Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Preface

It is hard to believe that even in 2015, whites in Memphis and the entire Delta area haven’t embraced the blacks for their wonderful spirit and joie de vivre.  Someone told me (I wish I could remember who) many years ago “we must embrace the differences that define us, not let them divide us.”  After attending the IBC, checking out the museums of Memphis, wandering Clarksdale and attending the First Baptist Church service, I say “vive la difference!”

International Blues Challenge

  Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

In December 2013, a few of Mikey’s Juke Joint groupies (including myself) decided to head to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC) to support the Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams, both of who would be representing southern Alberta at the January 2014 competition.  It was a truly amazing experience, not only did Williams win the competition as the best single/solo act and best guitarist, but I developed a whole new appreciation for the history of the blues and the culture of the south that produced it.

This year’s Challenge happens January 20 – 24 with Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams again representing southern Alberta.

The Museums

One of the great things about visiting Memphis is their trio of music museums – Stax Museum, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records.

The STAX Museum blew both Brenda (not so much a blues or music keener) and I away with its campus that includes not only the museum, but a charter school and extensive collection.  For anyone interested in the history of 20th century music in North America, this is the place to go. You will learn about the evolution and connections between numerous genres of music – blues, soul, jazz, Bebop, country, gospel, hillbilly, R&B, rock and Pop music.  What I particularly loved about the museum is there is its air of authenticity as much of the history actually happened in Memphis or in the immediate area.  

  STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

The museum starts with a wonderful 20-minute film, after which you wander at your own pace through hundreds of displays that tell the story of the music with lots of memorabilia.  The highlight was when I complemented an elderly, distinguished-looking man on his great tie.  He thanked me and we got chatting about the museum and how he was visiting with his grandchildren who “wanted to see where their grandfather was” in the museum.  Turns out I was talking to Harold “Scotty” Scott of the Temprees, whose gold record for “Dedicated to the one I love” and other band artifacts we on exhibit.

One take away message I got from this museum was how the pain and hardship deeply penetrated the African American culture of the south and how they sought comfort and solace in their music.

I would recommend anyone visiting the museum, also take an explore a few around the museum, it will reinforced the link between poverty, sense of place and blues music.  The predominately black neighbourhood of empty lots, abandon homes, homes with what looked like religious shrines on the porches and numerous churches looked like many of the images we saw in the museum.

In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell.

  One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

  Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institute and located downtown next to the arena provides an excellent overview of the history of Memphis area music from the 1930s to the city’s musical heyday of the ‘70s.  The museum’s digital audio guide offers up over 300 minutes of information including 100 songs that you can listen to while surrounded by artifacts of the time.  It is a total music immersion program not to be missed.

Sun Records, located just outside of the downtown, is easily accessible via the tram and a short walk to the historic building. Like the STAX museum, I think you get a better appreciation for the history and the environment that produced the music when you walk the streets around it.

The lobby of Sun Studio looks like a '50s diner.

What is great and unique about Sun Records is that you get a personal tour led by a local musician.  Sun Records, an American independent record label was founded in Memphis in 1952, by Sam Phillips and financed by Jim Bulliet.  It was here that Phillips discovered and first recorded Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Phillips loved the music of African-Americans and wanted to bring that genre to a mass audience, which changed the world of music, but meant Sun Records struggled to be viable. 

The museum is full of artifacts and your tour guide has amazing stories to tell.  But the highlight of the tour is to stand on in the recording studio where Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny belted out your favourite songs. The building just oozes history - I am sure I heard Roy singing.

The modest entrance to Sun Studio.

One of  the many artifacts from the early days of Sun Studio.

The recording studio is still used today. It looks like a rec room from the '50s. It is hard to imagine that this is place where the legends of '50s and '60s music created their hits here.

Beale Street

Beale Street, truly one of North America’s iconic streets, is home to the International Blues Competition (IBC). The event utilizes 17 different venues along the street for the 250+ entries from around the world.  The street is hopping with music from noon to the wee hours of the morning. 

For me, the highlight of the Challenge were the midnight jams at the Daisy Theatre (every night various musicians from the competition and past winners put on an impromptu concert, the energy was electrifying).   There are certain art experiences that stand out in my life - seeing Baryshnikov dance from the front row of the Lincoln Centre (1984) and the Hermitage Show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1977) - and the IBC jams on Beale Street.

  Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

  The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

Clarksdale

No trip to Memphis for a blues lover is complete without a road trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi (90 minute drive), considered by some as “ground zero” for the blues. The entire city is a living museum complete with numerous historical plaques and a self-guided map. 

Clarksdale is home to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend has it iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.   You can also visit the McKinley Morganfield’s (aka Muddy Waters) cabin on Stovall Road. There are lots of tiny cabins still inhabited that serve as a reminder of the poverty that begat the blues.  

When in Clarksdale check out The Delta Blues Museum, WROX radio station on Main Street and all of the other historic sites around town, it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the blues was germinated.

Ground Zero Blues Club opened in 2001 in an old warehouse building with “manufactured authenticity” complements of an old couch and other bric-a-brac on the porch and the tradition of graffiti-like visitors writing of their names anywhere they can find space. names of people who have been there on the walls.  We arrived mid day (nothing was happening), but we did manage to get on stage and pretend we were performing.

In chatting with Holger Petersen (veteran CBC and CKUA blues broadcaster), after his talk about the history of the blues at NMC a few years back he told me Ground Zero was one of his favourite places to listen to the blues. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Clarksdale, checking out the museum, eating dinner and listening to an act Ground Zero and maybe even book yourself a room at the Riverside Hotel, established in 1944, where the the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Ike Turner had been guests.

It truly is a sacred place.

  Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Panels like these are located throughout the city, creating an informative self-guided walking tour. 

WROX radio
  Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the  Tennessee Williams historic district  of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the Tennessee Williams historic district of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Barry (another Mikey's groupie) and I on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club. 

Gospel Revelation

No trip to Memphis is complete without attending a Sunday morning Gospel Church service. While many trek to the well-publicized Al Green church service near Graceland, we were fortunate to notice during our wanderings that at the end of Beale Street is the First Baptist Church (built in 1880, it is believed to be the first brick-constructed, multi-story church built by African Americans).  We like authenticity so this seemed like the perfect choice.

So on Sunday morning, when many IBC revellers were still recovering from their Saturday night festivities, we headed to church.   Wanting to be respectful, we tried toquietly walk in and sit at the back, but that was not to be.  We were immediately welcomed like long lost family, hands were shaken, we were given a program, and by the end hugs were shared and we were part of “the family.”  I have never experienced a more friendly welcoming. 

At the beginning of the service, all-newcomers were welcomed by name and where they were visiting from.  We were asked to stand to be recognized and invited to say a few words. Then amateur singers and preachers started to perform building to a crescendo with a large female choir and professional passionate preacher that made both your body and soul shiver. I don’t think I have ever heard so many AMENs in my life. 

Initially planning to only stay for 30 minutes or so, we were mesmerized we stayed for the entire two-hour service.  We were even invited to join them for lunch afterwards.  It was a magical experience. Amen!

insidechurch

Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

Summer is Calgary’s busiest tourist season. It is when family and friends love to come to Calgary, not only for the 10 days of Stampede, but for all of July and August. However for most Calgarians’ the top-of-mind place to take visitors is to Banff and the mountains. I would like to change that!

I thought it would be fun to put together a blog of postcards reflecting the many things to see and do in Calgary with tourist this summer and anytime. 

I have tried to find “everyday” things to see and do, not just the obvious attractions – Glenbow, Calgary Tower, Heritage Park, Zoo, Science Centre, Calaway Park, Chinook Centre or IKEA (now that Winnipeg has its own IKEA, you are going to have to find someplace else to take visiting Winnipeggers).

I have tried to identify “off the grid” uniquely Calgary spots versus obvious touristy things.  I have also tried to identify a diversity of things to see and do that will appeal to a variety of interests. And, most of the things are FREE!

I hope these “everyday tourists” postcards from Calgary will be a catalyst for Calgarians to spend more time exploring Calgary with their visiting family and friends this summer, or anytime of the year for that matter.

Calgary's downtown is home to the world's most extensive elevated indoor walkway system - the +15. The name comes from the fact the bridges are 15 feet off the ground.  Over 60 bridges, connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km walkway.  Unfortunately it is a bit like a maze and it is not contiguous, but it is a unique and fun way to explore the downtown especially for kids. Along the way amongst other things you can find a bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of one office building and the skeleton of a bison in another. Download +15 Map

Calgary has several great pedestrian districts - Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street and 17th Avenue. This is the little "no name" plaza on 10th street where buskers are entertaining people passing by - it is always animated and didn't cost a half million dollars to create.   These streets are great places to do some local shopping, sample some of Calgary's great cuisine scene or one of our craft beers.  All of these streets have great patios for relaxing and people watching. 

  This is  Canada's Sports Hall of Fame  at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest  military museum ?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

This is Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest military museum?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

Calgary's Power Hour happens Monday to Friday on nice sunny days when over ten thousand downtown workers head out for a power walk along Stephen Avenue at lunch hour.  This phenomena is something visitors will enjoy seeing and participating in, it is a people watching extravaganza. (photo courtesy of Jeff Trost)

Calgary has one of the world's largest urban pathway system - over 750 km.  While you are walking, running or biking along the north side of the Bow River at the Louise (10th St) bridge you should consider stopping and checking out the new Poppy Plaza - Calgary's newest monument to Canada's war and peace keeping efforts. 

Who needs to go to the mountains when Calgary has over 5,000 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world - Fish Creek Park and Nose Hill.  This is Edworthy Park home to the Douglas Fir Trail - perhaps Calgary's quintessential trail.

Floating down one of Calgary's two rivers is a great way to spend a summer day with visiting family and friends. You could even try your hand a fly fishing as the Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. 

This is just one of hundreds of public artworks in and around Calgary's downtown.  You could easily spend a day wandering the streets, parks, plazas and gardens to see how many you can find. Hint: There are still several of the fun cow sculptures on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  You can also download the City of Calgary's public art tour. FYI...this piece is titled "Ascension" and was made by INCIPIO MONDO and is located in a mini-park at the southwest corner of 4th Ave and 9th St. SW. Download Public Art Tour  

Calgary has many historical buildings and districts in the inner-city, from the majestic early 20th century sandstone schools to old city hall. Stephen Avenue (8th Street SW) from Centre St to 4th St. SW is a National Historic District and Inglewood has a heritage Main Street.  If you have a history buff visiting you will want to be sure to take them to our two historical districts, along with maybe Fort Calgary, Glenbow and Heritage Park.  A great resource to have  is "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders, it offers 10 different self-guided tours of Calgary historical communities in and around the downtown. Or print off the City of Calgary's self-guided tour of Stephen Avenue and you are all set for a half-day of exploring. (Photo credit: George Webber, one of Canada's most respected photographers). 

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

When in Calgary, eat like locals do?  Chicken on the Way and Peter's Drive-In are two of Calgary's iconic eateries. Click here for:  Top Ten Places to eat like a local?

Explore your own neighbourhood, on foot or on bike - you might be surprised what you will find. We love to take visitors to our favourite local spots like this musical fence. 

Calgary has a great cafe culture. Caffe Rosso located in interesting places like the Old Dominion Steel site in Ramsay is just one of the many independent cafes. Learn more: Calgary's cafe scene.

Riding the train can be a fun and an inexpensive way to spend a day, especially with young children. You can buy a day pass and hope off and on as much as you like.  You can combine a train trip with exploring downtown, or perhaps a trip to the Zoo or the Science Centre - both are easily accessible by the train. 

This is the Sunalta LRT station just outside of downtown, from this station you could walk to Mikey's Juke Joint for their famous Saturday Afternoon Jam or to Heritage Posters & Music to browse their  wonderful collection of posters, records and music memorabilia. 

Calgary has a festival pretty much every weekend through out the summer, including Global Fest fireworks completion in lovely Elliston Park, August 14 to 15, 2014. 

  If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the  Swerve Magazine  in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the Swerve Magazine in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into history or reading, bookstore browsing is a fun activity.  Calgary is home to one of the Canada's most unique bookstore - Aquila.  Located at 826 - 16h Avenue, right on the TransCanada Highway it specializes in polar expeditions, Western Canadiana and Canadian Pacific Railway. Yes those are two authentic Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Pages in Kensington is also a great bookstore with lots of readings and FairsFair is a great used bookstore and has several locations. 

If you really want to show your visitors you are "hip" and "tin he know" you might want to take them to Salvage in Ramsay, just down the road from Cafe Rosso and not very far from the Crown Surplus and Ribtor in Inglewood. You could easily spend a day pretending  you are on the set of Canadian or American Pickers TV show. Anyone into retro or vintage artifacts or antiquing or thrifting would love these places. 

Footnotes:

If you are interested in walking tours the City of Calgary’s website has several, including cemetery tours.  You can also pic up David Peyto’s Walking tour books or the iconic "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders.  You can even book your own private tour with Calgary Walks

I am always interested in new ideas and places to explore, so please send me your suggestions for Calgary Postcards and I will add them to this blog or perhaps create another one.

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Calgary: History Capital of Canada

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways 


Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

By Richard White, May 29, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, May 29, 2014, titled "Cool Inglewood perfect for life, work and play).

Inglewood has the distinction of not only being Calgary’s oldest community (established in 1875), but also one of the most desirable urban communities in the City. And, while there are many fine historical buildings and relics from the past -including two old barns and an old brewery - still in the community, what makes its future particularly exciting are the many new private investments.

Two of the biggest additions to the community are George Brookman’s West Canadian Digital Imaging headquarter building at the east end of 9th (Atlantic) Avenue and Jim Hill’s Atlantic Art Block at the west end (the very modern 4-storey red brick building with the wavy roof).  These commercial anchors, combined with the existing shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs are critical to making Inglewood a perfect “live, work, play” community.

Live

Inglewood offers a diversity of housing options - from early 20th century cottages and Bow River mansions, to new infill homes  and low-rise condos.  At the far east end of Inglewood along 17th Avenue, almost at Deerfoot Trail, lies the 15-acre SoBow (south of downtown) condo development by Calgary’s M2i Development.   While Bridgeland, Beltline and East Village tend to get all the attention SoBow offers arguably the best amenities and accessibility of any new urban village Calgary. 

In minutes, you can be on the Deerfoot, Blackfoot or Barlow Trails, or an easy cycle or walk into downtown if you live in SoBow.  From an amenities perspective, the Zoo, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the shops on 9th Avenue are basically in your backyard.

This large development has six phases and when complete, will consist of approximately 700 units, effectively creating a new “village” of 2,000+ people. (Click here for aerial views).

Heritage apartment blocks like this one make for great artists' live work spaces. 

Work

The Atlantic Art Block not only offers office space, but at street level there are retail shops, a restaurant and the uber cool 15,000 square foot Esker Foundation Art Gallery in the penthouse. At street level, the building is home to the popular Gravity Café and Bite Groceteria - both have been an instant hit with foodies. It is a great example of a mixed-use building. 

West Canadian Digital Imaging 60,000 square foot building is a more tradition office only space. It employs not only his  250 workers, but another 90 Travel Alberta employees.  

Creating a “live, work, play” community is more than just about densification by building more condos and adding grocery stores, restaurants and shops.  It is just as critical that business owners like Brookman and Hill decide to locate their businesses in Calgary's established communities and not just downtown or suburban office parks.  Workers are critical to the survival of the shops, cafes and restaurants as they provide weekday customers, while the residential spaces fill the “customer” role evenings and weekends.

The Atlantic Art Block combines both contemporary architectural design (wave roof and glass walls at the corner) with more traditional brick three storey warehouse massing mid-block to create an exciting architectural statement as you enter Inglewood from the west. 

West Canadian Digital Building is a  more traditional modern interpretation of early 20th century warehouse architecture. 

Play

Inglewood could be branded as Calgary’s music district as it is not only home to Recordland, Festival Hall, Ironwood and Blues Can, but also many of its old cottage houses and walk-up apartments are home to local musicians. 

If you haven’t been to Recordland, you should go. It is one of the largest privately owned record stores in Canada with over two million records.  The Festival Hall is the new year round home of the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as concert space for local and touring musicians. Ironwood and Blues Can offer live music seven days a week.  

Tim Williams at the Blues Can jamming with friends from around the world.

Recordland is just one of many local shops in Inglewood that makes it a fun place to flaneur.

Inglewood is a great place for window licking with lots of unique window installations. 

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

In 2004, EnRoute Magazine identified Inglewood as one of the Canada’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods.”  Over the past 10 years, it has gotten even cooler. 

The Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club (established in 1936) has become a tony place for Calgary hipsters.  The Club is so popular they have just completed a shiny new clubhouse.

In 2006, Inglewood’s Rouge restaurant placed 60th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. Rouge, is located in the A.E.Cross house, built in 1891.  (Back Story: Cross was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Calgary Stampede).  The restaurant boasts its own vegetable garden that covers six city lots. How cool is that?

Every Saturday afternoon, Calgary’s own “cool cat” Tim Williams hosts a Blues Jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood.  Williams is the winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition in two categories: best solo and duo artist and best guitarist. 

Inglewood’s boundaries are the Bow River (north) to the CPR Yard (south) and the Bow River (east) to Elbow River (west).

Last Word

With everything from lawn bowling to Saturday jams; from the sounds of the Zoo animals to the sounds of trains and planes; from one of the world's best restaurants, to Canada's best used record store; Inglewood is definitely, Calgary’s most unique community. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Yes, Inglewood does still have two barns. I believe the red barn serves as storage for Calgary's own Canadian Pickers.

This is the historic Stewart Livery constructed in 1909 at 806 14th St. SE. Livery stables were integral to the daily life of frontier cities. They served many functions - hire of horse and vehicles, sale of horses and vehicles as storage of hay, coal and wood.  

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

Memphis Blues Competition: International Showcase

By Richard White, January 21, 2014

The Calgary boys - Tim Williams and Mike Clarke Band - are going to have to "kick-it-up-a-notch" if they want to win the International Blues Competition that started today at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis.

The Brat Pack from the Philippines set the bar high with a young keyboardist who could be this generation's Jerry Lee Lewis with his flying fingers and infectious smile and enthusiasm.  The entire four person band was on fire, especially the keyboardist and drummer.  The Brat Pack was the only group to get a standing ovation - not bad for a band where all the members are in their early  20s.  The Brat Pack was one of two bands from the Philippines in this year's International Showcase. 

RJ Pineda enjoys the spotlight. His fingers were literally a blur to the naked eye.  He didn't miss a note!

The audience sat attentively.  It was sitting on the floor room only.

From the Brat Pack's Facebook page: 

It is the uncommon blend of old and new that ultimately sets The Brat Pack apart from their contemporaries. Armed with their own unique style, a fusion of blues, jazz, soul, and pop, they can put their own unique spin on modern tunes, and slip comfortably into the tried-and-true standards of yesterday with ease.

Bassist David de Koenigswarter, an Eric Clapton enthusiast whose family tree attests to the fact that music literally is in his blood, being the grandson of the famous Nica Rothschild de Koenigswarter, Pianist RJ Pineda, who you might remember as one of Promil’s Gifted Children, a child prodigy whose repertoire spans from Rachmaninoff to Ray Charles; Allan Abdulla, a St. Scholasticas Conservatory of Music, also a part of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra who really takes his drumming to the next level at every performance and Christine Mercado, a spunky/charismatic vocalist who finished Music Production at the College of St. Benilde and has been singing jazz and blues since the tender age of 4. 

The Blues Powder Band from France was ranked second best by the guy from Kansas City sitting in front of us.  He was more than willing to share his rankings with us. This was his second IBC and he said he was hooked after last year's experience.

Lead singer Joe Elbaz and his Blues Angels from Israel put on a great performance also.  The best band competition is going to be tough. 

Surprises

Kicking off the festival was the International Showcase with 12 groups (solo, duo, bands) playing short sets over a three hour period.  As expected, the quality of the music was very high; however the quality of the showmanship was a big surprise. The Blues truly has evolved into an international cult.

What was even more surprising was the audience was almost totally white.  I could have been in Calgary's Blues Can, Ironwood or Mikey's based on the skin colour of the audience.  I couldn't help but wonder "What would Robert Johnson think about the international scope of the 21st century blues scene, if he was still alive?" 

The festival has been going on for 30 years, but it seems to have taken off only recently.  I overheard someone say, "I have never seen so many people in this building." 

Canada is well represented this year. In the International showcase, Tracy K and Jamie Steinhoff from Thunder Bay represented us well, paying homage to Winnipeg's Big Dave McLean as their mentor and one of the most influential blues performers in Canada's blues history.  

Tracy K and Jamie Steinhoff represented Canada well. 

Flex Slim from Barcelona, Spain was a true blues traditionalist.  

Polar Bear Blues

We have also met lots of Canadians while flaneuring the streets of Memphis - Chatham, Winnipeg and Kitchener.  On Thursday, the Ottawa Blues Society is presenting the Polar Bear Blues Showcase (great acts from the north), with the first 200 guests getting a complimentary "Canadian" beverage.  

The competition starts tomorrow, but already the event is a huge success in the eyes of the dozen or so Calgarians who are here ready to cheer on the Calgary Boys! 

The Jan Galach Band from Poland mixed strong vocals and violin harmonies. 

International Showcase program:

  • Herbie & Guitarguy (Netherlands)
  • Kingpin Trio (Philippines)
  • Tim Lothar & Holger Daub (Germany)
  • Tracy K & Jamie Steinhoff (Canada)
  • Joe Elbaz & Blues Angles (Israel)
  • Zamba (Croatia)
  • Naffis & Massarutto (Italy)
  • Brat Pack (Philippines)
  • Felix Slim (Spain)
  • Jan Galach Band (Poland)
  • Chris O'Connor (Australia)
  • Blues Power Band (France) 

Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North America

By Richard White, January 2, 2014

Given my love of acronyms, I created the term “GABEster” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) as a bit of a joke in my Calgary Herald Neigbours column (titled White House) where I profiled Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

"Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians.  But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “gabesters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers)." Calgary Herald Neighbours, October 31, 2013.

The column reflected on my recent trips to Chicago’s Wicker Park and Bucktown, as well as Portland’s Pearl District – all three considered to be amongst the best hipster communities in the USA and how Calgary’s Beltline district was as good if not better than not only those three trendy urban villages, but also ones in Vancouver, San Francisco and San Diego.

I pointed out while Calgary has lots of hipsters (counter culture or bohemians types), our urban villagers are more likely to be professionals i.e. geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers than bohemians. 

Since then I have used the GABEster in various social and business circles, getting very positive responses suggesting that indeed the term is very useful in helping understand and articulate Calgary’s unique urban culture.

 

Calgary's GABEsters take over Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour to stroll the street, grab some lunch or people watch. Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

The pocket protector is history!

 For several generations, Calgary’s oil patch has been a magnet for attracting the best young GABEsters from across Canada and more recently internationally.  A quick check of Calgary Economic Development’s website finds that Calgary currently has 22,500 engineers, 16,700 accountants and 5,300 geologists (though I couldn’t find any numbers for bankers and brokers, it has to be at least as many as the engineers i.e. 20,000+more) - and there is a critical need for lots more. 

 The Hill Strategies Research Inc. study of “Artists in Large Canadian Cities” (March 2006) identified that Calgary had 4,575 total artists based on 2001 census figures.  This number had increased by 46% since 1991 so the number today might be 7,000+ range, about 1% of the workforce.  

Obviously, Calgary’s GABEsters, outnumber hipsters by about 10 to 1.

Many of Calgary’s young GABEsters live in the residential communities surrounding the downtown core where the majority work in the 40+ million square feet of office space.  The common stereotype of engineers and high tech workers is that they lack social skills, have no fashion sense and are pragmatic loners.

Bankers, brokers and accountants may have a little more fashion sense with the suits and ties, however, more and more the tie has been lost and the suits are more trendy that traditional. 

They may all be right brain thinkers by day, but many of the current generation of GABEsters are just as much into fashion, music and street life as the so-called creative class. And yes, they are also just as likely to be wearing skinny jeans and funky glasses – maybe not at work, but after hours.

The days of the pocket protector have long disappeared! 

GABEsters are big bikers...Bow Cycle in Bowness is one of the largest bike shops in the world. 

Definition of a hipster (Urban Dictionary)

“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”

“Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store and local boutique-inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick- rimmed glasses.”

“Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hairstyles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer.” 

Calgary is home to 60+ live music venues.

GABEsters checking out CUFF! Cowtown's Underground Film Festival. 

Cowtown's Counter Culture / Indie Activities 

Calgary’s downtown supports a café culture superior to both Portland and Chicago with independent cafes on almost every corner.  While some are upscale, tony places, others are more grass roots with some being off the beaten path.  Café Rosso, located on an old industrial site next to a chicken-processing factory in the southeastern edge of Ramsay, is perhaps the best example of Calgary’s GABEster coffee klatch culture.   

Calgary is also quickly becoming North America’s next great “music city” with numerous weekend afternoon jams, 60+ live music venues, one of North America’s best international folk music festivals and the increasingly popular Sled Island indie-music festival.  Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams  will be participating the Memphis International Blues Competition in Jan 2014.

 GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

Calgary is also home to the world’s second largest collection of keyboard instruments including one of Elton John’s first pianos and the first MOOG synthesizer. And our city will soon be home to Canada’s National Music Centre - 2015.  How cool is that.

Shaw Millennium Park’s was one of the first big outdoor skate parks in North America. Today, it is still one of the largest (75,000 square feet of skateable surface) and best. It doesn’t get more counter-culture than that.  

Inglewood’s Recordland houses between 500,000 to 1,000,000 records and is a regular stop for visiting DJs and bands. Just a block away, the Crown Surplus store has supplied equipment to the film industry for over 45 years – Little Big Man, Superman, Brokeback Mountain to name a few. Cher has also been known to shop there. It doesn’t get more hipster (whoops GABEster) that this. 

If looking for some music memorabilia, look no further than Heritage Posters and Music in Calgary’s newest trendy district SunAlta.  It is an easy spot to find, as the back wall is a mural of the Rolling Stones tongue logo made with actual records.

Flea Market 

The trendy Hillhurst Sunnyside community just north of the downtown core is not only home to many traditional hipsters given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design, but is also home to an experimental container village. It is also home to a Sunday flea market, which has been operating for over 40 years.

Yoga

If yoga studios are a key indicator of hipsters, Calgary’s may have one of the highest concentrations in North America. Within 5 kilometers of downtown, there is an estimated 30 to 40 yoga studios.  

I saw way more yoga mats being carried on the streets of Calgary than I did in either Chicago or Portland. 

GABEster fashions Cowtown style.

Lukes Drug Mart is part cafe (Stumptown Coffee), part record store, part grocery store and a post office.

Last Word

Cowtown has been called “a city built by engineers” in reference to the fact that much of our architecture and urban design from the ‘70s to the ‘90s was dominated more by function than form. 

Recently however, the tide has changed with projects like the Calatrava Peace Bridge, The Bow and Eight Avenue Place office towers, as well as the redesign of 7th Avenue LRT stations and the futuristic design of the West LRT stations. 

Cowtown's city centre has indeed become one of North America's gabest places to "work, live and play."

Don't believe me - check out Josh Noel's travel piece on Calgary in the Chicago Tribune: Calgary: Pedal to the metal Poutine at 3 am!!!

Pictures below don't lie...Calgary has a very vibrate GABE community. 

 

GABEsters playing Bocci Ball at lunch at the Courthouse Park. How cool is that? Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

GABEster climbing Plensa's "Wonderland" scultpture at lunch...public art as urban playground for adults? 

Amy Thiessen and friends at Ironwood.  GABEsters love their local music scene. 

GABEsters at the folk festival.

GABEsters love their patio culture even in the winter. 

GABEsters heading to work...

GABEsters love Shaw Millennium Park and the new condos just across the street....

GABEsters love indie films...and festivals.

GABEsters love yoga...

GABEsters love to paddle! Undercurrents in Bowness is just one of many paddle shops.