The IBC gets bigger and better each year! Over 250 acts from around the world competed in the 2018 Challenge. Representing KCBS were the Taylor Smith Band and the duo act of Jason Vivone and Sam Platt.
Subfreezing temperatures and ice-snow mix made it difficult on folks traveling to Memphis. The International Showcase Tuesday evening, which I had been so looking forward to, was held at the Clayborn Temple which, I was told, was very cold and hard to tolerate for the entire evening. Meanwhile, my flight was rebooked so I didn't arrive until Wed. but while waiting to board that last leg in Houston, I met Felix Slim, a soloist representing the Asociacion Musical Blues Hondarribia of Spain. Felix, who now lives in New York, was an IBC finalist last year and again this year.
I met up with my travel companions at the Memphis airport, where the Ghost Town Blues Band met us and provided transportation at a most reasonable cost while showcasing their new CD as we traveled. Once settled in our rooms, we Ubered down to Beale St. Uber was our best friend during the week
Preliminary rounds of competition are held Wed. and Thurs beginning around 5pm and going until about 11:30pm. Solo/duo competition was held in 9 clubs and Band competition was held in 12 more all along Beale St. Each act plays at the same club both nights but in different order and with different judges. Scores are tabulated from both nights to select the top several acts from each club to move on to the semifinals.
It is ordinarily easy to meander among the clubs to hear snippets from a number of acts, or to hang out in the street and chat with musicians or friends. However the single degree temperatures held the pedestrian traffic down to single digits, with most folks choosing to find one club and stay put for the evening.
I decided to plant myself at the Hard Rock Cafe, where KC band and Topeka Blues Society entry Koolaid and the Exact Change Band were performing. Koolaid was scheduled for 5pm and he killed it! I've always said nobody lays down a groove like Koolaid. I sat through most of the next 7 bands but left to go to BB Kings across the street to catch some of the lovely Connie Hawkins and the Blues-Wreckers (representing Wichita Blues Society). I left during the last band to run to Coyote Ugly club where Taylor Smith Band put on a blues rock clinic!
Thursday night I squeezed into the crowded Mr. Handy's Blues Hall to see Jason and Sam for a bit, then moved around to catch some other acts, including the Doghouse Daddies at Jerry Lee Lewis'. In the wee hours, the announcement came that Jason and Sam, Koolaid, and Connie all would go on to perform on Friday in the semifinals!
The weather warmed up enough to melt the snow by Friday afternoon. Friday night Jason and Sam again performed at the Blues Hall, Connie and band performed at the very popular Club 152, and Koolaid was assigned to the Tin Roof (the old Hard Rock). We were lucky to find seats at the Tin Roof and we were there for the duration. Koolaid was up against very stiff competition, including the Ivy Ford Band, here. In fact, the competition I saw everywhere, including solo/duo, was stronger and more consistent than in past years. So what a thrill to check my phone at 6am Sat. and find that Koolaid would be performing at the Orpheum Theater in the finals, as would my friend Felix Slim!
There's plenty to do in Memphis while waiting for the next round of competition. The list is amazing: the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, the Civil Rights Museum, Graceland, the Metal Museum, Stax Museum, Gibson Guitar tour, Sun Records, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, Mud Island, and so on. In addition, numerous showcases of blues right there on Beale Street are presented; this year we attended the Galaxie Agency Showcase (in conjunction with the Topeka Blues Society) which featured Mike Farris. Hurricane Ruth, Jimmy Carpenter, Dawn Tyler Watson, the 12 year old prodigy Toby Lee, and more. A "Women in the Blues" continues to be a popular showcase and this year included KC's Heather Newman.
Youth acts were again featured during the week, although KCBS didn't have an entry. Thirty five youth acts (three at each club) performed Friday before the competition began.
The Finals on Saturday were exciting but long. The show started at noon and this year concluded around 8pm. Food trucks are parked outside for the convenience of the attendees, and the sidewalks had big clumps of ice salt to step over. KC needs to teach Memphis how to spread salt!The list of finalists in their order of play appears in the photo at the top of this article. Koolaid was in the sweet spot, last to linger in the minds of the judges. Alas, it was not to be his night. Winners were:
Kevin “B.F.” Burt, Central Iowa Blues Society
Daniel Eriksen, Oslo Bluesklubb
1st place: Keeshea Pratt Band, Houston Blues Society.
2nd place: Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis, Memphis Blues Society
3rd place: Artur Menezes, Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society
Band Guitar Award: Artur Menezes, Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society
Solo/Duo Guitar Award Kevin “B.F.” Burt, Central Iowa Blues Society
Harmonica Award: Kevin “B.F.” Burt,Central Iowa Blues Society
Best Self Produced CD: Blue Metamorphosis, Jontavious Willis,Atlanta Blues Society
To keep the crowd entertained while calculating scores, an all star jam took place, featuring Victor Wainwright, Bob Margolin, Billy Branch, Jimmy Carpenter, Tony Braunagel and more. Tony and Billy were judges this years, as was Bruce Springsteen bassist/Sopranos TV star Steven Van Zandt.
A couple of bands I discovered are the Betta Blues Society from Pisa Italy and the Angies, an all-girl Rolling Stones tribute band who I later found out were staying at my hotel. We also noticed that a lot more bands have women members, which is interesting and pleasing. Kevin Burt, solo/duo winner, was one of the most exciting finds. He has a powerful voice and did a super original interpretation of the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby (see link on his name, above).
The competition is more that just a contest--it is an industry convention for talent buyers. It is a networking opportunity for musicians to book gigs and get on the radar of producers and agents. And it is a fan paradise, from 10am to way past midnight, with extra credit if you love BBQ. The hardest thing about Beale Street is the paucity of plentiful healthy food choices. Fried this and carbed up that, and it shows on the scales when I get home!
Kansas City has every reason to be proud of KC musicians. We have an embarrassment of riches in the quality of talent here and we are envied by every other blues society around the world.
Submitted by LaDonna Sanders