Your Guide to the International Blues Challenge

While everyone knows by now (we hope) that Memphis is known for having a thriving new and current live music scene encompassing all genres, it is still true that Memphis is known worldwide for being the home of the blues. Beale Street has a major history that can backup that claim. From being the place where W.C. Handy and Memphis Minnie came into their own, to later becoming home to the outrageous nightclubs where musicians like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, and so many others made their bread and butter.

Each year The Blues Foundation, a Memphis based organization with a mission to preserve the heritage and history of the Blues, hosts a festival-style live blues competition in the city known as The International Blues Challenge (IBC). The event brings hundreds of tourists and blues musicians to the city, and is known worldwide in the blues community to be the mecca for recognition in the genre as an up and coming blues band.

Here is how it works– in order to compete, you must be entered through a Blues Foundation affiliated blues society. This year there are 150 bands competing, representing 25 countries. During the day, there are workshops and panels led by leaders in the industry, and then in the evening the competition begins in multiple clubs on and around Beale Street. The event lasts five days this year– January 24th through the 28th, and culminates with the IBC finals on Saturday January 28th at the Orpheum Theatre. Past competitors of the challenge include Gary Clark Jr (when he was only 17 years old), and Memphis’ blues powerhouse band Southern Avenue.

Interim President and CEO of The Blues Foundation, Kimberly Horton, says that the event is “plain good fun, good music— [Memphians] can come and appreciate these musicians coming in from other countries playing music that everyone here in Memphis is familiar with. It broadens your horizons and knowledge of what the blues can be and what it looks like today.”

Pro tip: buy a full event pass, as it’s the only way to go to the finals on the 28th at The Orpheum, and that show is worth the price of the ticket alone.

Buy your tickets on The Blues Foundation Website here, and we’ll see you there!

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