International Blues Challenge bringing it on home to Memphis again

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The International Blues Challenge is bringing the world's best blues acts back home to its birthplace to compete for the top spot this week.

Joe Whitmer, chief operating officer for the IBC, says that more than 230 acts from 18 countries and 36 U.S. states are in Memphis for the annual competition.

"The blues is huge in Europe. we have a few acts from Switzerland, a couple acts from Spain," he said.

Whitmer says that with over 200 Blues Foundation affiliates around the world, with many of those being outside of the U.S., only the best of the best from each affiliate makes it to the annual event.

That makes it a unique competition each and every year and why blues lovers like Mark Schwichtenberg says it's worth it.

"The fantastic music, and the fantastic people. I have met people from all over the world, and heard bands that I never would have been able to hear,"   Schwichtenberg said.

Schwichtenberg isn't the only one who feels that way. Joel Fisk guitar player for Lavendore Rogue from Colchester, England, and his band felt the same way.

"We found out we were coming out here in September when we won the UK Blues Challenge. We've been pretty hyped since then," Fisk said.

Fisk says that he's only been with Lavendore Rogue for five years but has been playing blues for nearly 30 years. According to him, when blues is played well it's the best genre of music but when its done wrong it's the worst genre of music, but he says being here is a great networking opportunity.

"It's an absolute honor to be asked to come here. We never thought we'd be coming to America to play music and represent our country and play our kind of, off-the-wall kind of rock'n'roll blues stuff to people, is an eye opener," Fisk said.

Whitmer said that despite the weather they are still expecting to bring more than $2 million to the local economy.

"Memphis is the home of the Blues, this is where the blues came before it got distributed throughout the United States and really the world," Whitmer said.

The competitors will play in the same venue for the quarterfinal round where three separate judges on two different nights will judge them.

The winners will move on to the semi-final for the chance to compete in the final at the Orpheum Theater on Saturday.

"You can look at two things that Memphis has distributed to the world, and that's the clothes we're wearing and the cotton on our back and the music that is in our iPods and in our hearts," Whitmer said.

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