The 19th Annual Connecticut Blues Society Band Challenge was held Saturday, at the Hannon-Hatch VFW in West Hartford. The talent was exceptional as each band put on a stirring performance.
As always I enjoyed the day. Besides the great blues, it is also a chance to meet up with old friends and make some new ones.
Connecticut can be proud of the Challenge run by the Connecticut Blues Society. It is one of the best in the nation. The number of bands participating and community involvement are examples of the strong support the Blues receives in the state.
Blues Society President Ed Stack welcomed the crowd and then turned the show over to veteran emcee Tom Retano.
Each band was given 25 minutes to perform. Judging is based on criteria set out by the Blues Foundation.
The crowd was ready for a good time and they were not disappointed.
The Mighty Soul Drivers
The Mighty Soul Drivers performed an outstanding set, featuring the vocals of Bob Orsi. He just gets stronger and stronger. Drawing from their extensive catalog of southern soul music, the band focused on their bluesier material for this competition.
Bob brought out the harp for his song “It Ain’t Right”, for this competition. John Smayda (sax) and Steve Donovan (keyboards) are critical to the soul sound – and were terrific throughout. Andy Karlok (bass) and River City Slim (drums) provided a strong rhythm section.
Larry Willey’s guitar work was the perfect complement to the ensemble sound, and he also had some exciting solos, such as on “Blue Monday”. “Good Time Charlie” was a great choice to kick off the set. Enjoy their new CD “Qualified”.
Suit, Ty & Thurrsty
Suit, Ty & Thurrsty is a powerful 3 piece group that is influenced by blues, rock, funk, and R&B. They are a professional group with good interaction with the audience.
Tom Forst ( guitar), Tyree Pope (bass) and Pedro Johnson (drums),are all accomplished singers, who harmonize very well and each doing a turn at lead vocals. Suit’s guitar is strong and the beat encourages dancing. The songs were all originals and contemporary. “Out of Darkness” reminds one of Zappa. They have a sense of humor and do not take themselves too seriously. They looked great in their matching suits. They closed their set with “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”, which filled the dance floor. This band will be a welcome addition to any musical event. Check out their CD “People in the Streets”.
Petey Hop and the Jack Rabbits
Petey Hop and the Jack Rabbits is an experienced band that represented Connecticut at the IBC, in 2012.
They play crowd pleasing rockin’ blues. With Petey on vocals & guitar, Nick Longo on drums, and Phil Caron on bass, they have instant appeal. Petey struts his stuff on “Walk the Walk” and “My Guy” (where Petey plays nasty slide over Here I am, I’m Your Man). He played “The Levee” from his popular CD.
Their upbeat final number had the dancers on their feet, while Petey, Nick and Phil finished strong.
The Balkun Brothers
The Balkun Brothers are young band in hot demand. Steve’s slide guitar intro evoked the Mississippi Delta, then developed into a heavier blues.
Steve writes original songs, often based on traditional blues that evolve into a guitar frenzy. On songs like “Gone Too Long”, there is impressive interplay between Steve and his brother Nick, on drums. They are well rehearsed and usually end songs with a wild finish. The band has an impressive “blues look” and they perform with originality and showmanship.
One Eyed Johnny and the Grave Diggers
One Eyed Johnny and the Grave Diggers came on with plenty of energy. They grabbed the fans and had dancers on their feet.
Johnny enthusiastically embraces the Blues, and the feeling fills the room. His vocals and harp draw from Chicago Blues. Mike Bloomer is a solid blues guitarist. A highlight is when Johnny plays acoustic guitar, with Mike on slide, and Brian Brynes driving them, on drums. Father Geno laid down the bass lines, and contributed a vocal. This is a fun band that we expect to see a lot of in the future.
The Mike Crandall Band
The Mike Crandall Band sets a high bar for themselves and Mike meets it by pouring his heart and soul into his performance. Mike is intense on harp and vocals while Shawn Leonard “tears it up” on guitar.
Mike showed his skill on chromatic harmonica on “Poison Kisses”. They kill on “Little by Little”, a Chicago blues favorite. This is a band that can get “Down in the Alley”. They closed with the grande finale that included fine work by Steve Peck (drums) and Ed Parnigoni (bass). This is a premier band that has been to the IBC, from Massachusetts and Connecticut, making the finals twice.
While the scores were being added some of the judges joined the performers on stage for a jam.
And the winner is:
THE BALKUN BROTHERS – Steve (vocals, guitar), Nick (drums ) and Cabel Battersby (bass).
The 31st (2015) International Blues Challenge will be held January 20-24, 2015 in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee in the Beale Street Historic District. Tickets go on sale around October 1. – See more at: http://www.blues.org/2014/05/2015-events/#sthash.5Z7ijWGU.dpuf
The 31st International Blues Challenge will begin Tuesday night (Jan 20) with the International Showcase. Wednesday and Thursday night (January 21-22) quarter finals will be conducted. Youth Showcase and Semi Finals will be held Friday evening (January 23). Saturday (January 24) IBC will conclude with Finals in the beautiful Orpheum Theater . – See more at: http://www.blues.org/international-blues-challenge/#sthash.GlPc0hSg.dpuf
In addition to the all of the great bands from across the globe, those who make it to the International Blues challenge will also enjoy the music, culture and history of Memphis (and the city’s famous barbecue). More on this in the near future. You want to plan a trip. It is funs. The biggest gathering of blues bands in the World.
From President Ed Stack (who wrote much of the descriptions): It has been a pleasure for CTBS to put on this event, and we look forward to joining the Balkun Family in Memphis. They win $2000 and gigs at Black Eyed Sally’s, Two Left Feet, Mystic Cinema Arts Center, and Infinity Music Hall. We thank Black Eyed Sally’s, the VFW, and Blue Moon Beer for hosting and sponsoring the Challenge. Sue and Ray Meeker did a great job organizing the event. A thanks to Tom Retano and River City Slim for being MC’s during the events. Numerous volunteers were essential to make it work. A thanks to those who jammed while Ray tabulated the scores – Greg McCullough, Paul Gabriel, Shawn Leonard, Steve Peck and Ed Parnigoni – great music and fun. The VFW was full and a good vibe prevailed.
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BluesBeatNews is written, produced, directed and photographed by Domenic Forcella.