BBA Audition Concert coming to Genetti next weekend

For the 27th year, the Billtown Blues Association is set to host its annual BBA Audition Concert, which offers local and regional musicians a chance to compete for a performance slot at the Billtown Blues Festival in the summer. The Audition Concert, also known as the “Blues Challenge,” is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. March 23 at the Genetti Hotel Ballroom, 200 West Fourth St. Nine different acts will compete at this year’s challenge, with six competing in the band category and three in the solo/duo competition.

“Every BBA event is exciting for us,” said Bonnie Tallman, BBA executive director. “The challenge is especially exciting because it brings so many great musicians throughout the state together. It is nice to see them get introduced to one another and see the beginning of great musical friendships develop.

“Of course, being a challenge, the performances from all of those who hit the stage are the best,” added Tallman. “The audience is enthusiastic and gives every performer a lot of respect and an infusion of energy.”

Tallman said that it is “truly not believable” that the Audition Concert is now in its 27th year, also mentioning that many of the core members of the BBA have “grown into old age” being involved with the program for so long.

“To have held together this long, all believing in a common goal, all contributing special skills for endless amounts of time, year after year … it is really remarkable,” she said. “Honestly, the main reason for our sustainability is our core group of 10 volunteers who attend all of the meetings and do 100 percent of the planning, preparation and execution of our events.

“It is the power of this music,” added Tallman.

The idea to hold the Audition Concert first came about nearly three decades ago, when members of the BBA realized that they would need to hire national touring acts from outside of the area in order to draw an adequate number of ticket-buying patrons for the Billtown Blues Festival. At the same time, the BBA wanted to keep at least some local musicians on its festival stage, so members came up with the idea to have acts compete for spots in order to avoid a situation where they would simply give them away.

“It got messy when we would have to pick and choose from so many great local players,” Tallman said. “So, we decided to let the membership do the choosing and have a competition of sorts.”

Not long after starting the challenge, the BBA became a dues-paying affiliated member of the Blues Foundation, which connected the group with a worldwide network of like-minded organizations. That allowed the association to not only give local musicians a chance to play on its festival stage, but also to send the winner of the audition to the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis.

“Once that happened, we began using the rules and regulations of the IBC and the event was no longer a ‘competition’ among musicians but a ‘challenge,'” said Tallman. “The performers ‘challenge’ the ballot in five different categories, rather than competing with fellow musicians.”

Those performing at the BBA Audition Concert will be judged on blues content, originality, vocals, instrumental talent and stage presence. There will be between 60 to 80 judges at this year’s event, each being a member of the BBA in good standing. Every judge must also be a member of the BBA prior to the announcement of the musicians who will be performing at the audition.

“With that policy, no individual musician or band ‘fan’ can be a judge and skew the voting,” Tallman said.

All of the acts participating in the challenge must also be members of the BBA. Tallman said many similar organizations that hold this type of event often make the performing artists pay a registration fee to compete, but the BBA simply asks those competing to be members.

“We believe they should want to be members, considering the opportunities we provide,” she said.

This year’s audition bill features several new acts and many that have participated in previous years. Competing in the solo/duo competition, which begins at 4 p.m., will be The Blues Crackers, Mini Mojo, and Jason P. Yoder. In the band competition, slated for 6 p.m., will be the Becky Blue Band, A.C.’s Soul Medicine, the JP Williams Blues Band, Blues on the Loose, the Benjamin Vo Blues Band, and the Cadillac Cats.

Tallman mentioned that the Genetti Hotel Ballroom has been the perfect place to host the audition through the years, especially since it is one of the few places in the area that is big enough to accommodate the large crowds that turn out for the event.

“We are nearing capacity and are concerned about what to do next as far as that issue,” Tallman said. “We would hate to have to move, as all of the staff who help us get set up and tend to our needs throughout the event are top shelf. We could not be more pleased with the years of service the Genetti has provided to the Billtown Blues Association.”

Those wishing to renew their membership or start a new membership with the BBA will be able to do so at the Audition Concert. Tickets for the Billtown Blues Festival, as well as festival camping packages, will also be available at the event. For more information, call 570-584-4480.