The Holland-based band outpolled four other blues acts to advance to January’s competition in Memphis. Plus, check out photos from the Kalamashoegazer fest and Conklin Ceili Band’s 25th Anniversary show.
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Holland guitarist and singer Joe Johnson called Sunday’s win at Billy’s Lounge — in the International Blues Challenge regional competition hosted by the West Michigan Blues Society — a longtime dream realized.
“We are all very excited for this. We have been working toward this for years now and it is finally a reality,” said Johnson, frontman for Joe Johnson & The Bluebacks which outpolled four other regional acts to move onto the IBC finals in Memphis, Tenn., come January.
“We can’t wait to load up the van and hit the road.”
The band — Johnson, bassist Dave Monetza, guitarist/harmonica player Scott Bogus and drummer Greg Sperlbaum — took first place on Sunday, ahead of other Michigan blues outfits: Chris Canas Band, Weezil Malone Band, Beer City Blues Band and Left Handed Rollers.
“Our set was a ton of fun,” Johnson said. “We put together five of our original songs for this one — songs that we thought fit well within the guidelines of the IBC competition.”
For the first time, the Grand Rapids IBC competition also featured solo acts, with Petoskey’s Peter Allen Jensen winning the opportunity to move on to Memphis, ahead of Michigan Mick and Michael J. Howe.
Inspired by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Albert King, Luther Allison and Melvin Taylor, Johnson formed the band in 2005, with the current lineup in place since 2021.
The full Bluebacks band plays Woody’s Bar & Grill in Bitely on Nov. 18 and the Grand Haven VFW on Nov. 22. Johnson and Bogus also play an acoustic duo show at CitySen Lounge in Holland on Oct. 19. The International Blues Challenge takes place on Beale Street in Memphis Jan. 16–20.
Sunday also marked the 25th anniversary of West Michigan Celtic and Irish-American favorites the Conklin Ceili Band, with fans and supporters gathering for the late afternoon soiree outside Honey Creek Inn in Cannonsburg.
West Michigan’s weekend of music also boasted the first Kalamashoegazer festival in three years, with an impressive turnout of fans on Saturday. The event assembled by members of the Kalamazoo band Tambourina featuredd shoegaze faves such as Tambourina, Brief Candles, Cult of Lip, Bluhm (Detroit) and Dead Leaf Echo (New York).
The festival started early and rocked deep into the night.
PHOTO GALLERY: IBC Competition at Billy’s Lounge
Photos by Anthony Norkus
PHOTO GALLERY: Conklin Ceili Band (25th Anniversary) at Honey Creek Inn
Photos by John Sinkevics
PHOTO GALLERY: Kalamashoegazer at Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe
Photos by Randy Dekilder