International Blues Challenge, Memphis, Tennessee

The International Blues Challenge Comes to Memphis

It’s been some time since slaves set their work to song on Mississippi Delta plantations; since that sound drifted to Beale Street and migrated mainstream.

If the Delta cradled the blues, and Memphis gave it a home, where is it thriving now?

All over the world, thanks in part to the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, particularly during the Foundation’s International Blues Challenge (IBC). This, the world’s largest gathering of blues acts, will roll for its 29th year Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 2013.

At a glance, the IBC is a juried and judged battle of the blues bands. Step back and you’ll see this: 200-ish Blues Foundation affiliates worldwide – grassroots blues societies in cities from Alabama to Australia that stage their own jams, competitions, festivals and education efforts. Annually, each affiliate is allowed to sponsor an act in each IBC category: Band; Solo/Duo Act; and the Youth Showcase, a noncompetitive division for musicians 21 and under. Click to enlarge each of these images from last year’s event (all photos by Andrea Zucker; ©Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011; all rights reserved):


As the competitors vie for cash prizes, gigs and promotion, you get to hear the best unsigned blues acts in the world – in some of Memphis’ most notable locales.

When I told Jay Sieleman, Blues Foundation President and CEO, that this would be my first year attending the IBC, he shared this: “One of the most fascinating nights is Tuesday [Jan. 29], the FedEx International Showcase. It’s not part of the competition and a lot of out-of-towners aren’t here yet. You can come out to the New Daisy [on Beale Street] and hear a dozen acts from outside the U.S. for only $10.”

Based on registration at the time we talked, Jay is expecting competitors from 17 countries and most, if not all, 50 states – a total of around 230 acts.

Crowds will build Wednesday and Thursday (Jan. 30 and 31) as the quarterfinals sound off along Beale Street. Guarantee your seat with an advanced pass, or score a $10 wristband each night to wander in and out of venues.

Starting late in the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 1, the IBC’s 30-some Youth acts will “open” for the night’s semi-finalists, again in venues along Beale. One-off passes for the Youth Showcase and semifinals are $15. Saturday, Memphis’ historic Orpheum Theatre hosts the final competition ($42.50 without the advanced pass).

Memphis can really spoil you with access to meaningful music. But beyond the groove of the IBC’s competitive and Showcase performances, the schedule is packed with workshops, jams and special appearances along Beale and throughout the surrounding area. Catch three-time Grammy Award winner (Best Contemporary Blues Album) Keb’ Mo’ Thurs., Jan. 31 at Hard Rock Café; “the reigning queen of Beale Street,” Barbara Blue, Weds., Thurs. and Fri. afternoons at Silky O’Sullivan’s; and Keeping the Blues Alive award-winner Nat Dove telling stories at Blues City Café, also on Thursday.

Nor would I miss the silent auction that will play out inside the Blues Foundation office, future site of the Blues Hall of Fame, located a lovely half-mile walk from Beale in the city’s historic South Main District. Or the Sunday send-off Blues Brunch at South Main’s Majestic Grille, a circa-1913 (silent) movie house-turned-restaurant. View the full IBC schedule here.

And one final blues note to leave you on: Luther Dickinson, son of the late music legend Jim Dickinson, recently received a Grammy nomination for his album Hambone’s Meditations. You can catch the Grammys on Feb. 10, or hear Luther perform with his band the North Mississippi Allstars – and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra – at Memphis’ New Daisy Theatre on Jan. 24. I know which show I’m choosing.

What about you? Will I see you at the New Daisy anytime soon? Elsewhere on Beale Street? What’s your favorite iteration of the blues?

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

TAGS: Memphis, Music

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