The harmonica wizard from Coralville, Iowa, a brassy blues band out of Houston, a Brazil-born guitar master, and a 21-year-old "wunderkind." These are the acts that rose to the top of the pack at The Blues Foundation's 34th annual International Blues Challenge Awards ceremony, which took place at Memphis' historic Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, January 20. Kevin "B.F." Burt was the big man of the evening as the bluesman representing the Central Iowa Blues Society, picking up three awards:
First Place Solo/Duo, Best Solo/Duo Guitarist, and the Lee Oskar Award for Best Harmonica Player.
The Keeshea Pratt Band, from the Houston Blues Society, stormed out of Texas to grab First Place Band honors with judges universally rating them ready to headline major festivals and take the international blues scene by storm.
The local band Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis (Memphis Blues Society) finished in second place, with Arthur Menezes coming in third. Menezes, however, did not leave Memphis empty-handed, as the Santa Clarita Blues Society member took home the Best Band Guitarist honors, receiving the Gibson Guitar Award. A Brazilian native now living in Los Angeles, Menezes also reflects the true international quality of the IBCs. 15 countries, as well as 36 states, were represented in the Challenge.
In fact, Norwegian slide guitarist Daniel Eriksen, of the Oslo Bluesklubb, received second place honors in the Solo/Duo category. Menezes, for being named Best Band Guitarist, received a Gibson Guitar and Category 5 Amp, while Burt got a special Matt Isbell Cigar Box Guitar and Lee Oskar harmonicas for his victories in the Best Solo/Duo Guitar and Best Harmonica categories.
Best Self-Produced CD honors, the night's other major award, went to Jontavious Willis' debut album, Blue Metamorphosis. The 21-year-old guitarist, representing the Atlanta Blues Society, is a rising star with none other of an authority than Taj Mahal hailing him as a "wunderkind." Willis was chosen over a talented group of finalists: The Jimmys' Live From Transylvania at Sighisoara Blues Festival (Crossroads Blues Society of Illinois); Polly O'Keary and the Rhythm Method's Black Crow Callin' (Washington Blues Society); Randy McQuay's My Kind of Blues (Cape Fear Blues Society), and Jason Buie's Driftin' Heart (Victoria Blues Society). A complete list of the International Blues Challenge 2018 Winners is at the bottom of this press release.
The IBC Finals featured performances by the 16 solo/duo and band finalists. Picking the winners were an esteem panel of judges. The band contestants were judged by E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt (a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and creator of Little Steven's Blues School); drummer Tony Braunagel (a multiple BMA Nominee and winner), co-founder of Australia's Bluesfest Byron Bay Peter Noble (a 2018 Keeping the Blues Alive recipient); harmonica master/blues educator Billy Branch (a multiple BMA nominee and winner and past KBA recipient), and Jostein Forsberg (the Director of Notodden Blues Festival, a KBA recipient).
Judging the Solo/Duo finalists were songwriter/publicist Karen Leipziger (a past KBA recipient); blues festival promoter/artist manager Paul Benjamin (a KBA recipient for his North Atlantic Blues Festival); blues mandolinist/educator Rich DelGrosso (a multiple BMA nominee and winner); Grammy-winning ethnomusicologist/writer/producer David Evans (a Blues Hall of Fame writer), and Rosebud Agency founder Mike Kappus (a 2014 Blues Hall of Fame Inductee and multiple KBA recipient).
While the judges were selecting the winners, the Blues Foundation surprised the crowd of over 2,000 people with an amazing all-star jam session. Organized and led by last year's BMA winner for Best Emerging Artist Album (and prior IBC Albert King Guitarist winner and a member of the 2005 IBC First Place Band) Jonn Del Toro Richardson, the jam's illustrious performers included guitarists Bob Margolin, Ben Rice, and Gary Hoey as well as keyboardist Victor Wainwright, bassist Russell Jackson, drummer Tony Braunagel, harmonicist Billy Branch, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, and vocalists Terrie Odabi, Annika Chambers, and Karen Lovely.
International Blues Challenge Finals represented the crowning event of the Blues Foundation's five-day festival. Beginning January 16, more than 800 musicians in approximately 250 bands, solo/duos, and youth showcase acts filled Beale Street venues day and night, to the delight of thousands of fans, music industry folks, fellow musicians, and members of 180 Blues Foundation affiliates around the globe. The Foundation estimates that upwards to 2,500-3,000 people daily attended these performances. IBC Week also presented an impressive lineup of expert panels, master classes, a documentary movie screening, a memorabilia auction, and Blues Hall of Fame installation unveilings, which were all well-received by attendees. Friday was highlighted by the 2018 Keeping the Blues Alive Awards. With the KBAs, the Blues Foundation recognized a dozen outstanding individuals and organizations for their laudable work at bringing more awareness to the blues around the world.
Next up for the Blues Foundation will be its other signature event: The Blues Music Awards. Now in its 39th year, the BMA ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m., at Memphis' Cook Convention Center. Individual tickets are $150 per person; regular tables for 10 are $1,500 and premium tables for 10 are $1,800 each. Tickets can be purchased at www.blues.org/. The Blues Foundation also has a block of rooms at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown; the Sheraton reservation link is also on the Blues Foundation's website.
Blues Foundation membership, which costs as little as $25 per year, includes a ballot to vote in this year's Blues Music Awards. Visit www.blues.org and click on the Join Now button. The International Blues Challenge was sponsored in significant part by ArtsMemphis, AutoZone, Beale Street Merchants Association, BMI, First Tennessee Foundation, Four Roses Bourbon, Lee Oskar Harmonicas, Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, Old Dominick Distillery, and Tennessee Arts Commission. Media sponsors include Beale Street Caravan, Big City Rhythm and Blues, Blues Festival Guide, Blues Matters!, Downtowner, Living Blues, and Music on the Couch.
The Blues Foundation is Memphis-based, but world-renowned as THE organization whose mission is to preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form. Founded in 1980, the Blues Foundation has over 4,000 individual members with close to 200 affiliated blues societies representing another 50,000 fans and professionals around the world. Its signature honors and events — the Blues Music Awards, Blues Hall of Fame, International Blues Challenge, and Keeping the Blues Alive Awards — make it the international center of blues music.
Its HART Fund provides the blues community with medical assistance for musicians in need, while Blues in the Schools programs and Generation Blues Scholarships expose new generations to blues music. The Blues Hall of Fame Museum, in Memphis, Tenn. now adds the opportunity for music lovers of all ages to interact with the music and the history. Throughout the year, the Foundation staff serves the global blues community with answers, information, and news. Support the Blues Foundation by becoming an affiliated organization, corporate, or individual member, or simply by making a charitable donation.
Complete List of International Blues Challenge 2018 Winners Band Division Winner:
The Keesha Pratt Band (Houston Blues Society)
2nd place: Fuzzy Jeffries & The Kings of Memphis (Memphis Blues Society)
3rd Place: Arthur Menezes (Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society)
Solo/Duo Division Winner:
Kevin "B.F." Burt (Central Iowa Blues Society)
2nd Place: Daniel Eriksen (Oslo Bluesklubb)
Gibson Guitar Award For Best Band Guitarist Winner: Arthur Menezes (Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society)
Best Solo/Duo Guitarist Winner: Kevin "B.F." Burt (Central Iowa Blues Society)
Lee Oskar Harmonica Player Winner: Kevin "B.F." Burt (Central Iowa Blues Society) Best
Self-Produced CD Winner: Blue Metamorphasis: Jontavious Willis (Atlanta Blues Society)