Now that I’ve been home a week, shaken off the travel dust and slept off the exhaustion, I am finally in a good place to be able to reflect- maybe even accurately. First the summary, then the bad news, but I saved the best for last.
It was a year ago this time that I decided we needed to enter the competition. I knew we had a great product. We made great music, and everyone who saw us was energetic and enthusiastic about our show. But none of that held any sway with the myriad of festivals and venues I contacted. There are so many bands out there, so much noise. For all my efforts in handshakes, e-mail, phone calls, and otherwise following up I couldn’t get booked much beyond our little town. I had to find a way to set us apart at least enough to get a second glance. I realized that I needed an endorsement, perhaps even many. The International Blues Challenge may not be the only competition out there, but it’s the strongest both in breadth of competitors, and depth of support and connection with a community.
It took me awhile to get the rest of the guys on board. They saw the competition as a tiny box we had to squeeze ourselves into creatively. Blues music is generally 3 chords and 12 bars of music on repeat with a small variety of different drum beats and guitar riffs. It is disarmingly simple- but that is precisely what makes it so difficult. It wasn’t until after we connected with guitarist, Joe McCadden that everything finally started to fall into place. Joe has always been a blues aficionado, and became our litmus test of “is it blues?” Blues lovers are strongly opinionated about what good blues is. Although the market place continues to expand the definition of Blues, hard core blues supporters know the traditions and work tirelessly to have them kept. Advancing in any capacity would be to make these gate keepers satisfied. With Joe on our team we were strong, and we won the Kentuckiana Blues Challenge!
For me this wasn’t a laurel to rest on. This wasn’t my ticket to vacation and party in the name of Blues. This was an opportunity to capture. And I’m not going to lie to you- when I found out we didn’t make it to semi-finals I was devastated. Two reasons- one… I really thought for sure we had nailed it. We performed in Memphis like our lives depended on it. We brought the fire and then left it burning. I watched the other acts in the room and calculated scoring based on my limited experience. Even from a scoring standpoint I felt we were advancing. Evidently the judges disagreed. It will be weeks before we receive our score sheets and find out why. But I suspect it was because despite all our efforts to be authentically Blues, we were still too Rock. There’s more to learn, and believe me when I say we will. I remember an Eric Clapton quote I heard a long time ago: “Blues didn’t come naturally to me. I had to work at it.” That seemed ridiculous in every way, until now.
The second reason I was devastated- I thought I was right back where I started. Because although everyone says, “Congratulations! Everyone participating in IBC is great.” In the very next breath everyone says, “This band is truly a step apart, they went to semi-finals/finals.” I believed that not making it to semi-finals would eliminate us from the talent pool being booked for growing festivals. Or that it would negate the previous endorsements we’d already received from the Blues community. Happily this is not the case! We have been reaching out and getting a much more positive response than I did a year ago. Mission accomplished!
Despite my misguided disappointment and deep exhaustion from all the work, I still managed to have this incredible experience!! Here is the windfall….. Because of our participation in the competition we were able to:
-Record a new Blues album
-Represent the band on Louisville’s prime time morning show- Great Day Live
-Play Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar, and New Direction in Louisville, KY.
-Connect with an entirely new market in Louisville
-Play on the stage of Club 152 on Beal Street
-Interview with Vinnie Marini, and be played on Music on the Couch
-Interview and play a tune with the Women in Blues podcast
-Have our music played worldwide in the US, Netherlands, Croatia, Britten, Ireland, South Africa
-Meet with several promotional and marketing professionals whom we can work with later
-Receive mentoring from some of the best blues professionals in the world
-Sell more CDs than ever
-Gain another 200 followers on Facebook
-Connect and learn from a multitude of incredible and relatable professional musicians
-Watch some of the best performances in the world without paying a ticket price
-Watch Watermelon Slim with his new CD release show at the famous Rum Boogie
-Dance on the bar of Coyote Ugly
-Eat Rendezvous BBQ and Dyer’s grease-fried Burgers
We have some great venues booked for this year, and hopefully more to come. We have festivals to watch, and festivals to perform for. We have new players and old players. Not sure what else is coming, or if we will attempt to compete again this year… it’s going to be great year though!