International Blues Competition 2014

By Richard White, January 23/24, 2014

Where to go? Who to see? When to see them? The schedule for the competition was finally published yesterday at noon and everyone was quickly scrambling to figure out where and when their favourites were playing.

Tim Williams plays for the judges on Day 1.  Williams successfully moves to the semi-finals. 

Sure enough, the two Calgary participants were playing within a few minutes of each other at different venues – Mike Clark Band (MCB) at 7:20 and Tim Williams at 7:30. Even though the venues are only a block away, it wasn’t really possible to see them both.  Most of the Calgary contingent went to see MCB, but when we got there early, we found the room very loud so decided to check out the single/duo acts at Jerry Lee Lewis (JLL) venue to catch Tim Williams.  Good decision. 

JLL is like a big old southern mansion, with big square rooms on the second floor that are very comfortable for intimate performances.  Good place for one scotch, one bourbon and one beer and to listen to some amazing performers.

The competition was strong and Tim’s set was very good. As one of the people at our table said, “he is unique,” which is so true. Of all the performers so, far he is perhaps the most traditional, playing songs deeply rooted in delta blues history.  However, it was strange to see Tim in a jacket and tie with his fancy saddle shoes.

The three blocks of Beale Street were hopping from late afternoon until after 1 am, with people popping in and out of venues trying to catch as many acts as possible. It was a tough call - do you just settle in someplace or do you want to frantically run around like a chicken with your head cut off?

Ghost Town Blues Band is a spiritual experience. Voodoo anyone? GTBB successfully move to semi-finals.

Pop-in / Pop-out Flaneuring

After a while it is tough to sit any longer and needed some fresh air, so I adopted the “pop-in/pop-out” technique.  I went up and down the street and dropped into a venue when I heard something interesting, stayed until the end of the set and then popped back out to flaneur down the block some more.

This worked very well as I got to see each of the venues and was able to catch a lot of good music. 

By the end of the evening the street was full of guitar cases. 

Highlights of the Night

The two bands that stood out for me were the Ghost Town Blues Band and the Randy Oxford Band.   I am a sucker for high energy and both these bands played their hearts and souls out.

The Ghost Town Blues Band, from Memphis, was a finalist in 2013 and it showed.  The six members have a synergy of the sound and visuals that includes a cigar-box guitar with trombone, sax and fun horn section that results what the program describes as “21st century blues at its best.”

The Randy Oxford Band (South Sound Blues Association) also features a trombone player i.e. Randy Oxford.  Maybe there is something about the trombone and me that I didn’t know.  Reading the program, I learned that the trombone was one of the original blues instruments featured in W.C. Handy’s band in Memphis in the early 1900s.   While Randy is the leader, all of the band members contribute equally to what was a highly entertaining performance – it makes you want to shake and smile!

The surprise performance of the night was Monica Morris and Josie Lowder (Central Illinois Blues Club) who are both from musical families. Monica is the voice and Lowder the fingers.  Together, they created great vocal harmonies.  The svelte Josie effortlessly made her guitar bend but not break and Monica sang with her heart on her sleeve. 

The After Party Jam

At about 11ish, after the competition was over, the after party jams broke out.  I headed to the New Daisy Theatre where the All-Star Jam hosted by John Richardson and Sean Carney.  It was an all-star night with three sax players and two keyboardists who were joined by an ever-rotating number of guitar players and drummers lined up back stage waiting to get on.

The evening was magical with almost everyone crowding the stage for an “up close and personal” experience that would be hard to beat anywhere anytime I expect.

Earlier in the day, we had been to Sun Studio and while no doubt it was a special time in Memphis’ history when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were all playing and recording at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel the 2014 edition of the International Blues Competition (30th anniversary) may become another great moment in the city’s long musical history. Maybe it is just the newbie in me talking?

The crowd at the New Daisy Theatre are luvn the energy, music and comaraderie at the midnight jam.

Calgary's Mike Clark wows them at the Thursday night All-Star Jam. 

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International Blues Competition: International Showcase