Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind November 2019by Greg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

The past month has really hit hard and brought a lot into perspective on how precious life can be and how we need to recognize the musicians and people who truly mean something in our lives. We lost two fan favorites and good friends of our local blues community recently. Both shall be greatly missed.

Frankie Redding had been a part of the Portland music scene for decades. He worked with multiple acts since his high school days, playing saxophone and keyboards. Over the past couple decades his health was not always the best, receiving a kidney transplant donated by former CBA Board Member Jan Bisconer that extended his life. Yet Frankie never displayed anything but a huge smile while standing on stage. His role as the “Funk Master” was to bring happiness and excitement to those he played for and he did that in abundance. His smile brought smiles in return. And I know that whenever I think of Frankie even now he brings a smile to me.

Sheila Wilcoxson had a voice and stage presence that you could not deny. Though I worked at the Good Samaritan campus for many years and often ran into her in the halls as she worked in the lab there, we would always acknowledge one another in passing, but never had much of a chance to get to know the other better — except for one weekend in Memphis.

In 1998 Sheila had been nominated for a WC Handy Award (now known as the Blues Music Awards) as Traditional Female Artist of the Year. We spent some time while in Memphis together, going on a riverboat cruise where she danced in front of the stage to Smokey Wilson and hanging out at the post-award jam at the Hard Rock Café after the awards themselves.

During the jam, Sheila said to me, “This is so much fun, I’d sure like to be part of this.” Hearing that I excused myself and found my friend Pat Mitchell, one of the directors of The Blues Foundation at the time. I asked her how we might be able to get Sheila onto the stage. She told me to go backstage and speak with Sid Selvidge who was putting the musicians into the mix. So I asked Sid if it was possible to have Sheila perform and he told me to have her come back and he’d get her up right after the next set.

Well, the set that was going on at that moment had the house on fire as Bonnie Raitt and John Mooney threw down an epic slide battle between themselves. I thought how was Sheila going to follow this? She was introduced for the next set and she casually walked out onto the stage alone. I could see in the faces of many in the crowd who were unfamiliar with her the look of questioning of what was going to happen. Sheila walked to the center of the stage and started to sing Son House’s “John The Revelator” a cappella. I watched as the audience’s jaws dropped as her powerful voice filled the room. The crowd went nuts with applause and Sid was grabbing people like Monster Mike Welch and Ron Levy to head out onto the stage to back her up for another song. It filled my heart to help make that happen for her and left me with a memory that will be with me for life.

Nothing in this world sucks more than death and losing our friends. As I write this it has been made public that longtime radio host, Waterfront Blues Festival lead and somebody I consider a good friend Steve Pringle has stage four cancer. Steve has always been there for not only the Cascade Blues Association but the blues community altogether. I was welcomed onto his shows at KMHD and KINK several times to promote our events and just to shoot the breeze. There are a handful of people who have given back to our community in abundance and Steve is one of them. Love you brother, wishing nothing but only the best for you.

Please plan on attending the benefit concert for Steve Pringle at the Roseland on Sunday, November 24. There is no greater cause than giving back to one who has given so much.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind October 2019We are getting closer to this year’s Muddy Awards, which will be held on Wednesday, November 6 at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Make sure that you complete your ballots and return them promptly. Remember that if you feel that somebody other than those selected by the nominating committee should be on the ballot, you are free to fill in your own choice as a write-in vote. Voting is a privilege of being a member of the Cascade Blues Association, and usually those who complain the loudest about the results are those who are not members to begin with. So if that is the case where you feel that somebody else should be recognized, sign up and become a member, then you can cast your selection for your those you feel are deserving.

We are also looking for sponsorships for this year’s Muddy Awards to help defray the expense of the event. We have sponsorship levels ranging from $250.00 up to $1000.00 with several perks for the various amounts offered. Ask our board members for more information.

I would also like to take a moment to give thanks to Kent Drangsholt at The Garages Satellite Pub. When The Eagles Lodge had an unforeseen closure for a couple weeks that took place last month we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to relocate our membership meeting with limited time to notify everyone about the temporary change. Kent did not hesitate. He canceled the event already booked for that night and told us the room was ours for the date. Thanks to all of our members who made it out. The Garages is a large room with nice sound and a welcome addition to the West Side blues scene. We hope that those who showed up liked the space and will plan on attending more events there in the future. Kent told us if we ever find ourselves in such a situation again, he is more than glad to help us out. Thank you Kent.

Aside from the Muddy Awards coming up, we will also be moving into an important time of the year for the CBA’s future next year. The elections will take place again this December and if you have an interest in running for one of the officer positions please let it be known by sending your intent to run in writing to us. This can be submitted to any of our board members online or by mail to Cascade Blues Association, PO Box 6566, Portland, OR 97228. We request that if applying for a position such as Treasurer that you have some form of accounting/book-keeping experience; Membership Secretary entails use of spread-sheets and the ability to keep up-to-date with our members’ expiration dates, sending out reminders to renew and issuing membership cards. All officer job position details can be found on our website (cascadebluesassociation.org) within our by-laws in the drop-down menu under “About the CBA.”

If you want to help out without becoming a board member, we can always use volunteers in various capacities throughout the year, such as delivering BluesNotes or helping out at events and meetings. Speak to our volunteer lead Richard LaChapelle or any board member and we can add you to our team.

Also coming up will be this year’s Holiday Party in December, always one of the most fun events of the year. Keep an eye posted in the BluesNotes and online at either our website or Facebook pages for upcoming details. If you would like to offer items that can be placed in a silent auction, please let us know. All contributions are gladly welcomed and appreciated.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind September 2019It is getting near Muddy Awards time again, and as with last year, we have sent out invites to around fifty members to be a part of the initial nominating committee. Some of the people were on this list last year, but many were not, as we want this to be open for anyone in our organization to have a chance at some point to be a part of the process.

Doing this streamlines the necessary work. It saves time and omits those who attempt to overload the ballot with their friends and/or fellow band members. From those who are nominated we take the top three (unless ties occur) and place them on the final ballot, which is sent to all members. You still have the chance to vote for somebody not on the ballot as there is also a line included for write-in choices.

This is not an unusual process. It is the same method The Blues Foundation uses for its annual Blues Music Awards, and other award groups send out a pre-selected choice of nominees. We’re still keeping everything in the hands of our members though, and the nominators are not just media, venue, or musicians — they are from all groups of our members.

So keep your eyes open in September as you should receive an email to cast your votes for the final ballot. Remember, if you do a write-in on the ballot, events and releases had to be dated from September 1, 2018 to August 31, 2019. We will check to verify if choices are valid.

Doing it online also ensures that members can only vote once per their registered email. If you do not receive the ballot and you’re a current member, let us know.

On another note, something that we have heard over the years from musicians not wanting to join is, “What has the CBA done for me?” I guess part of that is answered already if they’re not members. The other part would be, “What is it that you expect from us?”

Using our monthly calendar is not required for you to be a member. Included in the BluesNotes and online many people use this as a go-to point to find out what is happening around town on any given night. The method to enter your information online has been improved to a more user-friendly entry system, including drop-down menus for venues and type of event you’re holding.

The BluesNotes also offers a much-overlooked resource with our Bandstand. We were the first blues society newsletter to offer this, and as far as I know may still be the only one. You can write your own promotion, thank you messages, or what’s going on in a couple paragraphs at absolutely no charge. We do have people who use it from time to time (Dave Kahl, Lloyd Jones, Ashbolt Stewart, etc), but far too many are not taking advantage of this unique service.

Recently we have created a Directory for the paper and website. Free to members to submit three lines that appear every month with your contact information, or for an extra $25.00 a month you can add a line or include your photo or logo. This has been beneficial in one instance already where a local promoter contacted us stating that they wanted to put together an event and use only acts that were affiliated with us on the directory. In fact, it was the directory that led them to us. But you do have to be a member to be included.

There is another outlet that is used quite a bit, and that is through social media with our Facebook page. Anybody can create a page online, but we have nearly 5000 members on our page; and many more that have not joined who read it. We allow anybody to post their events on our page; something that many societies do not permit without pre-approving the content. We do not remove entries either, unless it is political or non-blues related. It is funny to see how many of the same people claiming that the CBA doesn’t do anything for them who use our page regularly.

These are just a number of ways that you can promote yourself with the CBA. If you have further ideas let us know. But remember, we are not a paid staff. We are volunteers giving our time and efforts. We do this because we love the music and want to help you, and providing that is all the compensation we need.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind August 2019Every year during summer festivals and events I am reminded on just how important the International Blues Challenge is to the blues world. We always hold our finals at the Waterfront Blues Festival and that in itself has been a major role player for our local musicians who have been sent to Memphis on a large scale of attention from the blues industry leaders. This year’s finals were once again something special to behold — with Johnny Wheels & The Swamp Donkeys taking home the top prize.

The day started out in a bit of a strain, as Johnny contacted me with a health situation out of his control, not knowing whether he could make it on time or even at all. His first concern was if his band could go on without him. Of course, I told him. He then contacted me saying he was on his way, but may not be able to be there himself on time and wanted to know if he could come up mid-set. Again I told him of course.

But what occurred in-between was one of the most heart-warming moments in the twenty years of Journey to Memphis history. The other acts in the spirit of camaraderie worked together and decided that despite their set times being posted online and in the festival schedule would flip to allow Johnny the time needed to be able to play an entire set with his band. This is nothing new that I have not witnessed over the years in Memphis and Portland. Bands come together when it really counts. They may be in competition, but they are also fans of each other and want to see the best they can out of every one with the best chances for all.

The first year I was in Memphis for the IBC, one act had a band member have a major health situation placing him in a hospital emergency room with a lengthy stay, causing his band to have to cancel their participation in the event. During a jam at the Old Daisy Theater, while awaiting the announcement of the acts moving onto the finals, in a room filled with the many performers in the city competing, a bucket was passed around the room and came back with a couple thousand dollars to help their fellow performer. In just one pass of the bucket. Everybody threw in what they could offer. That is what it is all about, people helping people, and bringing musical enjoyment without a cutthroat attitude. Everybody is doing what they do for love of the music and bickering amongst one another should never be at hand.

I tell the musicians that go to Memphis that they’re going to meet people that will be forever friends and that they will cross your paths for many years to come, happy to see you. Just the past couple months I have run into many of those musicians that I have met through the IBC, and also the Blues Music Awards, at both the Chicago Blues Festival in June and at the Waterfront in July. Lucious Spiller, Harpdog Brown, Cyril Neville and Lara Price in Portland I worked with at those events. People who have become really good friends that I ran into were Grady Champion and Jarekus Singleton while in Chicago. (Jarekus gave me the biggest hug when he saw me.) In Portland reconnecting with Ori Naftaly from Southern Avenue, Vanessa Collier, and Sugaray Rayford meant the world to both myself and my wife Cherie. Those three in Portland was something more than special and we always try to hang out with each if possible. (Vanessa came into the audience where Cherie stood and gave her a hug while continuing to play her saxophone.) And sharing cigars with Sugaray, Ken DeRouchie and Alastair Greene after the festival came to an end was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful weekend.

I guess my point this month in the long run is that the CBA has held the Journey to Memphis for twenty years and the IBC may be a competition and music should not be considered a competitive sport, but what it can bring is something far more important than just recognition. It offers a lifetime of memories and potential friendships that will carry on forever. I hope that our acts heading to Memphis this year: Johnny Wheels & The Swamp Donkeys, Louis Creed & The Geezer, and Generation Headstrong, will all bring home the same.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind july 2019The Waterfront Blues Festival is upon us once again — the highlight for all blues fans here in the Northwest. Four days of amazing music at a premier event that rivals any festival world-wide, and front and center throughout the event you’ll find the members of the Cascade Blues Association taking part.

Many of the volunteers you see behind the stages are our members giving back to the music community that they love. Of course, you’ll find many more working at the CBA merchandise table where you can always sign up to become a member if you’re not already one. We love to welcome new people and also celebrate those who have been loyal supporters for many years.

Once again the Fourth of July will begin with the finals of our Journey to Memphis competition. We have three acts competing to decide who will represent us in the band category at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next January. Competing this year will be Johnny Wheels & The Swamp Donkeys, Fenix Rising, and Nikki Jones Band beginning at 11:30 am. Yes, normally we have four acts, but this year the fourth was a solo/duo act who had prior commitments on The Fourth. Since they’re already guaranteed their participation in Memphis, we accepted this and have given the opportunity to present our newly named Youth Showcase act, Generation Headstrong, the chance to play at the festival in their place.

It doesn’t end on The Fourth for us, though. Immediately following the competition and Generation Headstrong, head over to the Buick GMC of Beaverton (North) Stage as the CBA is underwriting two acts this year. The first will take stage at 2:00 pm. That will be up-and-coming blues star Vanessa Collier. This young lady has been making a name for herself at festivals across the country the past couple years, spent a couple years touring with Joe Louis Walker’s band before going solo and has garnered five Blues Music Award nominations including two for Contemporary Blues Female Artist and three for Instrumentalist – Horns for which she brought home a win this year. Do not miss this young lady who will thrill you with a multitude of instruments besides the saxophone, amazing vocals, and terrific stage presence.

Oh yeah, I said the CBA was underwriting two acts. The second will take place on Sunday, July 7 and it is one of the blues world’s most acclaimed performers: Shemekia Copeland. She’ll grace Buick GMC of Beaverton Stage at 8:00 pm. Starting out as a teenager performing at her father, Johnny Copeland’s shows, she is a legitimate legacy of the blues whose star has risen even higher than her father could have ever dreamed. One of the most commanding vocalists in the genre of any generation, Shemekia has been declared the reigning “Queen of the Blues.” Nominated forty time for Blues Music Awards, she has won eleven times, including Contemporary Blues Album and overall Album of the Year honors this year for the outstanding recording America’s Child. It is certainly a privilege for the CBA to be presenting Shemekia and Vanessa to the festival this year.

Don’t miss out on attending the festival and keep an eye on the BluesNotes calendar for many more events happening in July, such as our monthly membership meeting, the Cathedral Park Jazz festival and much, much more. We are blessed with so much happening in our area each summer and the blues can be found all over town.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind june 2019The CBA held the first-round of its annual Journey to Memphis competition in early May and as usual there were plenty of surprises. For me, one of the best things about this event is the number of new acts that apply. There’s always somebody I haven’t heard before that catches my attention.

This year found three of four winning spots taken by bands from down the Willamette River and outside of the Portland metro area, proving once again that you can find great blues musicians throughout the Pacific Northwest. Another act that caught my eye was the youngest of the entries, Generation Headstrong. We have had young performers in the past, but this group was made up of two thirteen year olds on guitars and a rhythm section made up of brothers aged nine and eleven, and they can easily hold their own with the big people. Fun times listening to what will be yet another fine collection of musicians ushering the blues into a new generation.

In late April, a second memorial celebration was held for the late Jim Mesi. Thanks to the Mesi family and the artists involved, they decided that the CBA would be a beneficiary for part of the proceeds from the event, and we will funnel those funds into the Christopher Mesi Scholarship Fund. The unfortunate  passing of Jim happened shortly after we had decided to revitalize this program and now thanks to all involved we have some seed funds to get it started again.

This is but one of the many advances that the CBA has been working on. This is the second edition of the new-look BluesNotes and we’re fine tuning it to become the best we can produce. Summer time means festivals and events that we will need volunteers for, especially the Waterfront Blues Festival, so catch up with Richard LaChapelle to sign up to help out.

We are also in need of assistance with the Board of Directors. We currently have two vacancies in the officer positions, secretary and membership secretary. These are definitely working roles and with a small board it means people are doing extra responsibilities adding to an overload that we’d like to avoid. If you have an interest in becoming a board member, either filling one of these roles or as an at-large member, let us know. Talk to any of our current board members and find out what it entails and come to a board meeting to see how things work. We’d love to have you join us in supporting our blues community.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind - May 2019Greg Johnson, CBA President.

I want to start off this month with an observation. The turn-out for Jim Mesi’s Celebration of Life at The Elks in early April was phenomenal. A true and fitting expression of respect and love for one our city’s most treasured bluesmen. The numbers I heard ranged from anywhere such as 800 to 1000 people. From the stage it appeared like a solid mass of people from both ends of the room.  I saw so many musicians in attendance among so many fans and family . . . actually, when it comes to something like this we are all family. All of those musicians would’ve liked to have been on that stage showing their admiration for Jim Mesi, but there are only so many hours in a day and so much room on that stage. I myself was truly honored to have been asked to be an emcee alongside KGON’s Steve Pringle for the event. And seeing so much love for Jim will be a memory I will hold close for a long, long time.

May starts a new era for the Cascade Blues Association. We have a new home at The East Portland Eagles Lodge and we have a new look for the BluesNotes. A lot of the things that we have looked toward for quite some time are actually coming to reality. And we’re not going to stop there as we are also looking at reviving our important programs with the Christopher Mesi Scholarship and Musicians Relief Fund at the top of our minds. We will also be underwriting a performance or two at the Waterfront Blues Festival again this year, (the acts yet to be determined). But we know that the festival is an important part of our blues community and we need to be help support them in their new growing years.

The resource guide that you will find in the BluesNotes is a direction towards opening doors to help more support musicians, venues and events. It is a place where you can find information on contacting these individuals. It is a free service for our members in the industry and we hope that it is a positive direction for both ourselves and the community we serve. Also remember, the BluesNotes offers the best prices in town for advertising, again with discounts for members.

We do not plan on stopping here. Moving to The East Portland Eagles Lodge provides something else to the businesses in the neighborhood. It brings back the blues to the Inner Sourtheast portion of Portland. With the CBA having to leave The Melody Ballroom and the closures of clubs like the original Duff’s Garage, Vie de Boheme, Gators and others, the music will return and we are looking to establish relationships with the other businesses in the area who see our involvement as productive for both parties.

Do you have ideas for how the CBA can help our musicians, venues and members even more? Let us know. We are here for our blues community and want to know just how much we can offer.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind - April 2019An icon of the Northwest music scene is gone, and it is hard for me to believe. For as long as I can remember Jim Mesi has been there. It’s much like with BB King — the thought was that they would be around forever. You knew that there were health issues, but you never actually thought that they wouldn’t survive those. Until it happened.

The Portland blues community didn’t start with the guys in Brown Sugar, but they certainly made it seem that way. It wasn’t Jim’s first band either. I remember sitting down with him many years back for a BluesNotes feature article. He told me his stories about Moxie and the trip to Los Angeles with the thought of becoming stars and a recording contract. About traveling to Europe with his band to play for the troops often in actual combat zones. There was Brown Sugar, the Paul deLay Band, his hiatus from Portland living in Seattle, and his return forming the long-running Jim Mesi Band that continued up until the time of his passing.Jim Mesi An icon of the Northwest music scene.

There are not many clubs in Portland, past or present, that it seems that I hadn’t seen Jim play at one time or another. He had a way with a guitar that was unrivaled. I don’t think that I ever heard him do the same solo more than once. Not many guitarists that I can say that about, the only other people off the top of my head with that type of creativity would be Chris Cain, and maybe Bugs Henderson. Mighty fine company there, Chris, Bugs, and Jim. Like many of my musician friends from around the country he never called me Greg. A lot of them call me Slim from my photography persona (just too many people named Greg Johnson, so I use Slim Lively). But with Jim it was always Mr. Johnson, no matter what the setting, private or on stage. And he gave me one of the my most proud accomplishments as a photographer by using a photo of mine to grace the cover of his I’m Ready CD.

The news of his death came to me like it did to so many others. A message sent to me on my phone. A sudden expression of shock at the news. It was the same feeling I had when I was informed of the deaths of Paul deLay and Janice Scroggins. With deLay it came by a phone call early in the morning. It was a text with Janice just like with Jim. All three caught me off-guard. I guess it is the way things are nowadays, with social media being damn near instantaneous. I guess that may be the reason why when I put out word to a group of people about the tribute to Jim in the BluesNotes I wanted to put together, not everybody responded. When I did this for Paul it had to be spread out over two issues, one local artists and one national. So many people wanted to share their thoughts. But there was no such thing at the time as Facebook. People can now make their memories and thoughts conveyed at the spur of the moment it comes to them. I also realize that many may not have responded because they aren’t able to talk about the loss of a close friend and peer just yet. I can accept that.

I hope that the memories of those included in the paper can share a little bit extra about Jim and who he was. Not just as a musician, but as a friend and somebody they felt was as close as family. I wish that we had more space in the BluesNotes. I would’ve put the word out to everyone to share their stories and thoughts, but I reached out to a small handful knowing the limitations we have. I hope that everybody who knew Jim or maybe just his music will have the chance to attend one of the two Celebrations of Life scheduled in April. Gather with those who share your admiration and love for Jim Mesi. Tell one another your own special stories. Everybody who knew him will have something to say. We lost one of the best. Goodbye Jim, may you forever create new licks that will enchant everyone in the hereafter. And I’m sure you’ll still be dressed in the finest matching outfits, shiny Italian shoes, and playing those LED-lit guitars. You’ll always be playing within my mind whenever I think of you and it will always make me smile and hear your sharp laugh. Or was it just the grizzled “HA!!” that brought us all along with your humor. Going to miss you Mr. Mesi.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind - March 2019Three months into 2019 and the Cascade Blues Association is making strong moves toward our future and it’s all coming quickly. We had envisioned a lot of these changes for some time, but they are all set to become reality in a short amount of time.

As everybody knows, we have been seeking a permanent home for the monthly meetings. We enjoyed our run at Catfish Lou’s, but were looking for larger space and an all ages welcome location. We thought that The Mission Theater was going to be the spot we wanted and had made the switch under the impression that it would go on for at least a year. But they decided to change their movie format to first-run features starting in May, so we were once again looking for a home. Thank you Terry Currier for setting us up with The Mission and speaking with McMenamins for other potential rooms that were great spots, but not exactly what we were after. We asked around and talked to a handful of other venues, but it was starting to look a little bleak.

One of the spaces we had discussed was The Eagles Lodge at 50th & Hawthorne. We liked the location, the size, stage & dance floor, parking accommodations and the fact that they have a history of holding successful music events. Board members Merry Larsen, Jamey Winchester and myself made a visit to the room to check things out and knew it was exactly what we were looking for. Jamey took a lead on discussions with The Eagles and terms were agreed upon giving us a permanent home for the next ten years. Best of all, it will be open to all ages and is centrally located in the city making it easy for all.

Having secured the room as our new home, we also came in agreement to hold our Journey To Memphis competition in the room. This year’s event will take place on Friday, May 10 & Saturday, May 11.

We are excited to announce that after moving our BluesNotes production this past summer to our editor Michael Wong at Cedar House Media in Beaverton, our vision for the new look paper is going forward starting in May. We will have a slightly larger paper and it will be in full color! And we are looking to create a much friendlier periodical for our musicians and venues, offering a resource page that will include contact information for those looking to hire acts or where to find their websites. This service will be offered to those acts that are CBA members free.

We are pushing ahead on kick-starting some of our old programs that haven’t had much attention the past few years, more due to board size and burn-out from each of us trying to do too much. We are looking for volunteers to join some of these committees to get them up and running again. Included will be such important programs as our Christopher Mesi Scholarship and our Musicians Relief Fund – we are already looking at putting together a fundraiser show for the MRF so keep posted on upcoming information.

As you may have noticed in our recent issues of the paper we have been including articles about the local blues dance groups. This is a new collaboration that the CBA and these groups have been moving forward on to not only bridge our like loves for the music, but to potentially bring new members for all of us and opening doors to welcome all ages of blues supporters. There are several groups that we want to recognize for their efforts of keeping blues music vital in our area, including people like PortlandBlues.com, Portland Blues & Jazz, Portland Blues Experience, Camp Blues and others. We’re all here for the same thing and it will only make us all stronger to work with one another.

It is all so exciting and our path is moving in nothing but a positive direction. We hope that these new changes will excite you as well. If you want to get involved, let us know, we can always use extra hand in promoting and supporting the blues. Thank you in advance.

Ramblings On My Mind - September 2020

Ramblings On My Mind - February 2019

Greg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

It really is something of an issue of pride when you see a young performer that has been a part of the Cascade Blues Association’s family since he was an early teenager become recognized amongst the best players in the world. It seems that Ben Rice has always been there as a part of the CBA and at times it is hard to believe he is still only 31 years old.

For the past two decades we have watched his evolution. Taking part in CBA youth jams led by former Blues in the Schools (BITS) director Fast Jimmy Hale. Sharing the stage in BITS fundraisers alongside Kenny Neal. His first trip to the International Blues Challenge with The Youth of Blues years before there was such a thing as the Youth Showcase – yes Ben won the right outright to be part of the competition at age 18. Graduating from the University of Oregon, touring with Bay Area harmonica man Phil Berkowitz and more recently with local BMA nominee Karen Lovely and winner Lisa Mann. More IBC trips making the finals representing the CBA with The iLLamtics and again for Eugene’s Rainy Day Blues Society he made the finals as a duet with Lucy Hammond, winning the St Blues best guitar award. He was planning on doing the same for the CBA again this year, where we were all holding hopes of his bringing home a prize once again, but fate stepped into play.

Ben Rice found himself nominated for three Blues Music Awards. The Best Emerging Artist nomination may not have been too unexpected. But those for Acoustic Artist of the Year, and Acoustic Album of the Year simply laid the foundation that this young man that we’ve watched grow and improve almost daily over the years is now one of the elite musicians of the blues world. When you look at those he is up against in these two latter categories it says a lot of the impact he has achieved: Rory Block, Guy Davis, Joe Louis Walker, Eric Bibb, Hadden Sayers, Harrison Kennedy – these people have been the leading forces of acoustic blues and more for many years. A huge congratulations to Ben Rice and good luck with the awards and the future. Unfortunately, with these nominations Ben is no longer eligible to compete in the International Blues Challenge. But despite that step-back, this is a forward motion as BMA nominations will bring more focus upon him and should bring with it more gigs across the country and internationally at venues and festivals.

But Ben is not our only local musician up for the BMAs. Jimi Bott is right there again in a position that he seemingly always represents in the Instrumental drums category as well as being a part of The Proven Ones all-star band. And Curtis Salgado is no stranger at the awards either, taking home the biggest of prizes in the past. But it’s great to see Alan Hager receive the nod alongside Curtis this year for the Album of the Year for their Rough Cut release. Alan has long been one of our most cherished guitarists, a man who can hold his own against anybody on the planet with either an electric or acoustic guitar. Their album was one that I was certain would receive a nomination from the first time I listened to it at the beginning of the year. It was just that exceptional. The cream always floats to the top and this disc was the beginning of the young year’s cream.

Best of luck one and all of our blues nominees this year!! Well deserved honors one and all!!