Feb. 1 2016 06:31 AM

Wrap-up from the International Blues Challenge

Scott Pohl, producer for WKAR-FM’s “Current State,” will be tracking the progress of the Twyla Birdsong Band and Stan & Ben at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

MONDAY, Feb. 1 — While the Twyla Birdsong Band and Stan & Ben didn't make it to the semifinals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, the Lansing contingent carried on as blues fans. Here’s an update on the acts seen and heard at Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s finals.

The semifinals produced eight solo/duo acts and eight bands for Saturday. Again, there was no way to see everyone hoping to advance on Friday. My crew spent most of the night camped out at the Rum Boogie, where a couple of gracious guys shared a front row table with us. Each of the eight venues used for the semis would send just one band to the finals.

We saw the J.L. Fulks band again, our favorites to reach the next stage. And while the band were great, Rum Boogie sent the Paul DesLauriers Band to the finals. DesLauriers opened his set with a double-neck guitar that brought some flash to the proceedings. His style is a rock-based blues, and his powerful performance won the night (and ultimately second place in the finals).

I did skip over to B.B. King’s to catch a couple of songs by Detroiter Chris Canas and his band, which includes his mother on vocals. His group would get no further in the competition, but accounted well for themselves.

On to the Saturday finals at the beautiful Orpheum Theater, where touring Broadway shows play when they stop in Memphis. The music started at noon, and every act got just 20 minutes to impress a largely supportive audience and the judges. Solo and duo acts alternated with larger groups.

I thought the solo/duo acts might get swallowed up in the enormous space, but most managed to connect with great musicianship, powerful lyrics and a dash of humor.

All eight bands were outstanding, too, with a variety of styles. A couple were rock-based, while others took a more soulful approach. It just goes to show you that “the blues” covers a lot of bases.

Here is a list of the finalists with top finishers noted. I'd suggest sampling all of them online. If you're into blues music, you're sure to find something you'll like.


Rob Lumbard, “Blues in a Bottle” (Central Iowa Blues Society)

InnerVision, “Innervision” (Columbus Blues Alliance)


The Mighty Orq (Houston Blues Society)

Sonny Moorman (Cincy Blues Society)

Trey Johnson and Jason Willmon (Arkansas River Blues Society)

Micah Kesselring (The Blues Jazz and Folk Music Society)

Dave Muskett (Indy Crossroads Blues Inc.)

Bing Futch (Orange Blossom Blues Society; SOLO GUITAR PRIZE)

InnerVision (Columbus Blues Alliance; SECOND PLACE)

Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons (Washington Blues Society; FIRST PLACE)


Southern Avenue (Memphis Blues Society)

Bobby BlackHat Band (Natchel’ Blues Network)

Tee Dee Young (The Blues Jazz and Folk Music Society)

Hector Anchondo Band (Blues Society of Omaha)

A Different Shade of Blue (Vicksburg Blues Society)

The Norman Jackson Band (Lake of the Ozarks Blues Society, THIRD PLACE)

The Paul DesLauriers Band (Montreal Blues Society; SECOND PLACE)

The Delgado Brothers (Ventura County Blues Society; FIRST PLACE AND BAND GUITAR PRIZE)

A week of great music has come to an end. The International Blues Challenge was a blast! Now, back to real life (sigh).