Regional performers win rights to represent region in Memphis

A Chester County band and a performer from Selinsgrove earlier this week won the 21st annual Billtown Blues Challenge.

The challenge is an audition concert held each year in which local acts are selected to represent the region at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., as well as the annual Billtown Blues Festival in June.

This year’s local challenge, held at the Genetti Hotel, featured three bands and two solo acts.

“Everybody seemed to love the show,” Billtown Blues Association member Bonnie Tallman said. “There was a lot of dancing going on, and a lot of good interaction between the audience and the bands.”

Association members selected The Porkroll Project, of Chester County, as the best band and Greg Burgess, of Selinsgrove, as the top solo performer.

“It’s important to note that it’s not a competition between the bands,” Tallman said. “After each performance, members turn their ballots in, so it’s against the ballots, not against the other bands.”

The Porkroll Project, a six-piece outfit, won the Billtown Festival audition two years ago and will be making its third trip to Memphis.

“It’s billed as a competition, but it’s very, very friendly. It’s more of a large festival,” said Neil “Porkroll” Taylor of the Memphis trip. “There’s about 120 bands showing up from all over the world – everybody sort of encourages each other; there’s lots of camaraderie.”

The Porkroll Project plays most of its gigs around Philadelphia and in Delaware, yet its times playing in the Williamsport area have made the group feel like they’re “coming up and playing for family,” Taylor said.

“We’ve played a few events in the last couple years and we’ve received nothing but overwhelming assurance and acceptance,” he said. “The first time we came up, we didn’t really anticipate winning. We just wanted to make some new friends in a new place.”

Both the Porkroll Project and Burgess will play at the 24th annual Billtown Blues Festival on June 9 at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville.

“Blind Chitlin Kahunas, another local act, will open the festival, and the Porkroll Project will be there, of course,” said association member Bill Van Campen. “Greg Burgess and others who were at the audition will be playing in the acoustic tent.”

For more information on the Billtown Blues Association, call 584-4480.