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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 04:34 am

From Springfield to Memphis

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Tombstone Bullet attends the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this week.

In the last few columns I’ve mentioned the amazing and wonderful fact that three area blues organizations selected three Springfield-based blues bands as representatives to the International Blues Challenge contest held annually in Memphis. This is no small feat and each deserves hearty congratulations.

As you read this, the performers, Tombstone Bullet (Springfield’s Illinois Central Blues Club), Blues Expressions Band (Decatur Blues Society), Hurricane Ruth (Prairie Crossroads Blues Society of Champaign) and solo contestant Robert Sampson (Illinois Central Blues Club) have already played the first round of the IBC. Hopefully many of you attended the various send-offs and support shows presented by these groups over the last few weeks and discovered what this is all about. For those in the dark allow me to enlighten you.

The event happening now, the International Blues Challenge, is only a small part of The Blues Foundation, a much larger Memphis-based organization focused on all things blues related. Besides the annual contest for blues performers, the foundation is “dedicated to preserving our blues music history, celebrating recording and performance excellence, supporting blues education and ensuring the future of this uniquely American art form.” The group, founded in 1980, has 4,500 individual members plus 195 affiliated local blues societies covering some 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Along with the IBC event, the foundation also sponsors the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards, as well as supporting the blues community with medical assistance and health insurance access. That’s not all, as the Blues in the Schools programs and Generation Blues scholarships strive to teach new generations, while the foundation staff is always on call to answer questions about the long and lasting legacy of blues music in America and around the world.

So you see, back in August at the Old Capitol Blues & BBQs, as bands prepared for the IBC playoff, there was a lot more going on behind the curtain than just a local battle of the bands. Making it all the more special that, of the hundreds of bands striving for the honor of attending the contest in Memphis, the homegrown variety leads our pack and we’re proud of it.

Now for a roll call of band members from central Illinois attending the IBC for 2012. Ta-da!! Tombstone Bullet is Cory Brown, Mary Jo Curry, Mike Gillette, Rick Hardin, Damien Kaplan and Mike Rapier playing “Driving Blues.” Blues Expressions Band is Adrian Muex, Charles Tiner, C-Lee, Frank Parker, Marcus Taylor and Anthony Young doing “blues with old-school R & B style.” Hurricane Ruth is Ruth LaMaster, David Lumsden, Gary Davis and Jim Engel, calling their music “Power Blues.”

Once the musicians all get to Memphis, you must imagine over a hundred bands multiplied by three or more players in each group along with 80 some solo/duo acts plus assorted additions in tow. That makes for a whole bunch of musicians all in one place and that’s nothing but a delight, right? On Wednesday and Thursday each group gets a 25-minute set in a Memphis club where judges rate the performers with an established criteria from the IBC rules. Those receiving top marks move on to the semifinals on Friday, then those winners, usually about 10 groups and 10 solo/duo acts, play the Memphis Orpheum Theater on Saturday for the finals on the big stage.

Previous local attendees include Black Magic Johnson, Jake Shane, Brooke Thomas and Mike Burnett, among others.

Indeed it’s an honor and career boost to win the show, but we can all agree anyone who gets there is surely a winner already. Congratulations again to all our Springfield folks on the Road to Memphis, while here we sit anxiously awaiting results.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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