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Crossroads to Memphis Local IBC Challenge and Blues Foundation 2024 IBC - Recap

Updated 1/20/2024:

The Blues Foundation's 39th International Blues Challenge was held January 16 - 20, 2024 on Beale Street in Memphis, TN. Of course, Mother Nature decided it was time for a cold spell with single-digit temperatures, snow, and ice. Water main breaks and unplowed roads didn't stop the competition. Beale Street was packed with competing musicians (72 bands and 66 solo/duo), non-competing musicians (Solomon Hicks, Bruce Katz, Johnny Burgin to name just a few), The Blues Foundation board members, and fans. The event was hosted in thirteen venues on Beale Street, and the staff welcomed all. Below are some shots of Beale Street:

The competition began with two nights of quarter-finals for all competitors. Each act performed a 25-minute set in the quarter-finals. Below are the schedules for the quarter-finals, as well as the bios for BLUES People and Eric Heilner that were included in The Blues Foundation booklet. Also included is the semi-final schedule -- each act performed a 30-minute set.

Eric Heilner gave two outstanding performances in the quarter-finals and played two original songs -- Sketch 1 and Sketch 2. Due to the weather, the BLUES People missed night one of the quarter-finals but sure did make up for it on night two. They also played originals from their debut album, The Skin I'm In.

BLUES People qualified for the semi-finals, and gave a rousing performance. Below are some snaps from the evening, as well as video of them performing their original, "Amnesia"

The North Jersey Blues Society is proud of its representation at the International Blues Challenge. Eric Heilner and BLUES People made us PROUD! Thank you for the original music, thank you for your outstanding performances, and thank you for your commitment. BRAVO! Thank you also to all of the fans who came and showed support -- Steve Benvenutti, Miriam Perez, Frank and Susan Piral, and Terra Blues.

Pictured: Gene Lake, Ron Thompson, Mike Griot, Kelton Cooper, Eric Heilner, Lisa Heilner, Susan Prial, Frank Prial, Cristy Benvenutti

Introducing the 2024 International Blues Challenge winners:

Best Self-Produced CD: Tell the World, Sister Lucille

Solo/Duo Harmonica: Drum & Dye, Kansas City Blues Society

Solo/Duo Guitar: Drum & Dye, Kansas City Blues Society

Solo/ Duo 2nd Place: Drum & Dye, Kansas City Blues Society

Solo/Duo 1st Place: Joe Waters, Columbus Blues Alliance

Most Promising Guitar: The Stephen Hull Experience, Paramount Music Association

Band 3rd Place: Mandalyn & The Hunters, Blue Steel Blues Society

Band 2nd Place: The Stephen Hull Experience, Paramount Music Association

Band 1st Place: Piper and The Hard Times, Nashville Blues & Roots Alliance


Updated 11/11/2023:

The autographed guitar raffle included a Fender guitar with 20 signatures from various artists including Albert Castiglia, Mike Zio, Keb Mo, Walter Trout, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Anson Funderburg, to name a name a few. Congratulations to Stacy Russo, who held the winning ticket. The raffle generated $1,400 in ticket sales, which was donated to the BLUES People to help offset travel costs to Memphis in January.


Updated 6/17/2023:

Congratulations to the winners of the Crossroads to Memphis Local IBC Challenge. Eric Heilner won the Solo/Duo category, and BLUES People won the Blue category.

Good luck at the Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The competition will be held in January 2024.

Don't forget to support the band - buy an autographed guitar raffle ticket. All proceeds will offset their travel expenses.


Original Post:

North Jersey Blues Society is participating in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge held January 16 to January 24 on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

The first step is to hold a local competition. The Crossroads to Memphis Local IBC Challenge, which will be held on Saturday, June 17th at The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ. Root for your favorite band - get your advance tickets now.

There will be two competitions: solo/duo and band categories. Meet the competition:

Eric Heilner grew up in a household imbued with classical music. He took piano lessons starting at age 6 and advanced so far as to tie for third place in a New Jersey children’s piano competition at age 13. In the 1970s, Heilner toured the East Coast with a variety of different bands playing both the club and college concert circuit and “opened up” for the such acts as The Byrds, The Raspberries, and the then rising Bruce Springsteen. His closest brush with fame and fortune was when he played keyboards on an album produced by Jack Douglas – most well known for producing John Lennon, Aerosmith, etc. Eric Heilner has performed with many of the top blues acts in the North Jersey area including Dean Shot, Al Gold, Arthur Neilson, Joe Taino, Better Off Dead and many others.

Seth Okrend performs as a solo act and with his own trio in many clubs, restaurants, concerts, hotels, senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals, casinos, etc. as well as working with many other bands and artists. He has performed with many established artists and groups such as Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The The Crystals, The Platters, The Drifters, The Tokens, The Marvellettes, Dickie Lee, Speedo &The Cadillacs, The Shangri-Las, The Coasters, Joey Dee & The Starlighters, Buddy Guy, Carey Bell, Big Jack Johnson, Lovie Lee, Pinetop Perkins, Johnny Christian, Johnny Dollar, Michael Coleman, Buster Benton, Little Mike & The Tornados, Lester Chambers (lead Singer for the Chambers Brothers), The Holmes Brothers, Sugar Blue, Jimmy Dawkins, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Hip Linkchain, Byther Smith, Sticky Fingers, The Flamingos, The Teenagers, The Duprees, The Excellents, The Earls, The Skyla Burrell Band, Liz Mandeville, Zora Young, Shemekia Copeland, and many others.

“New York Blues” can be described like the global phenomenon that it is: edgy, honest and one-of-a-kind. From Lionel Hampton to Ruth Brown …from Michael Hill to King Solomon Hicks. Blues People is a NY/NJ blues band featuring...Kelton Cooper (vocals/guitar), Mike Griot (bass), Ron Thompson (keys) and Gene Lake (drums). Early comparisons to the Meters, Luther Allison, Keb Mo' and Buddy Guy are starting to roll in! Having released two promotional singles in 2022, the band is busy in the studio finishing up their much-anticipated 2023 debut album "Troubled Times". These seasoned veterans have certainly paid their dues; as individual side men, they have supported a who’s-who of touring “A-listers”, including Sue Foley, Josh Smith, Kool & the Gang, Ruf’s Blues Caravan and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob… just to name a few. Blues People musically explores the effects of the blues on modern American culture on many universal levels... and is a modern chronicle of four "real-life blues brothers" living in THIS time in America... while surviving the NY/NJ-Metro urban landscape.

Charlie Apicella was voted onto the 84th and 86th DownBeat Readers Poll for Guitar. He studied composition and improvisation with musical titans Yusef Lateef and Pat Martino and was trained as a historian by Archie Shepp and Dr. Billy Taylor. As a young guitarist he met his idol BB King, who offered him advice and shared some stories. He has performed concerts and recorded with jazz legends Dave Holland, Sonny Fortune, John Blake, Jr., and Avery Sharpe as well as contemporary masters Joe Magnarelli, Vic Juris, Dave Stryker, Don Braden, and Jon Herington of Steely Dan.

In 2022 he formed The Griots Speak with bassist William Parker, saxophonist Daniel Carter, and percussionist Juma Sultan who is known for his work with Jimi Hendrix. Meet the band: Charlie Apicella (guitar), Brad Whiteley (organ), and Austin Walker (drums).

Gladys & The Powertones are a crowd-pleasin’, jump swingin’, roots rockin’ band from Central Jersey. Their motto is simple: “If the audience is having fun, we’re doing it right!” They stand out from the crowd with their authentic sounds of an era when big cars ruled, Drive-in theatres were hot and Rock & Roll was young. The band features Gladys Bryant (bass & vocals) & Mike Post (guitar & vocals) and Chris Reardon (drums). Gladys & The Powertones have performed throughout New Jersey and the tri- state area rocking crowds young, old and everything in between! Their self released debut EP Layin’ It Down is available at

The Summit Street Blues Band started out loving hard driving rock music. But as they got older, they learned to appreciate the blues roots that is part of all modern music. They cover artists that kept close to the blues but also drove the beat or add layers of funk. Also sprinkled into their sets are some original songs written by their own Donnie Ray Flatt. Each band member has an average of 34 years musical experience. Driven by the love of the blues rock sounds of the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s from Jimi to Stevie to ZZ Top.


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