International Blues Challenge
The New Daisy Theater
By Charley Burch
Each year The Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge (IBC) opens with a special showcase featuring the international (non-American) participants in the IBC. Hosted by The Beale Street Merchants Association and the hospitality of MSCMC Chairman and Daisy wwner Mike Glenn, the 2012 FedEx IBC Showcase got underway around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31, on Beale Street in Memphis. The Blues Foundation’s Joe Whitmer laid down the rules and guidelines for the show to the 16 acts, which flowed smoothly and with stopwatch precision. Profound Sound and the production crew delivered impeccable sonic production throughout the evening for the talent that proved to consist of no weak links. FedEx was represented by Joey Sichting and The Blues Foundation’s Jay Sieleman acted as emcee. This was one of the better music conference showcases and events that I can recall for the IBCs and this concert hall.
At 5:30 pm, the show kicked off with Bleu Rascals (Philippines), a three- piece teen band that played Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chuck Berry covers with laser precision. At 5:50 p.m., the rootsy duo Damir Branilovicch Acoustic Balls (Croatia) switched gears and genres with their original songs followed by an incredibly tight and strong signature performance by the John F. Klaver Band (Netherlands). The Dutch offer a new Blues Award that was introduced in recent years and Klavner’s act was joined by another Dutch duo act, The Mudbirds (Netherlands). Slippin’ and sliding in at 6:50 p.m. from Down Under was The Mojo Webb Band (Australia), who where suited and tied for their very enthusiastic and entertaining three-song set list. Breezy Brian Gregg (Canada) entered the stage in a sequined jacket with a folkabilly singer-songwriter set.
The next two acts proved to be the most original and authentic sets of the evening. A whirling B3 intro introduced the dynamic vocals and incredible stage presence of lead singer Heidi and her band Pristine (Norway), whose rocking blues caused the photographers to act like paparazzi for the first time in the evening. Their overall stellar performance commanded constant call and responses from the audience such as “Yeah!” and “Hell, Yeah!” The Big Daddy Wilson Duo (Germany) calmed the stage down for a moment, only to wow the audience with soulful vocals and a real-deal Delta Blues execution of songs with merely a guitarist and Wilson’s light percussion rig. A fantastic storyteller and originally from North Carolina, Wilson told me that he found his soul and the blues in Germany where he has resided for the past quarter of a century.
Being only at the halfway mark of the event, which at 8:10 is operating with military precision and efficiency, Marco Marchi & Mojo Workers Blues (Switzerland) wailed away with guttural vocals accompanied by harp, guitar, bass, and one heck of a big old tuba. The singer of BSBE (Italy) could barely get over the powerhouse sound of his distorted guitar and frenzied drummer who together fused the influences of Zeppelin and The White Stripes. The soft and soulfully talented voice of Dawn Taylor Watson, joined by Paul Deslauriers (Canada) gave a fine duo performance at 9:10 p.m. If you have ever been to Finland or have Finnish friends, you know that they have a good time almost professionally. Micke & Lefty featuring Chef (Finland) were no exception to this rule as their lead singer kept channeling Jerry Lee Lewis gestures and intonation while playing his National-style guitar on his lap, chest, hip, and numerous other regions of his body. His band members stomped, boogied, and jammed like the world was coming to an end.
By 9:50 p.m., only three acts remained, but we were were anticipating more. Enter modern country blues trio Tony and The Trailer Cats (South Africa), which the emcee reminded us were the first ever participants in the International Blues Challenge from the African continent! (Kind of ironic with the blues’ Senegalese roots don’t you think?!). These three cats with their two acoustic and single electric guitars not only looked but sounded awesome. The swing/jump blues full-piece band Travellin’ Brothers from Spain followed next bringing back a sax and kept everyone dancing. Last, but certainly not least, at 10:30 p.m. the 24th Street Wailers (Canada) gave a fabulous outro performance with their fire red-headed lead singer/drummer, sparkling blond guitarist, and full band, also featuring a saxophone player. They closed the evening with a stomping D.Y.A.O. delivery of blues and roots music international style. With all of the Canadian participants this year, one might assume that the Canadian government will dub the IBC as a foundation for keeping their national treasures coming back to Memphis for years to come. I hope that is the case because at the end of the day, Memphis is the true birthplace of blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
Charley Burch is a Producer, Writer, and Artist Developer in Memphis.
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