Monday, February 07, 2022

Blues on Beale: Documenting the Blues Challenge

The Beijing Winter Games are now underway, because the IOC and their corporate sponsors do not care about genocide in Xinjiang or the continuing oppression of Tibet, Hong Kong, and the Falun Dafa practitioners. Good for you for not watching, at least according to the record low ratings so far. How would you like to watch an international competition that brought people together instead? If so, you can check out this documentary sampling many of the highlights of the 36th Blues Challenge, held in the historic blues clubs on Memphis’s Beale Street. (Sure, it is from early 2020, just before the Covid lockdowns, but chances are you haven’t heard who won yet.) The music is rocking and the vibes are good in Larry Lancit’s Blues on Beale, which releases this Friday on VOD.

The Blues Foundation’s annual competition showcases up-and-coming artists, but there are a number of legends enjoying the shows, including Bobby Rush and Shemekia Copeland. Each competitor represents a regional or international blues society, usually selected through a competitive process. In 2020, there were international blues musicians representing countries like Germany, Australia, South Korea, and Croatia. Yet, unlike the Olympics games, which surveys find only stoke nationalist sentiments, the musicians totally respect and enjoy their rivals’ performances. In fact, we eventually meet two alumni of the Challenge who are now married.

It looks like the musicians Lancit initially decided to focus on did not advance as far as he might have liked, but he adroitly pivots to incorporate performances from finalists in the later rounds. In a way, that adjustment gives the film more variety. Regardless, even though Jamell Richardson did not make the semi-finals, he is definitely one of the artists we bookmarked for future reference.

Of course, there is some terrific music pretty much wall-to-wall throughout
Blues on Beale. In addition to Richardson, finalist Mojo Parker is definitely a standout. Arguably, Bluzy Threesome from Croatia have the most charm in their interview segments and they play some totally legit blues. The honor for best name probably goes to Bad Temper Joe, from Germany (look him up). Yet, the strongest rooting interest could well be Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys, given the front man’s blues-worthy personal story.

Unlike the Olympics, there is no way for Putin’s steroid dopers to cheat their way to victory at the Blues Challenge. However, we can’t guarantee competitors were not imbibing adult beverages, perhaps many of them. That is another reason why the Beale Street Blues Challenge is so much better than the Olympics, especially in its current discredited, sportwashing state. It all looks like a rollicking good time. Frankly, the way Lancit soaks up the energy and ambiance of the clubs makes us want to visit Memphis (in stark contrast to Beijing’s empty joyless Olympic venues). Highly recommended for the music and the celebratory atmosphere,
Blues on Beale releases this Friday (2/11) on VOD.