Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Round One


Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 11:20 a.m., once again, Heidi’s kitchen table. Lionel and Dexter have headed to Beale Street to register the band and get the competition schedule. The worst-case weather scenario for St. Louis wasn’t realized, so we have hopes that Ricardo will get here in time. Not big hopes, but some...

Heidi is out and the rest of the guys are in various rooms around the house, leaving me to some solitude while I get breakfast ready. I’ve peeled and diced potatoes, which are now cooking, and am waiting for Lionel and Dexter to return with the rest of the groceries for a complete breakfast. Yes, breakfast tends toward noonish with these guys. Another adjustment for me.

Heidi just got back and informed us that she spoke with John-Alex Mason, who’s on his way to Memphis, and they are currently driving 30 miles per hour through Oklahoma because the roads are so bad. Fortunately, they’re not due here until tomorrow.

Lionel just called. They’re scheduled tonight for 7:20 p.m. at Club 152. It will be extremely tight, but if Ricardo’s flight is on time and his rental car is at the ready, and the roads are clear...well, he might make it. If...

2:00 p.m., same place. Ricardo’s flight to St. Louis was on time. The guys are now in the living room running the set. They sound great and are rehearsing the set to be performed without the keys, just in case.

We have to be at Club 152 by 4:40 for check in. They don’t go on until 7:20, so we’ll either come back to the house, or look for somewhere quiet. The guys don’t want too much in their ears before going on, and I guess I can understand that. I think the curiosity regarding the competition would be too tempting for me, but this is what they do, so I defer.

9:10 p.m., back at the table. OH MY GOD! If I didn’t have numerous witnesses, no one would believe the nail-biter I’m getting ready to relay. Fasten your seat belts.

Ok, so the guys, minus Ricardo, all loaded in the van, while I rode with Heidi as we headed to Beale Street. Club 152, here we come. Given our last communique with Ricardo regarding his progress toward Memphis, we figured out that there was approximately a snowball’s chance in hell that he would make it. We park, head to the venue at 4:40 for band check in. After check in, the guys went off to find a quiet space, while I sat with Roger Can’t-Remember-His-Last-Name-But-LOVE-Him and Scott Fitzke, listening to the first four of the ten bands at our venue. The LYB was the fifth band, right in the middle. The first three bands didn’t concern me in terms of the competition (I’m being kind), the fourth; a pretty good shredder, but I wasn’t sold. Then, just as the LYB head to the stage, Ricardo calls, and say’s, “I’m two minutes away.” I couldn’t believe it. However, that was by car, and although he had someone with him who was driving him straight to Beale Street, the street is blocked off to cars so he was going to have to hoof it on foot. It was still just too tight, and Lionel told me that if he gets in one second after downbeat, he can’t come on. It would constitute a penalty. It was a tough decision.

I approached the bandstand to let them know not to count on Ricardo, it just didn’t look possible. However I still head to the front of the venue just in case, as I was holding Ricardo’s pass. I look at my phone and see we only have two minutes to go. As I close my phone, I glance up, and guess who? RICARDO MADE IT! I handed him his pass and said, “You don’t have time to change, RUN!” He ran to the stage with exactly two minutes to spare. Now that’s a nail-biter!

I’ll be back in a bit. Kim and I are going for a walk, even though it’s only 28 degrees out. However, we’re all still vibrating from the drama, and each of us deals with the release in our own way. Kim and I are both walkers.

A few minutes later. Ok, scratch that. You see, my phone’s reception is best on Heidi’s front porch, and shortly before Kim and I were going to leave for our walk, Ms. Jill Watkins called me just as I was getting ready to call her to discuss the Ricardo Situation becoming the Ricardo Miracle, so I went outside for better reception. The wind has kicked up a bit, and at only 28 degrees, I decided I would rely on a different form of release. So I’m writing to you.

Ok, so Ricardo makes it to the stage with two minutes to spare. As the band adjusts to the shock of the Ricardo Miracle, the MC walks on stage for the compulsory sponsor shout-outs, and before we know it, it’s, “From the Colorado Blues Society, The Lionel Young Band.” Nice applause. The set opens with Lionel on guitar, slide. About 30 seconds in, I look up and there’s John-Alex Mason, all smiles and energy. He joins us at the table, smiling and supporting, as the crowd jubilantly cheers the solos. A minute or so later, I lean over and say, “Wait until he picks up the violin. They’re going to go nuts.” John-Alex then breaks into a HUGE, knowing grin.

Sure enough, the next song, Lionel turned his back on the audience to change instruments, and when he turned back around, there was a gasp. Then he started playing. Obviously I’ve heard Lionel play more times than it would be possible to count, but not like this. Obviously I’ve heard this band more than anyone else, but not like this.

Before their set, the audience had been a typical live music audience: most listening, some talking. Within 30 seconds of the LYB downbeat, there was no one talking. No one. What those six men did tonight was remarkable. I’m always uncomfortable writing about the music in detail, as I’m never quite sure of why something takes me to the other side of knowledge, but these men brought the entire room to the other side of knowledge, captivating them at the onset, owning them by the finale. The finale! The Secret Weapon: “Bring it on Home.” It was as fine as anything’s fine (thank you, Mr. Bob Dylan for allowing me to steal that great line). When they sang that last note, the audience erupted while simultaneously springing to their feet, evoking the first standing ovation of the evening.

I’m doubtless going to hear a lot of great Blues this week and weekend, but after tonight I don’tneed to. If I had to leave tomorrow morning for some reason, I would still be able to say truthfully that I heard 25 minutes of some of the finest music of my life at Club 152 on Beale Street in Memphis, TN, at the 27th Annual International Blues Challenge. Tonight, the Rocky Mountains took possession of Memphis in the forms of Lionel Young, Jay Forrest, Kim Stone, Andre Mali, Dexter Payne, and Ricardo “The Miracle” Pena.

More tomorrow. Five days down, four to go.

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