- Little Joe McLerran wins in Memphis
The Road to Memphis & the IBC
MEMPHIS Feb. 5th-7th, 2009 – – Blues Societies from around the world sponsored sixty-five solo/duo acts and another eighty-five bands from around the globe, all arriving in Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the event hosted along Beale Street, Home of the Blues.
Within a six block span along Beale Street, night clubs, blues bars, restaurants, as well as Mr Handy’s Blues Tent honoring the blues legend W. C Handy, all play host to over one-hundred and fifty musical acts competing for the honor to advance to the finals on Saturday night (Feb 7th) taking place in the historic Orpheum Theatre, on Main and Beale.
The IBC begins on Thursday night – Schedules and time slots for all performers provide every competing act with a twenty-five minute set to impress the three panel judges. Stage management is carried out with military precision, avoiding delays between acts.
Starting time for the competition begins at 6:30 PM and continues late into the evening. Because of the number musicians performing, it is impossible to see and hear them all.
Friday night, the semi-finals attract standing-room only as legendary Beale St lives up to its name. This is the night the huge crowds will learn which acts will advance to the finals at the historic Orpheum Theatre.
It is 12:30 AM on Saturday, and the finals start in thirteen hours with the announcement of the final ten bands, along with six solo/duo musicians competing.
Beginning Saturday afternoon, anticipation and excitement is creating a buzz between performers, as well as fans waiting the final announcement of this year’s International Blues Challenge winners.
I came to Memphis this year to see Little Joe McLerran perform as a soloist. For three previous years I have been witness to Little Joe’s performances with a band (2008), and twice before that as a duo (2006/2007). To this point, Little Joe has never made it past the semi-finals, to the real finals.
My annual sojourn to Memphis this year began in Tulsa, where I joined the McLerran’s and traveled almost four hundred miles to Memphis with Robbie, Candice, Casey and Little Joe all packed into “Bluesy.” We stayed again this year at the Marriott. It was convenient and we knew our way around from previous years – that’s an important item to understand, especially to minimize any tension that could distract from the true purpose of being here. The Main Street trolley was at the back entrance to the hotel and a short 10-12 block ride south to Beale Street. I went there to photograph the event and in particular, Little Joe.
In a random drawing that Saturday, Little Joe McLerran was placed in the third slot for the 2009 IBC Finals at the Orpheum Theatre. The final six finalists in the Solo/Duo category are allowed only 20 minute set tonight. Again, three judges are responsible for evaluating and grading the talent, based upon predetermined categories and standardized criteria.
Each act demonstrated their prowess along many subtle levels. At first observation, you would survey their stage persona, followed by their song selection and performance ability, including both instrumental & showmanship.
Blues can be a vague category, and the finalists confirmed their knowledge and depth of the subject. Some songs performed throughout the night, however didn’t exactly fall into the blues idiom. There were moments of brilliance and inspiration, but I didn’t see an act carry or dominate the entire set, before or after, Little Joe took the stage. His nimble and talented Piedmont style, together with his professional poise, and frequent smile warmed the room – he was in top form!
Little Joe’s 20 minute – award winning set included:
1) All By Myself- Bill Broonzy
2) Blues Before Sunrise – Leroy Carr
3) Lookin For A Woman – Snooks Eaglin
4) I’m Wild About It – Little Joe McLerran
5) Little Joe’s Breakdown – Little Joe McLerran
6) Mornin Blues – Gus Cannon
7) Gotta Move – Homesick James
Little Joe McLerran was selected by the Blues Foundation as this years 1st Place Winner of the 2009 IBC solo/duo division. The celebration and thrill of his accomplishment spread enthusiastically among all Tulsa attendees, which included a large delegation from the Blues Society of Tulsa. It was the Blues Society of Tulsa that once again provided Little Joe the opportunity to compete and this year it was a celebration to be shared with all who came.
The 1st Place Winner in the Solo/Duo division was Little Joe McLerran, representing the Blues Society of Tulsa; and 2nd Place went to Alphanso & Richard from the Crossroads Blues Society of Mississippi.
We return to Tulsa tomorrow, but for now, with the memory of a wonderful journey fresh in our minds we spill onto Beale Street. Little Joe is surrounded by well wishers and supporters all anxious to congratulate him.
In the band competition, 1st Place went to JP Soars & the Red Hots, representing the South Florida Blues Society; 2nd Place went to the Cascade Blues Association’s Ty Curtis Band and Ottawa Blues Societies Monkey Junk placed 3rd.
Here we are in Memphis, it’s late, and we’re on Beale Street, so let’s have another big-ass-beer ! This surely is a night to remember, and it’s even brighter under the neon glow of Memphis lights.
More at Little Joe McLerran’s website: http://www.littlejoeblues.com
Poster Graphic and Photograph by R J Whetstone
aka R. J. Whetstone
(C) 2009 R J Whetstone