Friday, February 01, 2008

Blues Blogging

As a show of support for the International Blues Challenge that we spotlighted last week, Chuck Porter of WEVL fame is posting updates here from the IBC, one of this city's signature music events.

Here's the latest as the Blues Challenge is poised to begin in earnest:

January 31 – 11 p.m.

We are off and jamming with the 24th Annual International Blues Challenge.

It’s a much different atmosphere today as I stepped into the Doubletree Hotel lobby. Blues fans and bands everywhere. The rest of the volunteers are here and checking in bands, selling merchandise, manning the silent auction and catching up with friends they haven’t seen since the last event.

Band orientation at 2:00 pm is when the competition starts to get real. Each band is required to have a representative in the room. What an interesting group of people in that room. I saw every kind of hat from cowboy to fedora. With all the sunglasses in the room, you would have thought that the stage lights were already on. There were sear sucker suits and ties and tennis shoes.

Joe Whitmer, event producer for The Blues Foundation, began the greeting as he always does every year with his “everybody’s smiling today but feelings usually get hurt when you don’t win” speech. Contest rules are rehashed as it’s inevitable that someone will say they didn’t know they had to check in or didn’t know they only has 25 minutes or didn’t know they had to bring cymbals.

After orientation it was back to the Adler Suite on the 8th floor to gather what we needed and make our plans to move over to Beale Street. At 4:15 p.m., we were on our way with radios, venue coordinator packets and extra clothes, because our new home for two days is the Handy Bar in Handy Park.

When we arrived, our yearly crew of venue coordinators, time keepers, runners and judge’s assistants were waiting. Each checked in and got their pass with the venue coordinators getting their radios. First clubs - Blues City and Rum Boogie - at 5:00pm started without a hitch. The two-way radios begin to rattle for equipment with a club needing a bass rig, another club didn’t have its keyboard and another needed a high hat stand clutch.

Then there was the group that had wheeled their piano down the street to play on at Pat O’Briens. How weird is that? The most interesting encounter might have been the young lady who came into Handy Bar to make a suggestion about Beale Street - seems she wasn’t happy that there weren’t restrooms along the street and she really thought the buildings could look nicer because they were old looking, couldn’t they make them look little nice? They may not all look pretty, but they all sure sounded good tonight.

I’ve seen some incredible talent already as I ride Beale on the golf cart in a 30 degree rain. It’s now 7:30pm and the radio has been silent now for about and hour and a half. Let’s hope it stays that way. The clubs are packed so tight there’s very little room to move much less sit.

Now going on 10:30 p.m. and the golf cart is getting colder. It’s been a fun night with a couple of the Beale Street regulars, Dr. Feelgood Potts and Fred Sanders hanging around. The Dr. called his wife and we chatted for a few minutes, but she really was much more excited to talk to national XM Satellite blues host Bill Wax.

I’ll be heading home about 12:30 a.m. and back to downtown Memphis to do “Blues Today” on WEVL 89.9 Friday morning from 8-10 a.m.. Then back to the Doubletree Hotel for a short while and back to Beale by 4:30 p.m. to do it all over again.

Here’s the quote of the night. A young lady leaving a club after the last band finished said: “I’ve never like the blues before, but I’m in love with them now.” We have converted another non believer. I’ll be back tomorrow.

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