Oklahoma Blues Bands Heading to Memphis

Dec 19, 2014

Musicians from Oklahoma City and Tulsa qualify to compete in a worldwide battle of the bands.

Each fall, The Oklahoma Blues Society hosts a competition selecting one band and one solo or duo act to represent our state in the The International Blues Challenge.

KOSU's Crystal Huffman takes us behind the scenes with our regional winners before they hit the road.

It's a cold Oklahoma night, but things are warming up at RK One Studio in Edmond.

Sharing pizza and plenty of laughs, the band begins to tune in and turn up for an evening of rehearsal and recording.

Lacy Saunders, Steve Coleman and The Powerhouse Blues Project are preparing for their journey to represent Oklahoma on the world stage.

Behind a thick glass window, studio owner and radio host Matt Kemp easily manages a landscape of dials and flashing lights.

The perfect producer for this project, Kemp is a long standing member of the Oklahoma Blues Society, he has also served as the organization's president for the past four years.

For as long as he can recall, OBS has sent a group to compete internationally.

“It's kind of a big deal. This is our hallmark event that we do every year, because it's a global event. And that doesn't come around too often. So we're happy to not only be able to support the blues here on a local level but happy to be active on it on a global scale.”

The Blues Foundation, a national organization dedicated to celebrating this very American art form.

Annually it hosts the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

Next year from January 20th to the 24th, legendary Beale Street will house the most prestigious blues competition in the world.

In its 31st year, musicians are making their way from around the globe to the home of the blues.

Powerhouse drummer Mike McCraw is ready to make the pilgrimage to the Blues Challenge.

“I'm excited to get to go see what this is about because I've never been to it. So I'm getting excited to meet new people and getting to go play in front of people I haven't played in front of before. I'm excited to go to Memphis because it's a great music town. You've got Stax, and you've got Sun Studios, you've got Graceland. You've got an unbelievable musical experience.”

More than 120 blues acts are expected to gather in Memphis this year.

With so many songs and so little time, each performance set is limited to approximately thirty minutes.

Competition isn't a natural concept to this relaxed genre of music, and according to Powerhouse bassist Dr. Vic neither is this time constraint.

“It's a strange format, you know, you've got a short amount of time. And blues typically the last set is the peak and the killer set. Blues is a slow boil, you know it's not a microwave.”

In addition to bragging rights, the winning band walks away with valuable prizes including the opportunity to play some of the most prestigious blues festivals in the world.

While Lacy Saunders, Steve Coleman and The Powerhouse Blues Project haven't attended IBC before, the winners of the duet category have.

Christine Jude and Chris Brown are traveling from Tulsa to Memphis for the second year in a row.

They are bringing with them lessons from last year's competition.

“This year we're really focused on the traditional blues and we're trying to learn new material and just have a good solid thirty minute set of a wide spectrum of blues styles. You know it is such a subjective genre, everybody thinks something different is the blues.”

Having enough talent to gain a spot on Beale Street is just a small step on the road to Memphis.

A good portion of this journey is spent raising the funds needed to attend.

Kemp explains that the Oklahoma Blues Society did try to help provide some cash to the highest scoring regional act.

“That will just kind of help go to subsidize expenses. Cause it's not easy to take six people to another state for a about week. That costs gasoline, and breakfasts, and hotel rooms, and stuff. So we give that prize money to just help them get there.”

On December 18, the music community in Tulsa has a chance to help support The Christine Jude Duo.

The VFW Centennial Lounge is hosting a fundraiser to include a raffle and of course, a preview of their Memphis set.

You can find a link to the event on her official Facebook page, and receive updates on their progress.    

Steve Coleman and The Powerhouse Blues Project featuring Lacy Saunders received the cash prize from OBS but that barely covers the cost of hotel rooms.

Although the IBC is a very costly venture, the rewards and opportunities are priceless.

Winning this competition would be a grand reward but as Steve explains it's all about the music.

“Oh we're going to play, I'm not saying we're gonna win. But we're going to play. They'll know Oklahoma was there, I'll put it that way. They'll know we showed up, and we played some blues.”

To find out how to help visit SteveColemanMusic.Com or okblues.org.