This Sunday at the Strange Brew in Manchester, there will be a battle royal of sorts taking place, a straight up grudge match verses some of the best blues musicians from the region.
The annual Granite State Blues Society Blues Challenge
is always a good take with an easy Sunday
vibe and solos, duos, youth and full bands playing all forms of the blues – Delta, Memphis, R&B, boogie –each hoping to hitch a ride on the “Road to Memphis” for the International Blues Challenge in January.
And this year, like last, I was asked to be a judge. Thankful for the opportunity, I still find myself worrying about my capacity to judge a blues competition. For one, I am not a musician. Not even close. I listen to music, lots of it. I can talk music, but not so much about how it’s made, but how it feels in my bones when it spills out the speakers.
See, the blues comes at me two ways. When I’m in a high lonesome mood, I get stuck on the Blind men – Willie and Lemon and Joe. Then again, if the night treated me gently and saved me with a kiss, I’m all about Little Milton and Willie Dixon.
Regardless of my dispositions, President of the the GSBS, Audrey Frazier, was kind enough to explain the judging process and shared her thoughts on Sundays blues showcase with the staff at Soundcheck.
Q: Another year, another great day of blues music planned by the GSBS this Sunday. Who’s going to knock me out this year?
This year we three bands: Bees Deluxe, Lights Out Band, and the TNG Band, three Solo/Duo acts: Baza Blues, Live Simply Band, and the Magic Companions, and two youth acts: Veronica Lewis playing boogie woogie keys and Nolan Leite playing blues guitar.
Q. How difficult is it seeing performers getting cut in these competitions? These are friends in many cases, fellow soldier’s doing their part to keep the blues alive.
As with any competition people have opinions of who they like and want to succeed. Being familiar with the scoring system and the qualifications of the judges gives me confidence in the scores. I frankly would find it difficult to be a judge. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Memphis to the International Blues Competition for the past three years. I am always taken with the respect and comradery that builds between artists. It becomes much more than winning and that makes it worth it even if the artists don’t get to the finals.
Q. You’re making a move from the backroom of the Shaskeen to the Strange Brew this year. Does one room feel more bluesy than the other?
We are always looking for a venue that will provide good sound and be centrally located. Shaskeen was terrific but the seating for the audience was not ideal. The Strange Brew is known for Blues genre and the space for audience is ideal. After trying several locations we hope this is the match we have been searching for. We are very grateful The Strange Brew is opening early, 1:00 compared to their normal 4:00, to host us. It is very generous of them.
Q. How much does the audience fit into the competitions?
I think the audience is important for the artists, I believe it makes it more natural and an environment the artists are accustom to performing in. I can’t say if the audience applause or participation impacts the scores. I know when I’m in the audience in Memphis I am more enthusiastic for the Granite State artists.
Q. I’ll be a judge this year and I thank you for asking. What are my parameters for judging this event?
Thank you for judging. You will be given a score sheet prior to each act to rate the artists from 1 to 10 in each of the scoring categories: blues content, originality, vocals, instrumental talent, and stage presence. The sound and feel of the music should be true to any of the blues sub-categories: traditional, country, soul, blues/rock and or contemporary. Artists must indicate if their songs are originals or acknowledge the originator. Both vocals and instrument talent should be assessed for skill and expression. Stage presence is the ability to command the attention of audience. Being a judge is an important position. What the artists truly appreciate are notes on what you liked and what could have used improvement.
Q. The bands, in the past, that have won the competition and made their way to Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge, what was it about them that put them on that path?
The “Road to Memphis” is a goal of all of the artists entering the multitude of challenges happening around the globe. Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock and the Cradle of American Music, and those are all fitting titles when you consider the many famous artists who have called the historic Mississippi River town home — W.C. Handy, B.B. King and Isaac Hayes, as well as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, to mention only a few. It’s a thrill for artists to play on Beale Street.
Thank you Rob for keeping the Blues Alive. We look forward to an exciting challenge on Sunday!