Story by Wanda Callagy
Photographs by Robin Murray, Andrzej Pilarczyk and Wanda Callagy
The folks at the 29th annual International Blues Challenge will hear more than 200 blues acts – bands, duos and solo bluesmen and women – from around the globe throughout the week-long competition, and these talented Local 518 musicians will be part of it all.
This will be a first-time experience for both Holly & Evan and Joe Lowry. Selected and sponsored by the Capitol Region Blues Network, they’ve competed locally against other bands in the area and were chosen to represent the Capital Region’s blues scene. Friend and mentor Tas Cru has been attending the event for years, and on Tuesday (January 29) he’ll be hosting the opening night Rum Jam Boogie to help launch the week’s festivities.
Holly Taormina and Evan Conway were chosen to compete in the solo/duo category and were preparing their list of songs last week.
“Of course, there is a lot of nervous energy going into this,” said Conway. “But I am sure when we get up on that stage, we will get into the music, and it will be like another show. But we have the opportunity to see so many other venues and to immerse ourselves in the music. It is a thrill to be able to share our songs there.”
Joe Lowry and members of the Second Mile Blues Band – Bacco the Bassman and drummer Gregory Nash – are ready to take in the atmosphere.
“We have worked hard and are proud of winning the competion to come here,” Lowry said. “I think it will be a great experience, there will be so much music around us. We have a lot of passion and energy, and I am looking forward to us being ourselves, sharing our originals there.”
Tas Cru and bandmembers Sonny Rock, Steve Kirsty and Jeremy Walz will also be stopping at venues along the way, combining evening blues gigs with his Blues In Schools education program. The Blues Challenge organizers saw Cru’s efforts and added some school programs along the way. Though Cru has won awards in the past for his class time, he is modest about his dedication to both the blues and the lives he touches.
“Awards are nice, but there is a lot of work ahead to be done,” Crus said. “Those students give back a lot to me, too. I share the blues, the important basics of our culture. And now, in Memphis, too.”