I’ve been paying more attention to what is happening in downtown Memphis, and trying to be a part of it outside of just living and operating a store. In some cases it is as simple as following social media accounts of figures and businesses, and in others it requires more action like researching what different organizations are doing and even attending events in my free time. The latter is much more involved, but certainly worth it.
I started thinking about other cities I’ve lived in, and how they honor their musical and culinary arts, among other things. I wondered if Memphis even had a dedicated Blues Festival (not Beale Street Music Fest, but something specifically Blues) and believe it or not I actually stumbled upon the International Blues Challenge starting just ONE DAY from when I started looking. Call it what you will, but it seemed like more than a coincidence.
I’m embarrassed to say I had never before heard of the IBC. It is currently in its 33rd year and welcomes hundreds of artists from all over the world. You want to hear a Croatian group sing the blues? Done. What about Israeli? Yep. Colombian? Please, come up with a real challenge.
The opening night event was held at Clayborn Temple, an important location for the Civil Rights Movement that had fallen into disrepair and only recently reopened to host a variety of events. I had been meaning to attend pop up shops, DJ sets, and meetings there, but simply hadn’t made it a priority yet. Something clicked this time and after I closed the shop I rallied the troops via text and set into motion a plan to meet.
Blues musicians and patrons buzzed around the entrance, but once you go inside you realize you are on hallowed ground. It is a stunning structure, basically held together by hopes and dreams at this point, but still feels safe (enough). We grabbed some beers and headed upstairs to get a bird’s eye view. Under the crumbling ceiling, next to a ruined pipe organ, and under the watch of a significant church figure in a stained glass window, we sipped our beers and listened. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that any of the bands I heard were foreign except for their home country being listed in the program. At one point, I actually got chills. It was a very memorable night, and I am beyond glad that I decided to go instead of the usual post-work Netflix and Chill with the dog.
The Blues is a universal language, and that was abundantly clear in Clayborn Temple this past Tuesday night. You can still catch the remaining days of the competition in the clubs up and down Beale Street. You’ll be happy you did.
Read about the International Blues Challenge and link to the schedule here https://blues.org/international-blues-challenge/
and for more information on the Clayborn Temple and the revitalization project visit https://www.claybornreborn.org/