Get Ready For The IBC!

The Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge Prepare to Head to Memphis

Hunt & Gator Take Solo-Duo Prize; Jim Shaneberger Band is Band Category Winner

The KVBA-sponsored Blues Challenge 2014, held on September 21, 2014, was a great success, due to the support of our many members who attended and supported the participating bands.  The Blues Challenge offers performers from across southwest Michigan the opportunity to compete for a spot on the stage at the International Blues Challenge (IBC), the largest annual gathering of blues musicians in the world.  The 31st Annual IBC, which will be held January 20-24, 2015 in downtown Memphis, Tennessee in the Beale Street Historic District, is a phenomenal gathering of blues performers and fans, literally from all over the world.  Appearing at the IBC offers performers and fans alike a chance to rub shoulders with some of the greatest up-and-coming blues acts to be heard anywhere, as well as soak up the ambience and the history of Memphis and Beale Street, arguably one of the places where the blues was born.

The Jim Shaneberger Band, Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge, Band Category

We can’t thank our members and bands enough for making the day truly “Blues Magic”. This year we were able to sponsor two categories: Solo-Duo and Full Band.

Hunt & Gator, Winners of the 2014 KVBA Blues Challenge, Sole-Duo Category

The day started out with Hunt and Gator, a bluesy acoustic duo comprised of Dave Hunt and Dave Allemang. Their magic blending of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals set the stage with nostalgic and true roots blues. The earthy magic in their closing number of “Georgia” demonstrated the quiet beauty that represents the blues at its heartfelt core.

Cleveland and Vandenberg opened the next set with their renditions of roots blues, with well-known local guitar player Steve Vandenberg and Seventh Son keyboardist Dave Cleveland executing a perfect pairing as a duo.  Sharing their talents on numbers like “Same Old Blues” and “Why Can’t I Be Satisfied”, the guys had no trouble leaving the crowd satisfied.

This concluded the first half of the day’s blues samplings with grace and style.

The first group to play in the band category,Kev Nichols & Blue Tuesday, exploded on the stage with high energy blues originals. Kevin’s big bluesy voice was driven by his tasteful exchanges on his Fender Telecaster, with Ken Smith on the Fender Stratocaster guitar. As the set progressed, the guitarists, backed by the solid rhythm section comprised of Heather Kulaga on 6-stringed bass and Greg Sauceda on drums, supplemented the vocals throughout the heartfelt set, ending with a walk-out to the audience as Kevin performed an intense moving version of his original “Angel”.

The next group up, Kathleen and the Bridge Street Band, were fronted by the silky smooth vocals of Kathleen Walters, Lansing’s own “Queen of the Blues”.  Accompanied by saxophonist Jon Gewirtz’s superb musings, they glided in and out of melodies with an inspired jazzy, blues flavor. At times, the sax was hard hitting and full as he augmented Angelo Santelli’s virtuosity on the guitar. Eric Payne held the rhythm tight, as Tim Brouhard on bass moved deftly through each tune with soulful grace and intensity. Their increasingly moving set was concluded with a heartfelt original that brought the house down.

The smoking progressive blues of the Steve Hilger Band next rocked the stage, fronted by Steve Hilger on guitar and vocals along with the soulful bluesy vocalist Deborah Richmond. The big sound of the band was exemplified by saxophonist John Gist, whose command of his instrument felt good to listen to. This Chicago-style blues outfit was rounded out by the strong lead lines of Matt Young on guitar and a jamming rhythm section consisting of Dave DeVos on Bass, Bill Roelofs on drums and the festive sound of Rob Mulligan on timbales and congas.

To close the day’s competition, The Jim Shaneberger Band, a three-piece, rockin’ Texas-style-blues band led by Jim on vocals and lead guitar brought another explosion of entertainment to the stage. His command of the instrument as he built tension and brought it down throughout the set was a treat to the heart and spirit of the blues. His performance was enhanced by the driving powerhouse Karl Schantz on drums and the hard-driving  bluesy/gospel bass styling of Robert Pace.

All in all, it was an exciting day for the blues and for those who attended. The judges had their work cut out for them, as all the bands were truly winners. The talent of all the bands was phenomenal. Unfortunately only one in each category could go to the Memphis competition.

The Winners for Single/Duo:

Hunt and Gator

The Winners for Band:

The Jim Shaneberger Band

Watch this space for upcoming announcements of performances by the KVBA entrants to the IBC, and be sure to come out to support them and all the other great live music acts we have in southwest Michigan!





Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds to Appear at Marshall’s Franke Center for the Arts, November 22, 2014 at 8 p.m.

Free acoustic Blues in the Down Stage Banquet Room at 7:00 pm with local performers Doug Beckman and Alvin Lautzenheizer 

Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown

The Franke Center for the Arts gets ready for acclaimed blues band, Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds.  Released in February 2014, on Ruf Records, Goin’ To The Delta invites you to ride shotgun with Kim Simmonds on a musical road trip through his spiritual homeland. “When I started the band back in 1965,” says Savoy Brown’s iconic front man and guitarist, “The concept was to be a British version of a Chicago blues band. Now, here we are in 2014, and once again, the music on this recording echoes the blues sounds of Chicago.”

Goin’ To The Delta is the sound of a band with the wind in their sails. Following 2011’s acclaimed Voodoo Moon and last year’s whip-cracking live set, Songs From The Road, Savoy Brown are in a swagger, and you can hear the momentum on these 12 love letters to American blues. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Kim applies his own unmistakable thumbprint to the classic blues shapes, from upbeat Windy City bouncers like “Laura Lee” and “Nuthin’ Like The Blues” to the weeping slow “Just A Dream” and the stinging instrumental, “Cobra.”

“The band’s style has evolved in many directions, whilst always keeping the blues as its root,” says Kim of the Savoy Brown. “Now we’ve come full circle. The songs and playing on this album are straightforward in focus and as basic as blues should be.”

Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown celebrate 49 years of continuous touring and recording with their new release, “Goin’ To The Delta.” Reaching #5 on the Billboard Blues Charts,  #2 on the New York Roots Report and #1 Seller on Amazon in three blues categories, “Goin’ To The Delta” shows the band in peak performance and creativity, in complete command but still pushing to find even higher ground. The great lakes and surrounding area is always a favorite stop for Kim and this show is sure to deliver a blistering and sublime performance.

Savoy brown was one of the first racially mixed blues bands and that along with the Paul Butterfield blues band, helped “break down” the racial barriers in the music world.

Seventies platinum rockers, Foghat (of “Slow Ride” & “Fool for the City” fame) got their start as members of Savoy Brown (three of the four original Foghat members spent three years with Savoy Brown before leaving to form Foghat in 1970). 

 Kim Simmonds along with rock & roll hall of famers, Jimi 
Hendrix and Eric Clapton, helped export American blues back to the USA in the sixties forever changing the blues and pop rock sounds.

Savoy Brown was the opening act for rock & roll hall of famer’s Cream’s (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) very first London gig in 1967. 

 Savoy Brown was John Lee Hooker’s backing band for his 1967 tour in the U.K.  Kim Simmonds has jammed with many of the blues greats such as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charles Brown & Jimi Hendrix. 

Savoy Brown has performed over 5,000 concerts and has been the headlining act in such legendary concert venues including Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore East and West and recorded a live album in 1972 in New York City’s famed Central Park. 

 Superstar acts Kiss and AC/DC have been the opening acts for Savoy Brown and that Savoy Brown has performed concerts on the same bill with rock icons as Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac & Eric Clapton.

Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown have released 35 albums and ex-members of Savoy Brown have also been members of other notable rock and blues acts like Feetwood Mac, Robert Cray Band, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, U.F.O., Chicken Shack, Ten Years After and Foghat. 

 Blues legend, Little Milton, has recorded Savoy Brown original songs and so has platinum rock acts Great White and Rare Earth. 

 Kim Simmonds has been inducted into Hollywood’s rock walk of fame joining the likes of Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Kiss and other rock music greats!

Festivities begin at 7 p.m. with free acoustic Blues in the Down Stage Banquet Room. Performers include Doug Beckman and Alvin Lautzenheiser.  Beer, wine, sodas and refreshments are available.

Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 at the door and can be purchased by calling the box office at 269-781-0001, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and one-hour prior to curtain.

Tickets also available online at
Student tickets are half price.

The Franke Center for the Arts is a small, 260 seat theater located in historic downtown Marshall, MI. Unlike a night club, the show experience at The Franke Center focuses on the talent and music of the performers in an intimate setting, and is quickly becoming one of the Midwest’s premier Blues listening rooms. Make your plans now to come and “hang out” at The Franke Center for this amazing blues night on November 22, 2014!  The Franke Center is located at 214 E Mansion in Marshall, Michigan.  For more event information, please visit our web page


Shakespeare’s Pub To Host KVBA Second Sunday Series Fundraisers

Barrelhouse Catts and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday to Play Series Opener, Sunday, December 14

With this weekend’s closing of Kalamazoo’s 411 Club, which has hosted KVBA events for more than 6 years, the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association was left seeking a new venue to stage its popular series of Sunday afternoon benefit concerts to raise funds for the upcoming year’s Kalamazoo Blues Festival.  Shakespeare’s Pub, a lively

Second Sunday Series

gathering place that opened its doors July 19, 2003, in the old Shakespeare’s Company building on Kalamazoo Avenue, has stepped up to fill the gap.  With its large selection of craft beers, excellent food, and cheerful atmosphere, Shakespeare’s has become popular with a wide and varied audience, and is offering the large stage and spacious room on its lower level to the KVBA and the 8 bands from southwest Michigan who will donate their time to help make the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival a reality.

This year’s series will kick off with Grand Rapids blues and r & b band Barrelhouse Catts, and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday, several-time competitors at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis who hail from the Jackson area.  The doors will open at 3:00 pm, and the music will start at 4:00.  The charge is $6.00 at the door; or buy a season pass, available online December 1, at or at the door, for $20.00 for all four shows.

The Sunday Series was initiated several years ago as a way for the KVBA to reach out to fans of the blues and live music in general to raise funds for its annual blues festival, as well as promote local and regional bands and generate excitement about the upcoming festival.  From four to six shows have been held each season, with every show featuring two area bands.  All charges for the door go towards the festival, and other opportunities to donate toward the festival will be offered.  It’s a big party, and with Shakespeare’s providing the food and drink, it should be a great time!  See you there!

2014-15  Second Sunday Series Schedule

12/14/14:  Barrelhouse Catts and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday

1/11/15:      Gator Blues Band and Big Boss Blues Band

2/8/15:      Mojo Phoenix Blues Band and Martila Sanders and Gee-Q

3/8/14:      Kathleen and the Bridge Street Band and the Marci Linn Band






Where Do We Go From Here? The Closing of the 411 Club and the Future of the Blues

A Conversation With Ralph Yingling, President of the KVBA

On Saturday, November 1, 2014, Kalamazoo’s 411 Club will close its doors, ending more than six years as a gathering spot for blues fans throughout southwest Michigan.  Over those years, owner Marty Spaulding and his dedicated staff have booked an unprecedented selection of local, regional and national blues acts into the club, which also hosted numerous KVBA events and became a primary sponsor for the Kalamazoo Blues Festival.  In recent weeks the announcement of the club’s plan to close has rocked the local music and entertainment scene, sparking discussions about the impact the loss of the venue will have on the future of blues music in Kalamazoo and the surrounding area.  John Liberty, entertainment reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette and, recently spoke with Ralph Yingling, KVBA President, who shared his thoughts on the topic.  (This is the “longer version” that you did not see on


Thursday Night Blues Jam at the 411 Club

At the 411 Club

Q:   What does the closure of the 411 Club mean to the local blues scene?

A:    A number of local clubs have featured blues music over the years (; 7/1/14). In the 22 years since the KVBA was formed, popular blues venues such as Missias’, Wonderful’s, and the Silver Bullet have closed their doors, just as the 411 Club is doing now. Other venues that have hosted blues acts from time to time have disappeared, or simply changed their focus.  Thankfully the “blues scene”—blues fans showing up to hear live music performed on area stages and in area clubs by local, regional, and national acts—continued then, just as it will continue after the 411′s closure.  I look at recent articles about 12 year-old-blues guitarist Sammy Melchi from Three Rivers, Buddy Guy protégé Quinn Sullivan, as well as other up-and-coming blues artists (seen and heard at youth showcases during the International Blues Challenge), and I know that blues has a future.

The blues music scene will continue as long as there are bands and venues that make it happen. That said, the KVBA has enjoyed significant benefits from having a dedicated blues club at its disposal, including festival sponsorship, blues community meeting facilities,  a location for the annual Blues Challenge competition and other KVBA activities, and a food commissary for the annual blues festival. It was comforting to know there was a place to go – a home – that would nearly always guarantee the blues.  The 411 Club was known as “Kalamazoo’s Home of the Blues”, and it truly did feel like a home.  All of those things are going to be hard to replace.  Birthdays, weddings, fundraisers, home-going jams, were all part of the woven tapestry that is the Kalamazoo blues family, and a lot of that happened at the 411.
Marty Spaulding, who opened the 411 Club in August, 2008 (; 6/19/14),  has shown a level of generosity and support of the blues that will be unmatched for quite some time. Still, there’s a lot of good news going forward. The Kalamazoo State Theatre has booked blues shows for its upcoming season, and is including the blues in its planning for the future. We’ve been reassured by many of our local bands that they are not going to disappear. KVBA’s “Second Sunday Series” of blues shows (a fundraiser for the Kalamazoo Blues Festival) will continue on for the 2014-15 season at the lower level of Shakespeare’s Pub in Kalamazoo. The Old Dog Tavern continues to feature blues from time to time on Friday & Saturday nights, acoustic blues most Saturday afternoons, and hosts a regular blues jam on Sunday evenings. Bennucci’s, The Union, and The Wild Bull also have blues on their schedule. Kalamazoo is one great huge “little city” that continues to support all sorts of arts and entertainment.

Larry Garner at the 411 Club

Q:   How important was the 411 Club to the local blues scene?

A:    Again, as a generous and supportive blues patron, the 411 Club was one of the primary sponsors of the Kalamazoo Blues Festival, and provided a home for the Kalamazoo blues family. Those losses are going to be sorely felt, and the relationship will be difficult to duplicate.  In the near term, the local bands  that regularly gigged at The 411 Club will be competing with other bands for stage time at other venues.

If one area of importance/impact can be emphasized, it was that the 411 Club did bring in touring acts, nationally-known performers that local folks are now often going to have to travel to Grand Rapids, Chicago, or other destinations to see. As such, for those traveling national and regional blues acts, exposure in Kalamazoo is going to be more difficult. Most national acts have very particular sound, lighting, and staging requirements written into the contract with the venue, along with food and lodging. The 411 Club had those requirements built-in, as well as some unique benefits for performers (e.g., there are not very many venues that can boast of a vintage Hammond B-3 as “backline equipment”). We certainly hope that other Kalamazoo venues will see the benefit of doing that, but only time will tell.

Q:   Why do you think it failed to make money?

A:    I think it did make money; it just didn’t make enough money. In spite of ongoing publicity efforts by the 411 Club itself and by the KVBA, public awareness of the club’s existence may not have been all that it could have been. For some folks it was thought to be located in a hard-to-reach location. The enthusiastic word-of-mouth advertising by members and club regulars helped, but on the whole, not enough. In the weeks since the closing was announced, one of the most often-heard phrases has been, “I just found out about this place and now it is closing.”

We can speculate about many possible reasons for the 411’s closing.  Because it was not in the “downtown” area, it did not fall under the umbrellas of Downtown Kalamazoo & Discover Kalamazoo, which publicize downtown venues and events. The club was only rarely a stop on the monthly Art Hop circuit, which would have provided added visibility. A further factor was the problematic music industry licensing fee: instead of paying live music royalties on a 76-seat intimate music venue, the 411 was charged for occupancy for the entire music club and its adjoining nightclub complex of nearly 565 seats. This added up to a significant financial burden for the 411 Club.

An aging demographic was a factor as well.  When a generation of young fans rediscovered the blues in the 1960’s and 70’s, they had time and energy to burn, and burn it they did, flocking to clubs and festivals where many of the historical giants of the blues, including Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Luther Allison, Willie Dixon, Coco Taylor, and so many more, were at the top of their game.  Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, and others picked up the torch and carried it forward.  Festivals like the Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival, the Chicago Blues Festival, and hundreds more across the country sprang up and brought the blues to countless fans. The festivals and performers go on today, but those young folks of 40 years ago are less likely to make the effort to go out to a club to hear live music on a regular basis, and that translates into fewer dollars spent to help keep the clubs’ doors open.  There are many reasons that could be contributing factors, but the bottom line is that blues fans and live music fans did not fill up the seats on a consistent basis.  No matter how good a club is, it can’t exist indefinitely without the bottom line.

Q:   The Out of Favor Boys won’t be continuing their jam session. Are there talks to find a new blues night in town?

A:   The Out of Favor Boys are closing the chapter on the jam session gig and moving on to the next chapter of their life as a band. They’ve done fine work; it is not easy to run a jam session, but they made it look effortless. I have heard that talks are ongoing to continue the life of “the Thursday Blues Jam”, which got its start at Wonderful’s Funky Basement long before the 411 Club appeared. I am not sure when it will start up, but readers of these pages will be among the first to find out. Of course there are the other events already happening that I’ve alluded to already. Our website has a calendar section where fans can find out where things are happening (

Q:   Do you think a new blues venue will open in town?

A:   I certainly believe there are venues willing to have the very well-behaved and docile “blues crowd” fill their seats. I have no doubt that our local blues bands will continue to be competitive with the other genres and will be able to co-exist. I think that any talk of a “new blues venue” is premature at best, because we are at a metaphorical crossroads right now, and several possible directions can be taken. At the very least, I hope that one of the local music venues will adopt a “blues night” to feature local blues bands and offer a regular venue for Kalamazoo’s blues music fans. As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time Kalamazoo has lost its main blues venue, and I don’t know how it will end. But I know we’ll land on our feet and the blues will go on. The music isn’t just about bad times, it’s about good times too. And I know that there are many good times to come.

Ralph Yingling
Kalamazoo Valley Blues Assoc

The End of an Era: The 411 Club Announces Plans to Close

Jimmy Johnson With The Out Of Favor Boys At The 411 Club

I unfortunately am the bearer of bad news this evening.

After many years of fun, music and camaraderie, it is time for us to turn the page.

We began the 411 with grand expectations and many great contacts in our little black blues book. As time has marched on, we have met some of those expectations, while others have been very elusive.

We have been, like most live music venues, fighting the shift in demographics. The live music crowd is getting older, going out less, and there has been a noticeable void in a younger audience to fill those seats.

We have been privileged to have had many of the monsters of the Blues on our stage over the years. Jeesh. Where do we start ?

Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy Johnson, E.C Scott, the late, great Magic Slim, Lurrie Bell, Carl Weathersby, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Bobby Parker, Larry McCray, Eddie Shaw … dozens and dozens of the heavyweights … national touring bands … have been with us. many have become good friends of not just the staff, but many of the customers as well.

Regrets: We weren’t around earlier. I would have so loved to given stage to Junior Wells, Robert Ward, Phillip Walker, Eddie King … and so many others that left us earlier.

But let’s not forget the local and regional bands. I thought for sure we’d be hosting the Seventh Son 50th anniversary show (that’s next year … right ?)

As the tides flowed and ebbed, we reached out into other forms of music with varying degrees of success. But our heart has always remained at home with the blues.

And let’s not forget the 411 “family”, whose eccentric dysfunction begins right at ground zero with the OFB. Kalamazoo’s longest running continuous jam session has been resident at the 411 from the get-go.

We’ve had every horn blower and guitar stringer worth their salt come and visit us at some point over the years. Even Frankie Ballard has at times considered our stage his backyard. And let’s not forget our annual throwdowns with Tab Benoit and many other players after their State Theatre gigs. It was a special night when we got to see Pinetop Perkins sitting at the bar swapping lies with the regulars.

And we cannot understate the commitment that we have seen from the KVBA. Never before have I experienced such a DEDICATED bunch of people that stick to their guns in promoting a genre. To Ralph, Colleen, Sue, Dennis and so many others I can only say thank you, thank you, thank you. You have been right there in the trenches with us the whole way while you have been fighting many of the same demographic battles. It has not gone unnoticed.

Now, sadly the 1959 Hammond B-3 is headed for the mothballs.

But this is not “just” another bar closing. For me, it is a curve in the path of a voyage that I began the first time I saw BB King, live in person, and brought the man to the stage in a golf cart back about 1983. That’s a 30 year trip for me.

Detoured through 10 years, 520 radio shows, of broadcasting and netcasting the blues to everyone from Old Ruby in Battle Creek and AC Burroughs on the northside of Kzoo to people across the globe on the internet broadcast.

And all those years emceeing the Bud Blues shows at the State. Thank you, Kevin Brady.

Don’t for a second believe that this is easily done. It is the hardest thing I’ve done since I gave up the radio show back in 2000. There have been a few sleepless nights arriving at this decision.

But the math hasn’t been working in a while, and it’s time to go out on top of our game instead of waiting for the inevitable to overtake us like a train in the fog.

Our last “big time” show is October 11 when we are joined by our long time friend, bluesman Larry Garner.

OFB will continue the Thursday night jam session through the end of October.

Watch the schedule for other events that are pending.

Your patronage and friendships are worth every penny we’ve spent chasing the dream. But now it’s time to make those changes that life often tosses in our lap.

Thank you, my friends. I think many of you knew this was inevitable, today we just make it official.

Blues Great Larry Garner To Play Final Show At The 411 Club October 11

Larry Garner will bring his Baton Rouge, LA-based road show to the 411 Club in Kalamazoo, MI, on Saturday, October 11. Local favorites The Out of Favor Boys will open the show, hitting the stage at around 7:30 pm.  Doors will open at 7:00 pm. Advance tickets are $10, and $12 on the day of the show.

This will be the last show featuring a national blues headliner at the 411 Club, which recently announced plans to close at the end of October.

Larry is a real-deal bluesman who appeals both to blues traditionalists and to those who prefer a more contemporary sound.

Among other accolades:

Larry Garner and The Boogaloo Blues Band won the 5th Annual International Blues Challenge back in 1988, and has toured extensively since. Larry is a five-time Blues Music Award nominee, once for Most Promising Artist, and four times for Contemporary Male Blues Artist.

Larry was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 2002. The BBC honored Larry as its Bluesman of the Year, and Larry was honored as Blues Songwriter of the Year three times. Larry was twice named Bluesman of the Year Award by Real Blues Magazine.

What others are saying:

“Larry Garner is perhaps the most talented blues songwriter alive today, one of the top five bluesmen on the planet.”- Real Blues

“Garner’s mellifluous lead guitar chops are akin to B.B. King’s and are relatively free from rock influences … Extremely musical and imminently listenable blues that should bring the name Larry Garner to a large audience.”- Blues Revue

“If you haven’t discovered the blues brilliance of Larry Garner, then you should jump on this bandwagon. These are blues for today, good to the last note stuff.”- Big City Blues

“Larry’s an undiscovered treasure lurking in the bayous. “Dr.Blues” himself thinks that you should give him a spin. It’s superior blues!”- Backyard Blues, Long Island Blues Society

“Is Larry Garner the best songwriter in blues today? Yes, easily.”- West Coast Blues Review

“In a decade when veterans and youngbloods alike rely too heavily on overdone standards and cover material, Garner churns out clever, challenging, uncompromising and thoroughly contemporary songs.”- Living Blues

This will be your last chance to hear one of the great artists of the blues at the 411 Club, long known as “Kalamazoo’s Home of the Blues”.  Be sure to make it there to hear Larry and to celebrate more than six years of great blues at the 411!

What Is It About The Biscuit?

by Mark Patrick

The King Biscuit Festival is held in early October in the town of Helena, Arkansas.  (This year’s dates are October 8-11.)  This unassuming locale is historically important, as it features the first bridge across the mighty Mississippi River south of Memphis, and all of the attendant economic power this once entailed. It is also located directly across the river from the Mississippi Delta region that fostered so much of the music we call the Blues.

Helena is the home of the longest-running blues radio show in the country, “King Biscuit Time”, broadcast by KFFA from its location right behind the festival’s main stage on Cherry Street. Sonny Boy Williamson was once a DJ at the station that long ago helped to crystalize blues music in the area.  Muddy Waters and BB King would come home from the fields every day just to listen to the King Biscuit Hour, according to Jim O’Neal, editor of Living Blues Magazine.  I’m thinking Elvis Presley was listening in, as well, don’t you? During the festival you can sit in the audience, watching and listening to Sonny Payne interview folks, feature live music, and spin the blues, all while you’re rubbernecking to glance over at Anson Funderburgh, Sugar Blue, James Cotton, and so many others.

But what is it about the Biscuit itself? It is a unique combination of free and paid festivals held at the same time in the same place. The paid festival features a permanent bandstand whose audience sits on the side of a gently sprawling levee, from the top of which you can see the Big Muddy. Starting Wednesday with a blues jam dedicated to Michael Burks, this festival stretches over four days, ending late Saturday night. During those four days you’ll be treated to great acts, polite people, and a really good time.

You might see Kenny Neal do a crowd walk or maybe wonder what he’s doing holding that bullfrog as he makes his way to the top of the levee to give it a downhill path back to the water. Maybe you’ll see Hamilton Loomis during his set climb the pillars holding the stage cover up, plug into the guitar-shaped neon Budweiser sign that has a real guitar behind it, tune up, and play that!

Excellent band follows excellent band. But… the free festival has five more stages stretching all of the way down Cherry Street, and showcases some of the most revered bluesman around, great national and regional acts, and some of those up-and-coming acts that you can tell your friends that you saw when “nobody else” knew ‘em. Cherry Street, closed to vehicle traffic, is decked out with booths and buskers running for blocks. It really reminds me of Christmas time, and it’s the best example I’ve found of everyone getting along as they should be.

Taking a stroll, you might catch someone like Blues Music Award Winner Watermelon Slim, just setting up on the sidewalk to entertain as a busker. Or you might catch a rising luminary like Samantha Fish with her friends, stopping to catch a couple of Slim’s songs. Maybe you’ll be fortunate to catch Liz Mandeville or Marquise Knox on a corner sidewalk, plying their trade with verve. You’ll always find music and good cheer coming from the booth for Big City Rhythm and Blues magazine. Deak Harp and Dirk Wissbaum are two of their “regulars” who annually add their brands of the blues to the free sample magazines handed out by Sugar Mae and Robert Jr.. Down the street, Quicksand Martin sets up a backline in front of his store, and it seems there’s always a jam going on there, day and night. Robert Belfour, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Billy Gibson, Little Jimmy Reed: the blues is there and thriving.

The other side of the levee features the Helena Firefighters’ campsite called Tent City. Many people will stay at the Isle of Capri casino, located just over the river on the Mississippi side, as it has a shuttle and most of the musicians quarter there. An added perk, new for the upcoming 2014 festival will be a free shuttle to Helena residences and local accommodations. You can find accommodations around Helena, but also ranging from just north in Tunica’s massive casino complex to just south in Clarksdale where there is more late night blues entertainment and so much to do!

Helena’s firefighters provide a safe, close camping experience for tents and RVs alike. No electricity, because during the Mississippi’s annual flood stage, this flat camp ground can be 30 or more feet underwater. But they provide inexpensive ice, firewood, and the best cold showers I’ve ever experienced! In the past, Michael Burks would hold court there while he camped and provide advice to young bluesmen like the Peterson Brothers. You might stumble upon another of Michael’s protege’s, Marquise Knox, jamming at a campfire, providing his old soul blues as you sit there wondering how can he still only be 23?

Maybe you’ll be wondering “That sounds like a tuba” as the master grant writer, Heidi Knockenhauer, puts her stamp of approval on the festivities. Then here comes Blue, carrying his mysterious jug of blue antifreeze. When he offers you a sip, you indulge, because though you may not know what’s in it, you do know it’s a Biscuit tradition and an honor to be included. And don’t forget the Spoonman with his artfully crafted Bluesware.

The Biscuit finally ends, but it is well known that your holiday is not over. On Sunday you’ll find that these same people all make the 30 minute drive to Clarksdale, deeper into the heart of the Blues Motherland. The CatHead Music Festival, the Rock and Blues Museum with delightful emcee Marc Taylor, and a long stop at Deak Harp’s Harp Emporium precede the afternoon’s main festivity: the two stages with bands and an all-day jam at the Hopson Plantation. Pinetop Perkins was once employed here in his youth, and today it is the home of the infamous Shack Up Inn. It’s a simply fantastic way to top off your great vacation to the Biscuit. People come from nearby states and some not so near, traveling from places as far-flung as Belgium, Germany, New Hampshire, and really everywhere. They try their darndest to make it the next year, too. “What is it” about the Biscuit can be written about, but it can’t really be explained. It has to be experienced. See you there!

And the Winner is….

Sunday afternoon a little piece of blues heaven smiled down on the blues faithful gathered at The 411 Club in Kalamazoo. After the dust settled and the ballots were counted KVBA is happy to announce that Hunt & Gator (Dave Hunt and Dave Allemang) will represent us at the solo/duo act challenge in Memphis this coming January.

Facing very strong competition, The Jim Shaneberger Band ultimately was the choice of the panel of judges – they will represent us at the band challenge at the International Blues Challenge (the largest gathering of blues musicians in the world).

Kev Nichols & Blue Tuesday and Cleveland & Vandenberg came in very, very close second place in their respective categories. Rounding out the field were Kathleen & The Bridge Street Band and The Steve Hilger Band. As you might be able to guess there was big blues love all afternoon! Thanks to our acts for taking part, our judges for doing what they do, and to The 411 Club for opening their doors – and, of course, to the blues faithful who supported the blues challenge and live music. We’re so lucky to have all of you.

Kalamazoo Blues Challenge To Be Held Sunday, Sept. 21, at the 411 Club

Who went to Memphis last year?  Were you one of the lucky folks who braved the snow and cold to make it to Beale Street for one of the greatest gatherings of blues musicians in the world?  Well, guess what:  it’s happening again next year, and YOU have the chance to be there THIS Sunday, when the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association chooses the acts who will represent us on the stages at the 2015 International Blues Challenge.  This year, for the first time in several years, acts will compete in two categories:  solo-duo and band.  One act from each category will be sponsored by the KVBA at the IBC for the chance to play before eager fans, win fame and fortune, and, oh yeah, have a really great time!

Seventh Son Wins the 2013 Kalamazoo Blues Challenge

Join us this Sunday, Sept. 21 at The 411 Club for the 16th Annual Kalamazoo KVBA Blues Challenge!
  • Doors open at 2:00 p.m.; music starts at 3:00
  • Cost is $8.00
  • Great food, good drink, and cheerful service is always available at the 411 Club
Here’s the line-up:
3:00 – 3:30  Hunt & Gator:  Dave Hunt from Seventh Son and Dave Allemang from Crossroads, teaming up for a sound all their own.
3:45 – 4:15  Cleveland & Vandenberg:  Dave Cleveland, keyboardist extraordinaire from Seventh Son and Steve Vandenberg, well-known local guitar master, creating a mellow presence as a pair.
4:30 – 5:00  Kevin Nichols & Blue Tuesday, out of Jackson:  not only was Kev an IBC semi-finalist in this year’s IBC, but he’s been a semi-finalist since 2004 in two other bands.  Not to be missed!
5:15 – 5:45  Kathleen & The Bridge St. Band: outstanding Lansing vocalist Kathleen appears again this year with the Bridge St. Band, including Kalamazoo members Tim Brouhard and Angello Santelli.
6:00 – 6:30  The Steve Hilger Band: “electric blues” originals from Grand Rapids who rocked this year’s Kalamazoo Blues Fest.
6:45 – 7:15  The Jim Shaneberger Band:  singer/songwriter Jim Shaneberger and his powerhouse group, also appearing from Grand Rapids.
This will be an afternoon not to be missed!  Come early, stay late, and cheer on your favorites.  See you there!

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District Blues Double-bill just one of many blues happenings this weekend.

This Friday, August 15th, the District Square Summer Blues Series will be doing a special Blues Double Header Performance.

Taking the stage this week are local Blues favorites, Seventh Son followed by the Marci Linn Band.

Tickets are just $ 3 for KVBA members, and $ 5 for non-members. Doors open at 7:45, and Seventh Son will take the stage at 8 pm. Next weeks act: Grand Haven’s Vincent Hayes Closing the Series, August 26th with Joanne Shaw Taylor.

For other events happening, check out the blues calendar

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