Sunday, April 15, 1 pm - 6 pm, Brink Lounge
You better believe Madison Blues Society president Catherine De Valk works fast. She attended the Memphis-based International Blues Challenge for the first time in February, and yet she's already helped put together the Wisconsin Blues Challenge. The contest takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, at the Brink Lounge, and the winner will get a chance to compete in the 2008 edition of the International Blues Challenge. Several acts from around the state are slated to participate, including Mud Angels, Bobby Bryan & the Original Downtown Players, and Queenie & the Blue Cats.
De Valk is a blues lover, of course, but more than that she's a big supporter of homegrown Wisconsin blues, which she's seen struggle in recent years.
'I think that blues is kind of going away,' she says. 'When I joined the board of the Madison Blues Society, I could see what was happening, and I wanted to bring more events to the area. Because you can go for months in Madison and there won't be a blues band in a bar. It's obvious they're not making money when they have blues.'
De Valk knows that one blues competition won't be enough to reinvigorate the local blues scene. On the other hand, she thinks that, at the very least, the winners of this year's Wisconsin Blues Challenge will be able to market themselves as one of the best acts in the state.
Getting an area band into the International Blues Challenge is also a major goal for the local contest. In fact, to ensure that the local winners actually compete in Tennessee next year, De Valk says organizers of the Wisconsin Blues Challenge will put the prize money for first place into a trust fund dedicated to paying for travel expenses.
'We don't want them to just take the money and spend it,' says De Valk. 'We want them to go to Memphis and perform.'
And performing at the International Blues Challenge is a big deal. Past participants include Susan Tedeschi, Larry Garner, Zac Harmon, Albert Cummings and Tommy Castro. This year 157 acts from around the world showcased their talents in front of packed houses of blues fans and music-industry professionals in clubs and theaters around Memphis.
De Valk admits it's unlikely that the winner of the inaugural Wisconsin Blues Challenge will have a shot at winning the international contest. Even so, she thinks putting on a successful event here in Madison will help galvanize the Wisconsin blues audience, and that can only be good for Wisconsin blues musicians.
'We've already been approached by two other Wisconsin blues societies who want to do this next year,' De Valk says, impressed by the momentum the contest has already created in a few short weeks. 'This could get really big. We'll probably have to plan playoffs in different cities [in 2008] and then have the winners come down here for the finals.'