in the eight spot. They were the only international finalist and probably knew more about blues that any of the other bands.
Finally after a short break, it was time for the solo/duo challenge finals to begin. Six acts with 2blu starting off followed by the duo Dan Stevens and Chris D’Amato. I was familiar with Dan Stevens because he had participated in previous years. The fourth band in the line-up was Ben Prestage with whom I had worked Wednesday night at the Grizzlies game. Of the six, I thought he had the best chance. His music was more of a North Mississippi All-Stars-style similar to Richard Johnston that won back in 2001. The Lionel Young started his violin blues, which were reminiscent of Gatemouth Brown and gave him a little more uniqueness than the others.
Without question, the 24th annual International Blues Challenge was a huge success and well-attended by blues lovers outside of Memphis. I can honestly say there is the beginning of locals understanding what the IBC is and how popular it has become. However, we are a long way away from gaining any form of support from our home base. There’s always good talk, but the walk has a long dirt road ahead.
Finally, the winners were announced and just as expected, Trampled Under Foot was voted best band and Lionel Young and his violin were picked as the top solo/duo. They received prizes ranging from recording time to festival bookings and of course bragging rights. For most of the bands, just playing in Memphis on Beale Street was the best winning package they could receive.
It’s been another fun year. The daily blog has been a blast, and I hope that the insight about The Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge will help spread an understanding about the dedication that it takes to stage this event. Blues is not necessarily about sitting on the front porch listening to someone sing the same tune 20 times and only the words change with each tune. More accurately, it’s a vibrant form of music that gave us rock and roll and soul.
In an earlier post, I mentioned the young lady outside the club the other night saying: “I never liked the blues before but now I love it.” It’s always been there. She just had it presented to her in a different form.
Stayed tuned to the Blues Foundation. It’s next event will be the Blues Music Awards around the end of April in Tunica. I’ll be there and maybe you will be too.