Contest winners to get trip to Tenn.
Blues music has been an integral part of the American music scene since the beginning of the 20th century.
Arising from the south in places such as Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta and finding future homes in places such as Memphis, Kansas City and Chicago, the blues seems to be at the heart of many other kinds of musical genres.
From jazz to rock and roll to even country and bluegrass, there is a bit of the blues in so many different kinds of music, yet the blues itself has seen some hard times as far as popularity over the years. As a result, there are many blues organizations formed across America that are trying to keep the music alive and well.
There seems to be in every American town or city a blues band, a blues musician or a blues organization of some kind keeping the spirit breathing. Here in the Tri-state area, it is the Huntington Blues Society continuing the tradition.
On Sunday, Sept. 23, at 3 p.m. at the V Club, the Huntington Blues Society will host the annual Blues Challenge. Each band who enters will pay an entrance fee of $20 and will get 20 minutes to play their best blues tunes. But, this is about more than just achieving local Tri-state blues bragging rights.
The winner will receive $500 in prizes and sponsorship to the very important 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. The winner will also be given $500 in travel expenses as they represent our area in the biggest and most important blues competition in the world.
The Huntington Blues Society has gone through some big changes in recent years as longtime president of the organization Chris Sutton moved on to other projects. As a result, Karen Combs stepped up to take the Huntington Blues
Society President’s chair and Mike Lyzenga has become the Vice President. Karen Combs grew up outside of Indianapolis, IN, yet found herself moving to Huntington a couple of decades ago after getting married. Once here, she fell in love with the Tri-state and felt that she had found a home to raise her family while working at St. Mary’s Medical Center. She began to pursue music later in life and this is when she discovered the blues.
“I have been here for almost 30 years,” said Karen Combs. “Once I got here, I never wanted to leave. There is something about this area that has just held me. One thing about this place is the people that live here. They really seem to care about each other and try to look out for each other. You can look people in the eye here. You can’t really do that in Indianapolis because they think you are trying to hustle them, or you might be the victim of a hustle. This is a whole different feel, and I am really happy to live in Huntington.”
Music became front and center for Combs a few years ago.
“I am obsessed with all of the music around me here, all different types,” said Combs. “It has been about seven years that I have in the local music scene. Before that, I was raising my kids and wasn’t really paying attention to it as I was watching Disney movies instead and listening to that kind of music. Now, after my kids grew up, I play the guitar and I sing and I write songs. I play in a band called *5$Red’ and I still perform with the Huntington Harmonica Club. Blues-related music like rock and roll led me into the blues and taught me to not be scared of it. You are not going to hell because you play the blues. That was a concern for a while there (laughing) Ever since ole Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil to get good at his music, folks have wondered about it. But, I have seen and met too many God-fearing people who play the blues so I am not scared of it anymore. For me, I had to grow into the blues.”
When the Huntington Blues Society was losing its long-time leader last year, Combs and Lyzenga stepped up to take the reins, though it was unexpected.
“I was a member of the Huntington Blues Society for about four years,” said Combs. “I became Vice President about two years ago. Then, Chris Sutton left the origination and we were hanging in the wind there for a while and I felt really called to try and save the Society. There are some good people in the organization that felt the same way I did about it, so we are going for it again. We restructured the Huntington Blues Society last December and this is our first Blues Society Challenge that we are putting on since then. We are doing it on a wing and a prayer, but we are going to go for it anyway and doing the best we can.”
The main goal of the Huntington Blues Society Challenge is to get a local band to the International Blues Challenge. It is very important for the Tri-state music scene to be a part of this amazing world-wide blues event in Memphis next June.
“We are an affiliate of The Blues Foundation.,” said Combs. “We are thrilled that we can sponsor a local act to go to the International Blues Challenge. That is a big stage and you do not get an opportunity like that too often.”
The 35th annual International Blues Challenge is hosted by The Blues Foundation and will take place on June 22 - 26, 2019. There may be more slots open for the Huntington Blues Challenge. For those interested, email your act’s bio and an mp3 link to your best songs to email@example.com.
More information can be found at www.huntingtonblues-society.com or vclublive.com.
“You are not going to hell because you play the blues. That was a concern for a while there (laughing) Ever since ole Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil to get good at his music, folks have wondered about it. But, I have seen and met too many God-fearing people who play the blues so I am not scared of it anymore. For me, I had to grow into the blues.”