The Blues Foundation’s annual International Blues Challenge is known for its musical competition that draws performers from around the globe. Also taking place Jan. 31 – Feb. 4 in Memphis, TN is “The Home of the Blues,” a five-day event that will present a schedule of jam sessions, receptions, workshops and seminars for attendees to enjoy.
International Blues Challenge's Keynote panel “Blues as Healer” will take place on Feb. 3. The panel will look at the restorative power that music, especially blues music, can hold. The diverse lineup of participants--coming from the worlds of music, medicine, academia and journalism--will bring their own unique perspectives and personal testimonies to this discussion:
Walter Trout is a renowned guitarist who apprenticed with such blues legends as John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Canned Heat and John Mayall before starting his own solo career. Besides releasing more than 20 albums, Trout has racked up a pair of Blues Music Awards, a trio of British Blues Awards and the prestigious SENA European Guitar Award. In 2013, the same year his album Blues for the Modern Daze received a BMA Best Rock Blues nomination, he was struck by Hepatitis C and liver failure that brought him close to death. Trout returned to the stage in 2014 and the following year released Battle Scars, an album that chronicled his near-death experience.
Swamp blues king Kenny Neal’s musical journey began 40 years ago when he landed a gig as Buddy Guy’s bassist while just a teenager. Since striking out on his own in the late '80s, Neal has been accumulating accolades, including a 2017 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy nomination for Bloodlines. In 1991, he starred on Broadway in the Langston Hughes/Zora Neale Hurston-penned musical Mule Bone, featuring music by Taj Mahal. About a decade ago, however, his career came to a sudden halt when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hepatitis C. After beating the disease, Neal went on to record Let Life Flow.
Known for her live performances, Singer Patti Parks has been honored by the National Women in Blues organization and was elected into Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. She is also a registered nurse and through her work has gained first-hand insights into the way music, especially the blues, can aid in a patient’s well being. Parks started Nurs’n Blues, a bi-weekly program at two in-patient rehab sites that aids those dealing with chemical dependency and other physical and mental issues. In 2017, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based program will open a library and resources center stocked exclusively with blues historical information, posters and CD’s. Parks will share some dramatic stories illustrating how the blues has helped young people, veterans and performers in their road to recovery.
The fourth panelist, Dr. Marie Trout, brings her own perspective on the topic of “Blues as Healer.” For over 20 years, she has served as manager for her husband, Walter Trout. She also holds a PhD and did a comprehensive academic study on modern blues fans examining how the blues has served as a healing force in their lives. Her research formed the basis of her new book, The Blues — Why It Still Hurts So Good, which receives its official launch on Feb. 3, coinciding with the date of this panel. Dr. Trout will donate 100% of the book’s proceeds to the HART Fund. Administered by the Blues Foundation, the HART (Handy Artists Relief Trust) Fund assists blues musicians and their families who are in financial need due to health concerns, providing for acute, chronic and preventive medical and dental care as well as funeral and burial expenses.
Moderating the panel will be music journalist Don Wilcock, who’s been writing about music, and the blues in particular, for more than five decades, beginning when he was a serviceman stationed in Vietnam. A recipient of the Blues Foundation’s “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award, Wilcock is known for his years co-hosting the annual “Call and Response Blues Symposium” at the King Biscuit Blues Festival. He will bring his deep knowledge of the music, its players and history to this discussion of the important roles that this music plays in society.
The “Blues as Healer” panel will be held at Alfred’s on Beale (197 Beale Street, Memphis) on Feb. 3, at 2:30 p.m. It is open to all International Blues Challenge attendees who hold IBC passes for the week. Entry is by pass only; there will be no drop-ins at the door.
Passes to the International Blues Challenge and the Keeping the Blues Alive luncheon are available online at blues.org.
For more information, visit blues.org/international-blues-challenge.