His is a pompous, joyless lot whose appraisal of the music must meet stringent criteria to determine its authenticity -- and, thus, its worth.
The blues must be played in tin-shed saloons, performed by withered men with faces carved from oak, voices cured in whiskey and nicknames served with a shot of hilarity and a chaser of heartache.
I am not a purist. About anything. Ever. And yet even I know that blues is more than the music itself. There is also the mood. The atmosphere. The way blues simultaneously rubs your back and rips out your soul, breaks your heart and taps your feet.
So there was perhaps no more appropriate day in history for the Kansas City Blues Society to host its annual Blues Challenge than on November 3. Officially, it was the day that 60 million Neanderthals defrosted themselves long enough to re-elect Düh Führer. Unofficially, it was the day that the rest of the world sent Xanax stock soaring into the depleted ozone.
If ever providence needed a time to bestow blues and booze upon us, it was right then, as a cold, mourning rain fell outside the Grand Emporium. Inside, a packed house clamored for something -- anything -- to take their minds off the next four years. And the Blues Challenge succeeded, if not quite exactly in the way it may have intended.
The competition's four finalists -- the Bobby Carson Band, Double Clutch Blues Band, Scotty & the Soultones and Ron Teamer and Smokin' Guns (who won the competition) -- produced a reasonable enough facsimile of what solid blues sounds and looks like, but something just didn't quite feel right.
And I'm not talking about KCBS president Stan Koran's wicked mullet.
No, it had everything to do with the lack of feeling. The dearth of honest emotion. These bands were mostly playing Jimmy Buffett blues. Martini blues. Middle-aged suburbanites getting shitty and dancing ridiculously blues. Also known -- were I a purist -- as not blues.
Scotty, for one, became easily untethered from his Soultones while prowling the dance floor to coax the paralegals in Hawaiian shirts and the real estate brokers in Dockers to shake their asses to the band's party grooves.
Your move, Muddy Waters.
Inside the Grand Emporium -- that most venerated of Kansas City blues clubs -- the atmosphere was far more House of Style than House of Blues. The sleek interior. The back-lit bar. The suave presentation. The expensive drinks. People don't need to sip moonshine from a mason jar and wrestle alligators on the way to the outhouse for a venue to feel like the blues.
But it doesn't hurt. Hell, I guess I'm a purist after all. Kind of Blue The Prairie Dogg seeks solace from four more years at the Blues Challenge.