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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 02:22 am

Good news of the Blues

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Gina Sicilia appears Oct. 27 at the Alamo.

Blues music, a major influence on jazz, rock-n-roll, rhythm & blues, rock, soul, and country, and the source of the many variations of blues styles, is alive and well in Springfield. Much of the local credit for supporting this foundational music goes to the Illinois Central Blues Club for staying focused on keeping blues in the forefront of area entertainment choices. Of course an organization is only as good as the people involved and the ICBC, still going strong after two decades, sustains a viable presence in the community through the good work of dedicated blues lovers involved with the club.

Saturday, Oct. 25, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Alamo, ICBC members host another Blues Foundation contest, this time searching for a solo/duo blues act to represent the club at the International Blues Challenge held every February in Memphis. Last August during the Old Capitol Blues & BBQs event, judges chose Pleasure Chest as the band best suited to make the trek to Memphis. Now it's the solo/duo performers' turn with eight acts chosen by ICBC officers from several entries scheduled to play on Saturday for the chance to head for the big show down south. Final decisions are in the hands of the judges, but anyone is welcome to enjoy the music.

These contest concerts are fantastic fun for the fans. You see several short shows with a variety of performers, making this a fine opportunity for checking out an array of area talent at one sitting. And you can cheer on your favorites if you so desire, encouraging them to scale the heights of entertainment excitement by using applause as a tried and true performance enhancer. I had the honor of helping with last year's judging and what a selection of talent we were privileged to hear. The hardest part came in choosing one winner. As an audience member, how could you lose?

Besides coordinating the Blues Challenge contests (and various other duties), the ICBC hosts the Blue Monday weekly concert and jam at the Alamo, featuring local, regional and national acts with an open stage available at the end of the night. Last week's performers, Too Slim and the Tail Draggers, hail from Seattle, Wash., with upcoming bands including national recording and touring sensation Gina Sicilia with Dave Gross on Oct. 27, local blues guitar guru Frank Herrin and Blues Power on Nov. 3, Delta Highway from Memphis Nov. 10, and Chris Bell & 100% Blues from Los Angeles on Nov. 17. Take a moment to think about that lineup. It's truly an amazing list. Or better yet go to the ICBC Web site (www.icbluesclub.org) and read up on the history of the organization and upcoming concerts for December and January.

Sicilia, a 23-year-old singer from Philadelphia, rates as one of the hottest newcomers on the blues market. Her first album, Allow Me to Confess, garnered the emotive singer a Blues Music Award nomination in 2008 for Best New Artist Debut from the Blues Foundation. Her latest offering, Hey, Sugar, hits record stores on Oct. 28, but, don't fret, she'll have copies with her at Blue Monday. Dave Gross, a young, up and coming blues singer-songwriter-guitarist (he was nominated for Best New Artist Debut in 2007), produced the record and put together a stellar group to back Sicilia in the studio including Dennis Gruenling on harmonica and pianist David Maxwell. Gross joined her on tour and made the bill for the Alamo performance. Her calendar lists dates at the famed Slippery Noodle nightclub in Indianapolis, plus opening slots with Johnny Winter at B.B. King's place in New York City. I think she's doing all right.

And, I'm happy to report, so are the blues in Springfield.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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