Posted in Music

Review: The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN


We attended the Interntional Blues Challemge this year for the first time and this is my attempt to sort out and write about the happy, exciting chaos that was our experience of the event.

The International Blues Challenge happens every year on and around Beale Street. Blues Societies from all over the US and around the world  send representative musicians in the Solo/Duo and Band categories, as well as Youth Groups who appear in a showcase but do not coopete. In addition, there are other showcases from record labels and others occurring. This year, 250 acts competed. The groups appear at clubs allup and down Beale. The Competition starts on Tuesday and ends on Saturday with the finals. We got there on Thusday, in time for the quarter-finals. 

After making the long  drive from Marietta, GA to Memphis we checked into our hotel and walked the five blocks to Beale.  We had no idea where to start but we had just listened to Chris Popovic’s excellent new CD”The Next Place I eave,” in the car so we went to The Pig to see him. he place was crammed but a very  nice ouople from Ohio let us sit with them. We ate excellent barbecue and listened to Popovic’s performance, which was excellent. We then proceeded to another club, and right here I must conress that I cannot remember who we saw where in every case. It was, as I said, happy chaos. We saw Atlanta’s solo/duo entry, Blind Cadilac, and they did a good job under somewhat difficult circumstances.  The acoustics were not ideal in that club for an acoustic act, especially in the midst of that crowd.  Leaving there, we stumbled on to Rum Boogie, where we heard the excellent Markey Blue, Atlanta’s band representatives. We had met up with the large and enthusiastic Atlanta contingent, all dear friends of vours ,by this time. Markey’s performance was high-energy as usual and they adanced to the semi-fianls the next day, although Blind Cadillac did not.

On Friday, we had breakfast at Miss Polly’s, which was delicious, and then went to the Blind Raccoon showcase, whee we heard an act new to us, JoyAnn Parker





. We loved her and her band and I got to meet Betsie Brown, who sends me a lot of CDs from Blind Raccoon.

We left there and went to the Women in Blues showcase to see Tullie Brae, which was so packed that I did not think we could stay. Ken and I started to leave, but outside the building Ken said,”That’s a really nice hat.” Turning aruond, I caught sight of a tall top hat with a jeweled cross on the front over the top of the crowd. “That’s Tullie!” I cried and pushedmy way to her. She was thrilled to see us and threw her arms around me. “Are you coming to see me?” “We want to, Tullie, but there’s no room to sit or stand in there.” “I have a seat for you, she said, grabbing my arm. So this beautiful and very tall woman pushes her way through the crow dragging me along with Ken just behind and takes us to her table in thev ery back. Her manager Jamie Fallon was there and greeted us happily, along with several people I didn’t know.Tullie disappeared toward the stage and we settled in,when a woman who works for Blues E-News looked up and said, “Oh hi, Rb!” I glanced his way and it was Rb Stone, stpping by to say hello I had never met him but had just reviewed his marvelous CD, ” Some Call it Freedom, so was thrilled to meet him. He had read the review and remembered that I reviewed his last one as well, and was very gracious.

We got to hear and see Tullie, who as exciting and dynamic as always and then went bak to the Blind Racooon showcase to catch Diane Durrett and Soul Suga at the Blind Raccoon showcase with some of the Atlanta contingent. What a lot of fun they are to watch. They sound great and they look great. From there we went to the Youth Showcase and heard our Atlanta group, No Solution, who impressed the crowd, but the kids and the older people, with their talent. I can’t wait until they are old enough to compete for Atlanta in a few years.

I am mildly mobility challenged due to diabetes issues and require a cane for walking some of the time. At this point, I was worn out and we called it an early night and went back to the hotel.

Really, that pretty much ends the Blues Challenge coverage. We wanted to get tickets to see our friends Lindsay and Aiken pick up their Keeping the Blues Alive award for our favorite club and home way from home, Darwin’s,  at the Orpheum Theater, especially since I wrote their application and all the desciptions The Blues Foundation used on the website and inthe award programs were mine. But the tickets were sold out so we spent the day exploring some of Memphis’ museums and special places, and I  will tell you about that in the next article. Saturday night, we went to an ater-parypresented by one of the nicest men in contemporary blues, Jeff Jensen, and his amazing band,Bill RUffino and David Green. It was a highlight of the trip for both of us because we love Jeff. A special moment was when Mick Kolassa got up a ang a verse with them. I really like Mick as both person and performer (and producer.) They don’t stand still so this is as close asa we could get to a good picture:

The whole experience was exhausting but exciting and fun. The talent of every competitor we heard was astounding. I really hope to do it again next year!




I am the author of a number of books, including Southern Crossroads: Georgia Blues, T;Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, about blues women, The Irish Slaves, a non-fiction work about Irish History, and Haunted Marietta, a nook from the History Press about my hometown of Marietta, GA and its ghosts. I am a member and sponsor of The Atlanta Blues Society.

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