• Craig Smith

GWTXBS ATTENDS 2020 International Blues Challenge

Updated: Feb 18, 2020


Greater West Texas Blues Society @ 2020 INTERNATIONAL BLUES CHALLENGE, MEMPHIS , TN

Blues fans from around the world gathered again in Memphis recently for the 36th annual International Blues Challenge…the IBC is hosted and organized by the BLUES FOUNDATION (blues.org). On January 28, 2020, over 200 bands and solo/duo acts representing competition winners from local blues societies around the globe came to perform and compete in the famous blues venues of Beale Street.

The Greater West Texas Blues Society board of directors attended the IBC as a brand new Blues Society, now an official affiliate society of the Blues Foundation. Marc Maddox, Robin Vasicek, Annette Dozier and I all traveled to Memphis at our own expense. We attended meetings for new affiliated societies and met with other blues society members to learn how to accomplish our goals. We were able to make some valuable contacts with other societies in our area, notably the Houston Blues Society, and spoke to them about how they conduct events such as jam sessions, blues in schools programs, and their own local IBC competitions.

During the first day of the IBC on Wednesday we joined with other society representatives to meet with Blues Foundation directors. Discussions included how to conduct a local IBC competition, ( something we fully intend to do this year), helpful suggestions about how to promote membership growth, participation, community outreach and inclusivity. We also attended a seminar on grant writing. There was so much information that it was a bit like taking a drink from a fire hose, but it is something we will be pursuing in seeking funding for our Blues in the Schools and other programs.

At the beginning of the meetings a representative from the Serbian Blues society played a record (yes a real record) of a blues song they had written and recorded on CHOCOLATE ! No, not a song about chocolate……an actual chocolate record ! I can’t actually recall if the song was any good but after the record came off the turn table he broke it into pieces and we all ate it. It was delicious !! Blues popularity is truly international !

Wednesday night the competition began in the venues along Beale Street: The Rum Boogie, B. B. King's, Jerry Lee Lewis’s, Alfred’s, Blues City Café, Tin Roof, and the Hard Rock, just to name a few, all cranked up the volume as the competitors each played a 25 minute set in front of enthusiastic crowds and a panel of judges. Blues Society members supporting their bands or solo acts and all blues fans attending the IBC had wrist bands or lanyards that let them come and go at any venue on Beale Street.

We ran into many old friends, many of them blues artists that have performed at the Tall City Blues Fest over the years. They have become crowd favorites in West Texas and good personal friends for many of us. We saw Annika Chambers ( newly married to fabulous guitarist Paul DesLauriers ), Matt Isbell and The Ghost Town Blues Band, Tas Cru, Gabe Stillman, Kirsten Thien, Jeff Jenson, Eddie Turner and many others.

Our special friend, Vinny Marini, does his internet broadcast, “Music on the Couch”, from the FuBar on Beale (upstairs from the Rum Boogie) during every IBC. We were honored that Vinny invited the Greater West Texas Blues Society to be on the show on Friday night. Although we were a bit nervous, Vinny put us at ease and we all had a good time with our “Music on the Couch” interview.

We talked about how GWTXBS is coming along and some of the things our society is trying to accomplish. Vinny is the consummate professional, one of our very first society members, and will be a great asset to us as we grow this organization.

The music at the IBC is infectious and if you weren’t a blues fan when you first got to Memphis you quickly became one. I met a couple from Australia who just happened to be passing through Memphis on a tour of the US. We met up in the Rum Boogie on Friday evening and they told me they had intended to leave Memphis two days before but had fallen in love with the music and now didn’t want to leave.

The “Best” example perhaps was Ashley Vasicek, our own Robin Vasicek’s daughter. Ashley, a New York model, had come to Memphis to see her Dad. She told him she wasn’t sure what “Blues” was or whether she would like it. Well, as soon as she heard the music she was hooked, “Dad I love this music !”, she said, and was soon dancing on Beale Street with Robin.

Every competing band or solo/duo act plays at least twice, Wednesday and then Thursday. Those that make the cut then play the Semifinals on Friday. That night there is one winner from each venue on Beale Street, each having been judged on Musical Talent, Originality, Blues Content, Vocals, and Stage Performance. These are the 16 finalists that compete in the "Finals"on Saturday at the fabulous Orpheum Theater at the end of Beale Street, just a

couple of blocks from the Mississippi River. The IBC band and solo/duo winners and runners up receive the accolades of the Blues world and a giant jump start to a blues music career. All of the winners of the 2020 IBC can be seen on the Blues Foundation website, blues.org.

It is a primary goal of the Greater West Texas Blues Society to hold a local IBC competition here in West Texas this coming year; to have bands and solo/duo acts from West Texas and New Mexico come, compete and be judged. The winners of that local competition would then represent our Greater West Texas Blues Society at the 37th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2021. We will be there on Beale Street to cheer them on.

Please join us in Memphis next year.

If you haven’t been…..



D. Craig Smith, President

Greater West Texas Blues Society

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