This past weekend, blues-icians from all over the world gathered on Beale Street in Memphis for the International Blues Competition to see who had the best sauce.
Of course, it came from Kansas City.
Much like Gates Bar-B-Q Extra Hot, the Mary Bridget Davies Group, representing the Kansas City Blues Society, edged out 42 other bands (from Australia to Croatia to Philadelphia) to make it to the number two spot. And of the Classic Original variety, the Grand Marquis' jump, jive and swing blues, representing the Topeka Blues Society, made it into the final round of eight bands.
Bands were judged on blues content, vocals, instrumental talent, originality and stage presence.
I caught up with Mary Bridget Davies yesterday afternoon after she returned from Memphis Sunday night. These were her thoughts on the competition.
Can you believe it?! What an emotionally and physically draining weekend!
In the two nights of quarterfinals at our venue, Blues City Cafe, I was sure that the Bryan Michael Fischer band from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was our toughest competition, but they didn't advance. Amazing lead vocals and guitar -- great band across the board. Anyone who likes the more Southern rock-edged blues sound will love that band.
Once we were in the semifinals, David Shelley & Bluestone representing the South Florida Blues Society were the biggest competition in our venue, The Superior. Contemporary blues at its finest! Great songwriting, vocals, insanely tasty lead guitar player and the southern half of the state of Florida cheering them on.
By the time we were in the finals at The Orpheum Saturday afternoon, everyone was our competition. Each band was different, which was truly amazing. It was the cream of the crop from the entire week, and everyone brought their A game.
We played last our first night of competition, which meant we were playing second the following day. Being last, the energy is really high because you've been watching all of the other bands, and the crowd is getting more and more rowdy, etc. ... so it was an amazing set. We figured it would be dead the next day since we were playing at 5:30 p.m., but a big crowd of people came in and filled the place, then promptly left after our set. At the semifinals, they stopped letting people in due to fire codes. Two out, two in. It was crowded all night, but that was the scenario for our set in particular. Word was buzzing on the street that we were a band to catch!
Everyone was cool!! Met a few producers interested in helping with our CD, booking agents and a bunch of super-talented musicians! Such an amazing week! Having a giant Kansas City faction was really the engine room for us. Anytime we looked up, we saw familiar faces, and that helped to calm the sheer terror of it all.
Here are some thoughts from the Grand Marquis' Ben Ruth, who plays bass and sousaphone:
Well, we always knew Mary Bridget Davies was going to be a tough one to beat. David Shelley and the Bluestone, which were taken out by MBD in the semifinals, was a great band from Florida that we were up against in the quarterfinals.
The first night in Memphis, we did some tracking at Sun Studio, which came out way better than we imagined. We will be continuing that session in April. Then we played the Rum Boogie and Orpheum Theatre.
We had no clue the judges would like us as much as they did. When we made the semifinals, we took Bryan [Redmond, frontman] out for a 20 oz. steak in celebration. I really didn't think we could make it past the semifinals.
We were last that night, and the club filled up while we were playing our set. A bunch of kids started dancing in the front row, and some girl even jumped onstage with us for the last song. (She looked pretty confused when the song ended shortly after.) We were already lucky enough to be there. Two Kansas City bands in the finals -- I sure am glad one of us walked away with some prizes!
Cool people were in abundance. First of all, the coolest were the Topeka Jazz Society, which sent us to the IBC. They were at every show and were always there to support us. It really made us feel at home on Beale Street. The doorman at the chicken and waffle house, the lady that ran the WC Handy Museum -- which said we were the only band on Beale Street that knew who the "Father of the Blues" even was -- the merch guys, Paul Thorn, Tas Cru, John-Alex Mason, and Mike Farris who were all playing showcases during the day. Matt and Jason from Sun Studio and The Bluff City Backsliders, a Memphis jug band that will be playing with us here soon. Most importantly, booking agents from Intrepid Artists and Peidmont Talent were at multiple shows to see and talk with us. We were actually asked to play the Intrepid showcase immediately after the finals, at Kings Palace. Festival prospects a-plenty -- and some overseas interests -- were abundant on the streets of Memphis.
Bryan Redmond, the Grand Marquis' frontman, sent us this, too:
There was a great spirit of camaraderie between all the bands rather than a spirit of competition or rivalry; we all were honestly supportive of one another and were eager to hear new bands from all over the U.S. and world. In the competition early on, it was easier to mentally guess who the contenders might be; but by the finals, the level of talent was all extremely high.
After we heard comments from some industry professionals and heard about the buzz we were generating on the street, it gave me confidence that the judges were receptive to our trademark style and approach to the blues. I just knew we had to perform our best, entertain and have fun, above all, and we'd see where that put us. However, placing high in the International Blues Challenge was just a bonus after we began the week recording at Sun Studio. We went in the control room and heard the magic of that room; it sounded like we were back in 1952. We can't wait to finish our next CD there. An added bonus was performing in the Finals in the historic, 2,300-seat Orpheum Theatre to a receptive, energetic crowd.
It was good to meet the heads of booking agencies and festivals because it is a rare opportunity for them to hear our music played live and hear some of them say we're their new favorite band, or things like that. It was wonderful to meet new fans that saw us the first or second night of the contest and followed us the rest of the way. We were also blessed by our family that came down and captured our performances on video and got some great pictures. My parents live 70 miles north of Memphis and were able to come see every show; it was the first time in over a year they've seen me play live.