Humbled by his band's selection as the winner of the 22nd annual Billtown Blues Challenge audition concert Sunday night, Nate Myers said he was privileged to perform for the blues-loving audience and to compete with many talented musicians.
"It's a competition but it's so subjective," said Myers, of The Nate Myers Band, the group selected best of the five performers. Billtown Blues Association members cast votes in several categories and the judges tabulate results inside the Genetti Hotel and Suites grand ballroom.
The runner-up was KG+3 (K.G. and the Bon Lane 3). The association's members also selected Sean and Adam as the best solo/duo.
Drummer Dave Loomis, of The Hyatt Howe Band, sings during the Billtown Blues Challenge Festival audition concert at the Genetti Hotel on Sunday.
The solo/duo performers and bands were judged on blues content, vocal and instrumental talents, originality and stage presence, or how they connected with the audience.
The other solo/duo was Shawn Strickland and Larry Tickle. Other bands were The Hyatt Howe Band, The Jeff Fetterman Band, and One Hot Minute.
With the win, the band - led by Myers on harmonica - gets to perform on the main stage with masters of the blues at the 25th annual Billtown Blues Festival on June 8 at the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville.
Afterward, Myers spoke exclusively with the Sun-Gazette.
"This is a night with the people and we wouldn't have a career without them," he said, adding he considered the win to be part of his continuing blues journey.
It's brought him full circle in Lycoming County, with the first audition for the Billtown Blues Association won by the trio Artie "the Cat" Renkel, Myers and Greg Burgess. They opened the fourth annual Billtown Blues Festival in 1993.
"I was fresh out of high school," Myers said. "I was playing older blues with Burgess, last year's solo winner."
Myers said the band spreads its music to every corner of the state and in New Jersey, New York and, of course, Tennessee.
"It's about seeing our brothers and sisters in the arts," said Myers, of Selinsgrove. "If it weren't for the people who love the blues, we'd be without a career."
In addition to performing at the festival, audition winners will be eligible to submit to represent the association at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. for 2015, according to Bonnie Tallman, charter member and secretary of the association.
Sean and Adam will perform at the festival's acoustic tent in Hughesville, she said.
The festival features 10 hours of non-stop music on two stages, food vendors, a craft alley and a family-friendly atmosphere.
"We were past our prime when we started," Tallman said, handling double duty, greeting members who were getting T-shirts and handing out ballots.
What started in 1990 with six members who were considered to be the "core production group" has grown to 10 individuals, each of whom play various roles and have specific functions, Tallman said.
The association recently was a recipient of $10,000 from the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, funds that represent 15 percent of proceeds from the county's room tax.
Tallman said the money is used to help the group spread the word about the blues and provide more quality entertainment.
About 85 percent of the advertising goes outside of Lycoming County, she said. The association has direct mailers it sends to get more interest in the blues, she added.
As a tourism attraction, the festival attracts hundreds, if not several thousand, blues fans typically greeted by warm temperatures as summer approaches.
Nearly 60 percent of those who paid to walk through the gate in 2013 were from outside of Lycoming County, Tallman said.
Of those visitors, 11 states other than Pennsylvania were represented, she said.
So many talented blues musicians hit the stage for the challenge audition concert it was difficult for the membership to select two winning groups, acknowledged Tallman.
Charlie Lockard, better known as Good Time Charlie Plays the Blues on radio, introduced the winning performers.
"The music was fantastic and we're so much better for having these great musicians," Lockard said.