Lionel Young, violin/guitar/vocals
Jay Forrest, drums/vocals
Kim Stone, bass
Andre Mali, trumpet
Dexter Payne, Sax/harp
Ricardo Pena, keys/guitar/vocals (not on the road trip part, is flying in and out, so he won’t make an appearance until the third act: “Memphis”)
Honey Sepeda, cook/problem-solver/distraction/den mother
ACT ONE: “Kansas”
After a four-hour unscheduled detour involving a faulty tire on the rental van, we are now headed through the center of Kansas. It’s almost 8:00 p.m., Saturday, January 29, 2011. It’s dark in the van, and Kim’s watching a movie, while Lionel is driving and trying to talk to me while I’m trying to write to you. Andre, of course, remains the saint of patience and is interceding on my behalf, sitting in the passenger seat, chatting with Lionel about music so I can work on this blogging business. Jay and Dexter are in Jay’s car just behind us. It’s already been an adventure, and we’re but nine hours into the journey.
While temporarily stalled at a truck stop right at the entrance to Prairie Dog Town, between Colby and Oakley, Kansas, Jay pulled me aside and walked me a short way to show me, off in the distance, the world’s largest prairie dog. Well, just the head, but I saw it! No one else bothered. I guess not everyone is into fine art.
Surprisingly, thus far the sports talk has been fairly minimal. Considering Lionel’s beloved Steelers are going to the Super Bowl, I find this fact wonderfully baffling. No complaints, mind you, but I am bewildered. Particularly as this van is packed, but Lionel still insisted we bring his black and yellow Steelers football. It’s about half the size of a regulation football, but still! At the first rest stop, before the discovery of a dangerously faulty tire, Kim and Lionel attempted to toss it around in the parking lot, but the Kansas winds made that futile. However, Kim nearly succeeded in hitting me in the head.
It was after our first gas stop that Lionel realized something felt wrong. All four of us could feel the wobble, but it was also reasonable to fault the winds. After a bit, Lionel called Jay and asked him to look at the tires from behind. Over the course of the next few miles, Jay passed us on either side as he and Dexter scrutinized the tires. It was mutually decided that we stop at the next gas station to check the air pressure. One look at the right rear tire, and it was evident that it was too much a hazard to attempt making it to Kansas City. After an hour or so of phone calls to the rental agency (worthless), AAA, etc., we were on our way six miles down the road to a tire place. Where we spent a couple of hours. But they had wifi in the neighboring restaurant, so we passed the time chatting and checking email.
And back to where I started. It’s dark, we’re all doing our own thing while Lionel drives both the van and the Blues with his killer selections. I’ve been on many a road trip in my life, but I’m certain this is the first that will be nothing but the Blues in the van, there and back. Fine by me. As I type this, we’re listening to Johnny Long. Lovely. And now, we’re on to Louis Jordan, “Early in the Morning.”
We had planned on staying near Kansas City tonight, but we’re not going to make it that far, thanks to the tire. So, it looks like it will be Salina tonight, then about six hours to St. Louis tomorrow. They have a 6:00 p.m. load-in at B.B.’s, so we should be on the road by 9:00 a.m.
Fun fact! Thursday morning, I received an email from Pricilla and Dave wanting to know where we we’re staying in St. Louis, as they are also heading to Memphis and decided to go to the LYB gig at B.B.’s. Turns out they were able to book a room in the same hotel, so there’s going to be a little Outlook spirit in St. Louis! And I’ll have friends to sit with at the gig.
Another email I received Thursday was from Intrepid Artists, the 2011 winners of the Keeping the Blues Alive award in the “Agent” category. They have a few of our good friends as clients, and here’s who will be playing around Beale Street this weekend: Trampled Under Foot, John Nemeth, Shawn Starski, and of course, Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, Prodigal Son of the Outlook (although not an Intrepid client). I’m going to be a busy bee in Memphis.
But first St. Louis for the Sunday night gig. After a good night’s sleep somewhere in or around Salina, KS. We’re now looking for a gas station for a quick refuel, then the next stop will be whatever motel we decide to secure for the night. Hopefully.
A FEW MINUTES LATER: Typed too soon. I had no more put my laptop back in it’s case when Lionel announces, “I’m getting pulled over.” Now, I’m sitting right behind him, and he’s using the cruise control, set to the speed limit, so we knew it wasn’t for speeding. The officer was nice, shining his light in our faces only briefly, checking Lionel’s license and rental agreement. He told Lionel that he’d swerved over the fog line, and was checking to make sure he hadn’t been drinking, and then wished us a safe trip. We lost about two minutes more. Minor loss.
I’ve just been informed that we’re not stoping in Salina, but going for Topeka. We should get there a bit after midnight.
8:30 a.m., Sunday, January 30, Topeka, KS, Motel 6. To my knowledge, I’m the only one awake. We have only a four-hour drive to St. Louis, so we’re not scheduled to leave Topeka until 11:00 a.m., allowing everyone some extra sleep. Except for me. I slept for only two or three hours. Not for lack of trying, just too many noises. Hopefully I can sleep in the van. I can be a tad cranky when tired...nobody wants that.
10:21 a.m. I went for a walk and found a Starbucks across the street, so I’m caffeinated. It’s bitter cold here in Kansas, with strong, chilling winds. Still, the walk woke me up. The coffee is helping tremendously too.
We’re scheduled to leave in about half an hour, and as near as I can tell, I’m still the only one awake. I’m envious of their slumber.
1:00 p.m., Kansas City. We just pulled out of a gas station in KC, headed to St. Louis. I decided since I was in KC, that I should call the TUF kids and say hi. I called Nick, and we got to chat a bit, and made plans to meet up in Memphis.
I was also texting this morning while not sleeping, with Heidi Knochenhauer, our hostess during our Memphis stay, and she is texting some friends of hers in St. Louis to come out to the gig tonight. Looks like we’ll be with old friends and new at B.B.’s tonight. I do love the Blues world! There is no such thing as a stranger at Blues show.
Another coffee, but I’m still feeling the lack of sleep. Lionel has jokingly attempted to offend me a couple of times, but my mind is too tired for pithy responses. I told him I’d respond tomorrow.
10:38 a.m., leaving St. Louis. The guys killed at B.B’s last night, a wonderful venue with great food. They had a decent and very attentive crowd who were awed by the 90-minute set. And, we were back at the hotel by 11:00 p.m., so we’re well rested and ready for a night off in Memphis. We’ll be there in about five hours.
We have discovered that Kim is incapable of multi-tasking, in that he can’t listen to music and me at the same time. He’s choosing to listen to the music, for which he’ll pay a heavy price. Andre, on the other hand, seems to be able to do everything at once, including sleeping and talking to Lionel simultaneously. Jay and Dexter remain in Jay’s car with a lot less rousing, and occasionally conflicting, conversation. I have moments of envy...
Overall, this leg of the road trip has been a lot of fun, with a lot of laughter. The circadian rhythms have been blissfully synchronistic, with everyone taking turns being a moody pain. Well, not me, of course.
12:25 p.m. We just left a Cracker Barrel somewhere in MO, and in the interest of good taste, I’ll not relay the lunchtime conversations, but I will tell you that traveling with five men is an education indeed. I’ve always known that men and woman think and interact differently, but this trip has served, and I’m sure will continue to serve, as solid confirmation of that fact. I’m on my own out here, fending for myself. Can’t wait to get to Heidi’s for reinforcements. Ricardo arrives tomorrow, then it will be six men and two women. Finally, a level playing field.
The weather is coming with a vengeance, sheets of freezing rain, so it’s fortunate we have tonight off. We’ll get to Memphis when we get there, and Heidi will have a glass of wine waiting for me, which I will enjoy off somewhere by myself. I love these guys, but I’m ready for a little solitude. Today is day three. Six to go.
Lionel Young, violin/guitar/vocals
Jay Forrest, drums/vocals
Kim Stone, bass
Andre Mali, trumpet
Dexter Payne, Sax/harp
Ricardo Pena, keys/guitar/vocals (not on the road trip part, is flying in and out, so he won’t make an appearance until the third act: “Memphis”)
Honey Sepeda, cook/problem-solver/distraction/den mother
Byron Cage, former drummer for Jason Ricci & New Blood
Morris and Jermaine, cats
9:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 1, 2011, Memphis. Heidi and I are sitting at her kitchen table drinking coffee, answering emails, and chatting softly while the lazy men sleep. A soft rain is falling, and not so soft snores resonate throughout the house.
Built in 1922, Heidi’s house is beyond charming, cozy, and whimsical. It’s in mid-town Memphis in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. We arrived around 4:30 p.m. yesterday to a balmy 60 degrees. With the freezing cold of St. Louis behind us, we all felt weatherly blessed. After unloading, catching up with Heidi, and a quick glass of wine, Dexter, Kim, and I took off for a long walk around Cooper-Young. For my Colorado audience, I can say with full authority that this neighborhood could be dropped near downtown Boulder, and fit right in, socially, architecturally, and charmingly.
Heidi then suggested her favorite neighborhood barbecue place for dinner, Central BBQ (2249 Central Ave, Memphis, TN 38104). Locally owned by a nice man named Craig, this place moves fast, serving a good and honest barbecue. Everyone’s dinner looked great, and my pork sandwich was splendid. And cheap. $4.95!
Back at the house, the guys decided it was rehearsal time. They set up in the expansive living room, and played for about three hours. Meanwhile Heidi’s roommate had come home, then Heidi’s friend, the delightful Rattlebone Jones, come by for a while, so the four of us sat at the table, talking music, drinking wine, and listening to the rehearsal, our own private concert. Not a bad first night in Memphis. And now a nice, quiet first morning. Excepting the snoring.
Morris, one of Heidi’s cats, has been attempting to assist Heidi and me in our typing efforts, unsuccessfully. I assume it’s the warmth of the laptops that is so inviting, but it’s difficult to work while a cat lounges on the keyboard. After repeated failed efforts, Morris has accepted defeat and chosen my soft Mac case on which to nap. And we’re on our second pot of coffee.
Although a nice 55 degrees, it’s going to be a rainy one, so I’m without a clue as to what our plan will be for today, but the choices are unlimited, and I’m already falling in love with Memphis, so I can’t lose. I know once the guys emerge from slumber, breakfast will be the first order [Ed. Note: Morris is back, looking for warmth].
Today’s drama: Ricardo. Ricardo was due to fly into St. Louis today, then rent a car and make the four and a half hour drive to Memphis. St. Louis airport is closed, and Ricardo is in Boulder.
Ok, back to Ricardo in a minute. The guys are now up, and Lionel just told a story, at the table mind you, that might be the most disgusting, repulsive, and unbelievable thing I’ve ever heard. Swearing that it’s true, I’m still wiping tears from my eyes from laughing. Lionel provided his absolute permission to relay said story in this blog, but once again in the interest of good taste, I’ll refrain.
Back to Ricardo. He’s trying to reroute himself somehow, so we’re knee-deep in uncertainty at this time. Lionel is getting ready to call him again; hopefully we’ll get good news.
The guys all read the first blog entry, and Kim and Lionel are trying to convince me that I’m being too nice, not writing the grit. Ok, fair enough. Jay thinks I should keep it classy. I’m going with Jay on this one.
Heidi and I are back from grocery shopping, and she’s now making quiche. Once we clear the brunch dishes, I’ll have to get started on lunch and dinner, but cooking in a nice kitchen is one of life’s pleasures and a perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with myself. Much needed after the conversations I’ve had to endure from these “men.” I am quickly becoming an unwitting expert on all things scatological, once again proving my mother right: “Honey, they only grow taller.”
1:20 p.m., Heidi’s kitchen table. Brunch was wonderful, then Dexter and Jay cleaned up, and soon I’ll begin prepping for dinner. It’s still grey and rainy, and right now Dexter and Kim are in the living room playing. Just the bass and the sax, lulling the house into the mood the weather is demanding.
Jay just poked his head in the kitchen and suggested, “Let’s run the set.” So, in a couple of minutes, I’ll be serenaded by the LYB, minus one. Still no word from Ricardo.
3:40 p.m., still at Heidi’s kitchen table. Being that Heidi is a grant writer who works from home, we’re both still sitting at the table tending to our respective professional obligations. The guys just left for various errands and provisions, so it’s quiet. So beautifully, serenely, magnificently quiet. They ran their set a couple of times, and they’re sounding great. In between rehearsals, on the other hand, they’re just sounding. A lot. Lionel and Kim have me hands down in the chatterbox department, difficult though that may be to believe. Jay’s the efficient talker: when he has something to say he says it, no less, no more. And it’s usually funny. And Southern.
Andre is similar, with relevant comments typically meant to shame a couple of the others. Good natured of course. Dexter chimes in here and there, but the World Champs are inarguably Lionel and Kim. Fortunately, they are usually talking to or at each other, so one is forgiven the occasional tune-out. And even the frequent ones. And wearing earplugs or headphones at meals. Or eating in another room. Or house. Or city.
WE HAVE COMPANY!!! Byron Cage, the final drummer for Jason Ricci & New Blood, is here! And, we’re going to see Shawn Starski Friday night, so a sweet family reunion is at hand. Todd Edmunds is on the road with Otis Taylor, so a full New Blood reunion will not be at hand, but with him now living indefinitely in Boulder, I can see him pretty much at will. Which is several times weekly.
Heidi is making chile with Byron’s help. The guys are still out (Jay’s upstairs reading), so the three of us are catching up, laughing, informing, and remembering. I’m discerning just now, that in a way I’m not really on a road trip. I’m just with very familiar people in an unfamiliar setting. It’s more like going to an old friend’s housewarming party: the house is the only thing new.
6:25 p.m., yes, still at Heidi’s kitchen table. Ricardo. Yes, back to Ricardo. We have answers, but unfortunately, just as many uncertainties. Ricardo is due into St. Louis tomorrow (Wed.) at 1:45 p.m. He then has a minimum of a four and a half hour drive to Memphis. And they’re calling for more snow in St. Louis. Lionel won’t know until early tomorrow afternoon what time they go on, so the uncertainty is whether or not they’ll have Ricardo for the first set, and if not, whether or not he can play subsequent sets. Yeah, a lot of uncertainties.
8:10 p.m., you-know-where. We just had a nice dinner together of chili, southwestern chicken wraps, and cornbread (don’t worry, we’re having soup and salad for lunch tomorrow). We refrained from talking about or even thinking about the Ricardo Situation. Because I was preparing their evening meal (and they were all really hungry), I was momentarily afforded an audience during which time I pleaded my case: “There is nothing any of us can do to alter the Ricardo Situation, so to expend emotional and intellectual energy on this is pointless. Can we please enjoy dinner without the preoccupation of a situation beyond our control?” They all agreed. Miraculously they lived up to said agreements. More or less.
Half the guys are out running errands, the other half reading and relaxing with the cats (Jermaine and the aforementioned Morris). Jay is now giving Heidi a drum lesson, which is making Morris a little skittish. Since it’s not even 9:00 p.m. yet, I’m betting the guys will run the set a time or two before calling it a day. I know intellectually that professional musicians keep late hours by necessity. However, when faced with it in actuality and practice (not to mention the same house), it’s so foreign to me that I might as well be in space. I’m planning on hitting my pillow early tonight. I was in bed before last night’s rehearsal concluded, and at first I feared I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Within a few minutes I realized the music was doing the opposite. The next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes this morning thinking, “Today is day four. Five to go.”
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 approach 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.
Thursday, February 3, 2011, 11:00 a.m., kitchen table. Andre and I both sit here at our laptops, easing into the day. Jay is upstairs reading, Kim still asleep, while Lionel and Dexter lounge in their living room beds, talking about the day ahead.
Again, we have to be at Club 152 for check in by 4:40, even though they aren’t scheduled to go on until 9:40. Today’s rehearsal is set for noon, and this will be the first one with Ricardo in a couple of weeks. Ricardo and his friend are staying one block over in the guest room of Barbara, a generous friend of Heidi’s, so logistics remain simple.
Willie Panker is in town, playing with the New Orleans band, Lil’ Red and Big Bad. I didn’t see him last night, but we got to chat on the phone for a while. With all that’s been going on, I had completely forgotten my good friend is here. Their set is at the New Daisy at 7:55 tonight, so I should have time to head over there.
Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin arrives tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see him. He plays both Friday and Saturday nights, and with all the others in town, well the choices are overwhelming: Trampled Under Foot, John Nemeth, Shawn Starski, Bob, etc. Fortunately the schedules for them are somewhat staggered, so I might be able to get to all.
2:20 p.m., at the table again. Ricardo is here and the guys are rehearsing. It’s nice to have Ricardo back. I have a chicken in the oven, rice already cooked, veggies ready to go, and getting ready to peel apples for frying. It smells good in here.
Tonight we find out if they advance to the semifinals, but based on last night, that seems a foregone conclusion. There are ten bands, and four will advance tonight; the LYB seemed to be the venue favorite last night, if I know how to read a crowd. And I know how to read a crowd. It will be the same ten bands tonight, but with a different set schedule.
For those new to this competition, this year there are eleven venues, ten bands per venue. After tonight, four from each venue will advance to tomorrow night’s (Friday) semifinals. Forty-four bands. Out of those, eight will go to the Saturday finals. The band finals begin at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and conclude around 6:30, giving all participants plenty of opportunities to sit in on any of the myriad professional jams later that night, a fitting conclusion to one of the Blues world’s biggest weeks. Bob’s jam begins at 10:00 p.m. at the Rum Boogie, and my understanding is that his is the most coveted. We’ll be there.
4:35 p.m., alone in the house, sitting at the table. The guys wrapped up rehearsal at 3:30, at which time I told them, “You’re walking out the door at 4:15 for registration.” At about 3:55, Lionel walked out the door, I thought to get something from the van. When I announced, “Leaving in fifteen minutes.” Kim says, “Lionel’s not here.” Apparently he decided to take a quick jog around the neighborhood for some exercise. We, of course, didn’t know this. As 4:15 comes and goes, Kim suggests Jay drive them down in his car (Lionel had the keys to the van), meet up with Ricardo, and check in without Lionel. So off they went at about 4:22 (still enough time, but getting a little close). At 4:27 Lionel comes running in the door, and I said, “They left in Jay’s car.” He said, “Good. I just got handcuffed.” Heidi yelled, “WHAT?!?” I only received the condensed version as Ricardo was just leaving as well, and picked Lionel up. All I got was that he was jogging around the block and a police car stopped him, handcuffed him, and roughed him up a “little bit.” Then he and Heidi got in Ricardo’s car headed toward Beale Street. They should be back within an hour or so for dinner, and I’ll get the detailed version then.
I just received this email from David Morgenstern: “Honey, If I had known Ricardo's flight had gotten canceled, I would have driven to his house and said "get in!" He would have been there by now. As an old truck driver, 20 hrs straight is nothing for me. He could have just slept.” David
Thanks for the offer, Dave. Fortunately it all worked out. Well, except for Lionel’s run in with some undercover cops. Three cars, no less. Because he was, in his words, “Jogging while black.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.
We’ve just had a nice dinner, all together around the table including Rose, Ricardo’s girlfriend. Rose and Ricardo were witness to Lionel’s ordeal, and before dinner, the three of them relayed the story a number of times, attempting to purge this ugly incident before heading back to Beale Street for great Blues.
Please forgive my selfishness, but we need to leave in about an hour, and I’d rather not spend that hour focussed on The Incident. I promise to detail The Incident when we get back tonight. After I deliver the news about advancing to the semifinals. And a couple of hours listening to some healing Blues. We all need it right now. Particularly Lionel.
10:55 p.m., back at the house, back at the table. It will be some time before we find out who advances to the semifinals, but once again, the LYB stole the room. There were a couple of technical difficulties, some hot mics during “Bring it on Home,” but they still owned the night. Off to bed.
Friday, February 4, 2011, 9:45 a.m., at the table with Heidi. The LYB made the semifinals, and we are at The New Daisy for a 7:20 set, the second to last act. The final act goes on at 8:00 p.m., so I imagine we’ll know by 10:00 or so, who is advancing to the finals. Another Kind of Magik, the kids out of Cheyenne, are also advancing to the semis, as are Big Jim Adam and John Stillwagon.
Heidi and I are the only ones up right now. Jay is awake, but in bed reading. It’s going to be another long day, with a long rehearsal in there somewhere.
Ok, back to The Incident. Lionel was jogging down the street, and just as he passed the house in which Rose and Ricardo are staying, he heard a female voice command him to stop running. He stopped running. The car was unmarked, and the female officer’s male partner got out of the car. Both of them were in street clothes. They asked Lionel questions regarding what he was running from. Lionel said he was running to, not from. They told him to put his hands on the car, kicked his legs apart and handcuffed him. They then told him to sit on the curb, a difficult task when handcuffed. He sat down, and momentarily fell backwards on his arms. Just about as he righted himself, Ricardo walked out the door, saw what was happening, and asked, “What in the hell is going on? He’s a musician!” By this time, not one, but TWO more unmarked cars had shown up, and they told Ricardo to “go away.” Rose then came out and spoke with the female officer, explaining who Lionel is, why he’s here, etc. They finally un-cuffed and released him. Still a fairly condensed version, but that’s it in a nutshell. Fortunately Ricardo was late again. Had he and Rose left when they’d planned, five minutes earlier, well, Lionel had no i.d. on him, no phone, so who knows what might have happened.
Now on to the pleasant. We’re having a relaxing day, chatting, eating, and not thinking about tonight too much. Seven down, two to go.
I’ll get to the suspense in a few, but the important news is the Lionel Young Band IS GOING TO THE FINALS!!! Only eight of the original 110 bands have advanced to the finals, and the LYB have more than earned their spot. And not only that, but Big Jim Adam and John Stillwagon are also going to the finals! Colorado is well represented.
Saturday, February 5, 2011, 10:00 a.m., usual spot. I have to keep this brief as we have to be at the Orpheum Theater by 1:00 p.m.
Lionel and Dexter went out last night, so Andre, Kim, Ricardo, Jay, Rose and I stayed here at the house, waiting for the announcement. The LYB played the New Daisy, a big room and perfect for their sound. All the acts were good, but Rose and I kept the judges’ table within line of sight, and all of them were table dancing and taking pictures by the LYB’s second number. The semifinals allow for a 30-minute set, and the guys took those extra five minutes and schooled the entire room. During that set, the judges gave them three standing ovations! Our guys OWNED that room.
Ok, so those of us at the house had our computers on the Blues Foundation’s website, waiting for them to post the finalists. At approximately midnight, Andre, Kim, Ricardo, and Jay received a text from Dexter: “We’re in the finals!” It was another half hour before the website listed the results, so it’s a good thing Lionel and Dexter were downtown to hear it first. There was much celebrating here in Heidi’s wonderful home, and then we stayed up until 1:30 absorbing the news. Here’s the list:
Here are the finalists announced last night at the conclusion of the semi-finals. They are listed in the order in which they will perform at the finals at the Orpheum theater tonight. The band finals will begin at 2:00pm (doors open at 1:00pm) and the Solo/Duo finals will begin at 7:30pm (doors at 6:30pm).
1. Randy Oxford Band - South Sound Blues Association
2. Stevie J & the Blues Eruption - Central Mississippi Blues Society
3. Grand Marquis - Topeka Blues Society
4. Rob Blaine's Big Otis Blues - Windy City Blues Society
5. Alex Wilson - Grafton Blues Association
6. The Lionel Young Band - Colorado Blues Society
7. The Sugar Prophets - Illinois Central Blues Club
8. The Mary Bridget Davies Group - Kansas City Blues Society
1. Back Porch Stomp - Washington Blues Society
2. Izzy & Chris - West Virginia Blues Society
3. George Schroeter & Marc Breitfelder - Baltic Blues
4. The Juke Joint Devils - Massachusetts Blues Society
5. "Sweet Taste" Kennedy - Canal Bank Shuffle
6. The Mighty Orq - Houston Blues Society
7. Big Jim Adam & John Stilwagen - Colorado Blues Society
So as you can imagine, the energy in this house is vibrating (well, Kim is still sleeping...). The finals are at the Orpheum Theater at 2:00 p.m., ending at 6:00. We should know the outcome by 7:00 p.m. Central, 6:00 p.m. Mountain, and I’ll be texting Dan and a few others immediately.
Now, I have to get the boys’ lunch ready. Eight down, one incredible day to go.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN IBC HISTORY...
Those were the most beautiful words uttered on Saturday night. It’s when we knew.
Before I get to all the excitement, my apologies for this being so late. After the band finals, we raced home for the guys to change, then out to dinner, then back to Beale Street, then up Sunday for breakfast, packing, and a twenty-hour trip home. I’ve been off line. And now I have a cold.
Ok, back to Saturday. As the guys went to the stage door to check in, Rose and I waited out in the cold for the box office to open, planning on purchasing tickets then going off somewhere on Beale St. for a coffee or something. However, after said purchase, we entered the lovely Orpheum Theater and saw the crowd. We amended our decision, found two seats, again within line of sight of the judges, and settled in for the next four and a half hours. It went by in a flash.
The LYB was sixth on the line up, and since I’d only heard one of the bands besides the LYB, I had no idea what to expect. The first five bands were all deserving of the finals, but after thirty plus years of listening to this most soulful music, I knew none of them had that special “thing” that the LYB brings seemingly sans effort. The fourth band, Rob Blaine's Big Otis Blues - Windy City Blues Society, gave me some concern. Mr. Blaine is one hell of a shredder, and the crowd loved him. (They ended up placing 3rd, and Mr. Blaine was awarded the Most Promising Guitarist, receiving a guitar and Category 5 amp, one of the most coveted amps on the planet.)
If I might digress for a moment, one of the more surprising things was the utter lack of wardrobe effort expended by most of the finals bands. The LYB suffered from no such lack. They looked great in their red and black, with Lionel in a white blazer. In a display of solidarity, I wore red and black stockings. Given the temperature of the day, ‘twas a comfort sacrifice indeed, but hey, we all have to suffer for art’s sake.
So, after five good bands, Rose and I sat breathless in anticipation, holding hands, huddled next to each other, filled with excitement. The LYB took the stage, stood motionless for a few seconds, and then hit it. Once again, from downbeat to the final note, they enraptured the audience, innately knowing what to do when. The rhythmic flow of that set was perfection.
Lionel always has a great rapport with his audience, and he typically roams the room. When Rose and I entered the Orpheum, I took one look at the height of the stage and thought, “No way. It’s too high.” I was wrong. Fortunately. Here’s the last two minutes of their penultimate number: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nXvKTSmKIA&NR=1
Nice, no? And then the secret weapon. They had the foresight to close with a ballad, no, THE ballad. “Bring it on Home.” All of the other bands ended with big, uptempo numbers. Our boys concluded leaving that audience wanting more and more and more. Here, see for yourselves (although the videographer came in a few seconds late): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g63J77BEIHs&NR=1
That applause you hear was accompanied by a thunderous standing ovation, with Rose and I jumping up and down, screaming our little heads off. We had been watching the judges throughout the set, and they were held in rapt attention along the rest of the 2,500 or so people there. We still had two bands to go, but I was certain. However, I was also really excited to hear the final band, the Mary Bridget Davies Group, as I have them booked at the Outlook for April 28th. Mark your calendars, because after their set, Rose and I got worried. I found out later, the guys were concerned too. She’s got the pipes, kids! I still believed the LYB had the edge, but I could have easily forgiven the judges had the MBDG taken the prize.
After the last set, it was hurry up and wait time. Rose and I mingled with the Colorado Constituency (we were a large and vocal lot), nervously checking the time, pacing, giggling, anything to dispel our nervous energy. Then I had a wonderful surprise: Blues Foundation Deputy Director, Joe Witmer came out with the aforementioned guitar and Cat 5 amp, then introduced two former Most Promising Guitarists winners who were going to simultaneously play said guitar. Out comes my good friend, Jonn Richardson who sits on a chair, while another friend, Sean Carney stood behind him as they both played for a couple of minutes, four hands on that lucky guitar. I was at the front of the stage, and when Jonn saw me, the smile he delivered warmed me to my marrow. It’s been well over a year since we’ve seen each other, and fortunately we had some time to catch up after the announcements.
After that, Joe announced the 2011 MPG winner, Rob Blaine, who played his new guitar on his new amp for a minute or so. Keep that name in mind; this kid’s going places.
Then, the winners. As I mentioned before, Rob Blaine’s band took third place. By this time, Rose and I were beside ourselves, arms around each other, with Chick and Patti, Scott, Heidi, and various other LYB fans all huddled together. When Joe announced the Mary Bridget Davies Group as second place, the Colorado Constituency exploded. We knew. Mary spoke for a few minutes (a little cutie pie, that one; our room is going to love her), teary eyed and adorable.
Then Joe re-approached the mic and uttered those most beautiful words, “For the first time in IBC History...” and again an explosion. We were so loud that he had to stop talking for a few seconds. At one point he looked down at me with a look that suggested, “Will you please shut up so I can continue.” I shook my head no. There was no stopping any of us in our screaming applause. Chick and Patti were both crying, while Rose and I jumped, screamed and hugged. Joe then realized he was simply going to have to talk louder. “For the first time in IBC history, someone has won in both the solo and band divisions [I’m paraphrasing]. From the Colorado Blues Society, the 2011 winners of the International Blues Challenge Band Division, the Lionel Young Band.” It was pretty much anticlimactic as we already knew. However, we reloaded our lungs and kept screaming. I then turned around and saw the entire theater on their feet. We weren’t the only ones screaming.
After a bit of celebrating with our friends, old and new, Rose and I headed out to the stage door to congratulate our guys. The sidewalk outside the stage door was packed with well wishers and all of the other musicians, so we were able to extend our congratulations to all, and I got a chance to speak with Mary Bridget. As I said above, she’s adorable and she can’t wait to play the Outlook. When I first saw her, she was on the phone with her mother, still teary eyed and excited. Hers is another name to keep in mind. We’ll all be hearing a lot more from this tremendous talent. A lot more.
While we waited for the LYB to emerge, Jonn came out and presented me with a gigantic bear hug. I just adore that man! He also really wants to come back to the Outlook, so I’m working on setting something up for him.
As the crowd thinned, I called Bob Margolin. I’d already sent him a text with the news, but wanted to talk to him all the same. He told me he wanted the entire band to play a couple of numbers at the Rum Boogie, and I assured him we would be there.
So, we collect everyone, head back to Heidi’s for a wardrobe change (my legs were freezing, so I had to forego the stockings for the second half of the evening). Our new friend, Rattlebone Jones, came by and said, “We’re going to dinner.” We then went to this wonderful barbecue place with Rattlebone, his wife, Amy, and their two boys, Babybone (3) and Soupbone (3 months). Those aren’t their legal names, but that’s how they’re known. They are a lovely family, and I can assure that they will remain in all of our lives. When true connections are made, they are undeniable and absolute. Between Heidi and Rattlebone Jones, we had the inside track to the city of Memphis and the kind of hospitality that gives the South a good name.
After dinner, we said our temporary goodbyes to the Rattlebone family, and headed back to Beale Street to the Rum Boogie. As we entered, I saw the TUF kids on stage, wrapping up their set before Bob was to start his famous jam. For those of you who might not know this, Danielle Schnebelen is obviously pregnant, due in early May. It was wonderful to see them, all hugs and smiles. Then, I headed back to the table Kim had secured and saw him talking with Bob. I hadn’t seen Bob yet, so I ran over for hellos and hugs. He only had a minute to chat, then the jam began. He had Matt Hill on bass, and now I know how much fun the Shipless Blues Cruise is going to be. Matt is wonderfully insane, and a fantastic entertainer. Yes, he’s great on guitar, great voice, etc., but it’s his audience rapport that is mind boggling. He’s a ridiculous charmer, and the women love him. All ages.
The LYB then got up and gave us two great numbers, then Bob came back to the stage, kept Lionel up and brought up Nick Schnebelen (TUF). Great music!
Before that however, as the LYB was tuning, Bob began talking about “This great Blues venue in Boulder, Colorado.” He talked about the Shipless Blues Cruise, and then introduced me to the audience. Several people asked for my card and more info on the Shipless, so who knows, we might have a Memphis Constituency.
I’ve been home now for just over 48 hours, and still in a state of bliss. There were tense moments as well as joyful, frustration along with confidence, disappointment (The Incident) and satisfaction. But even so, ultimately we had nine tremendous days of continuity, all there for each other no matter what. And no matter what, we are a family. I’m so very proud of my family. Some of the other family members I ran into include John-Alex Mason, Eddie Turner, Kate Moss (Nick Moss’ wife, not the English model), Nic Clarke, Taylor Marvin, Big Jim Adam and John Stilwagon, Hawkeye Herman, Jonn Richardson, Byron Cage, and Willie Panker. I know I’m forgetting someone, and I beg forgiveness. It’s all still a whirlwind of beauty in my mind’s eye. I don’t know if the events of those remarkable days will ever settle into an excepted reality. In part, I hope not.
One more thing; after the finals announcement, I was walking through the lobby to go out to the stage door, when I saw Heidi point to me and say, “Here she is right now.” She introduced me to Vinny “Bond” Marini, the host for a radio program, Music on the Couch, which airs on Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. Central time. He had a cancellation for this past Monday night’s show, and wondered if I could arrange a phone-in with Lionel and whatever band members might be available. Knowing we were expecting to be home Monday a.m., I told him I’d do my best. I managed to set it up, and Lionel, Jay, Kim and Dexter all phoned in for the hour plus interview. It’s wonderful, and you can listen to it here. This was their first post-win interview, and you can hear the joy in all of them. Hit the link and scroll down to the IBC interview:
Thank you all for joining me on the journey. I’ve had a lot of feedback, with most stating that they felt like they were on the road with us. And on that note, all I can say is, you were all on the road with us. We took your genuine good wishes with us. I hope you had a good time. We sure did.