Ozark Blues Society

By  Liz Lottman

Ozark Blues Society performers and volunteers are back from the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The event has gotten bigger than ever — 240 acts took part, including bands and solo and duo artists who were in the competition, and the young artists featured in the Youth Showcase.

The artists representing the Ozark Blues Society of NWA were Isayah’s Allstars, Buddy Shute and Nathan Aronowitz. All our NWA artists performed at the top of their game and all your OBS representatives who were there heard innumerable comments about the extraordinary musicians that OBS continues to bring to this competition. Although other artists won the final competition, our OBS artists won the hearts of both the audiences and judges. What follows is the lowdown on our trip — first, the day-by-day rundown of the competition, and then the tale of the OBS volunteers who helped produce this international blues event.

Thursday morning, Jan. 21 — Every single one of the OBS artists got up early to ride with me down to Helena to appear live on the King Biscuit Radio Show. This showed some real blues dedication, because everyone had to compete later that evening in Memphis. The radio show is broadcast out of the Delta Cultural Center, a museum dedicated to early and contemporary blues artists, especially those from Arkansas.

You can hear the broadcast by going to http://kffa.dataride-previews.com/radioaudio/kffa/kbt012110.mp3. If you’ll listen at that link, you’ll hear Isayah Warford, Chad Kearly, David Bright, Buddy Shute and Nathan Aronowitz jamming on a couple of tunes early in the show. After the broadcast, something extraordinary happened. The director of the Delta Cultural Center invited the OBS artists to autograph the road cases on display in the museum. Sheesh, what an honor! I know how it feels because after performing at the King Biscuit, my autograph is on one of the cases, too. Now all these NWA artists’ autographs are on display right next to those of Sam Carr, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Michael Burks and many other blues icons.

Thursday evening, Jan. 21 — All the artists went to their appointed venues to start the first night of competition. For the first year ever, I was actually able to take a short breather from my volunteer duties to see each of the OBS act’s set. Buddy Shute’s original songs and deceptively sweet delivery really pleased the crowd. I could tell the judges were on his side, too, from their rapt attention and smiling faces.

A bit later in the evening, I swung over to the venue where Isayah’s Allstars were just beginning their set. About eight members of Nathan Aronowitz’s family were there for support and to cheer them on. When it was announced that Ozark Blues Society was their sponsoring organization, we tore off the roof as if the Hogs were there. Then Isayah, Chad and David started their set, and look out! The band’s fearless dynamics, their original songs and arrangements got the crowd immediately on their feet, and the judges were rockin’, too. In the middle of the second song, I kept hearing someone shouting at me, “Hey Lady!” When I turned around, it was a judge who recognized me as being from OBS, who then shouted, “They’re awesome!” So I knew the first night was a good night for the band.

Friday afternoon, Jan. 22 — This was Nathan Aronowitz’s time to shine. The Youth Showcase was split between a couple of venues this year, because there were so many young artists. All the OBS bands, board member volunteers, and all the friends we’ve made at IBC in the past years were there to see Nathan’s show. Nathan started off on harp with a delightful front-man act and song featuring a train effect on the harp. It really showed off his precocious talent that Sonny Payne described last year as being like James Cotton’s at that age. Then Nathan played a song featuring his guitar licks, and the next song featured his virtuosity on the keys. With each song, the audience was more impressed and enamored with this exceptional young artist. One of the friends I’d brought to see him is “Keeping The Blues Alive” award recipient, Dave Beardsley, who specializes in talent networking and promotion (www.stlblues.net/kba_awards08.htm). During Nathan’s set, he kept opening his mouth in a speechless “wow.” He said he believes Nathan has the capacity to become a world-class musician. He made a special point to introduce himself to Nathan. Dave does a lot of work to help younger artists connect with the older cats who can help them up the ladder.

Isayah’s Allstars’ competition set was for 5 p.m. They were the first band, which in a festival line-up would be considered an undesirable time slot. But this is IBC, where people get out at noon and the clubs that have bands are so crowded you can’t even find a place to stand. So by 5 p.m., the crowd is already cookin’ and halfway crocked. Just right for the set that Isayah’s Allstars had prepared. Once again, the crowd was screaming and the band was feeling it. One of the judges was Candye Kane’s guitar player, Laura Chavez, who was watching every note that Isayah played, especially during his pianissimo solo phrases that got the crowd so wrapped up you could hear a pin drop. I think Laura learned something that night, even though she is hailed as the “next Stevie Ray Vaughan.”

Buddy Shute would be the very last act to perform that evening. Often when a band performs that late on Friday at IBC, the entire Beale Street crowd rushes over to find seats at one of the four clubs where the finalists would be announced. I managed to get there to make sure Buddy had some support. I shouldn’t have worried, because the place was packed. And what was even better, sitting over by the stage were Isayah, Chad and David giving Buddy some “blues brotherhood.” Buddy was so energetic in his performance that night, it inspired David and I to get up on the dance floor and cut a rug. Once again, the judges were swinging and swaying in their chairs, so Buddy was going to score high that night, too.

Friday after midnight, Jan. 22 — I went to the Rum Boogie and claimed my reserved stool at the back of the bar, to wait for the finalists to be announced. There’s only one winner chosen from each venue, and Saturday night is where they all compete again at the Orpheum Theatre. The relief to be off my feet was overpowered by the pure disappointment that artists from other societies had been chosen to go to the finals. But that didn’t stop Isayah, Chad, David, and Buddy from telling me that it was a great opportunity for them to represent OBS this year, and to have the experiences and career networking that IBC provides. All of you who are OBS members can be proud of this group of guys. They took complete advantage of being on Beale Street every single day, and worked hard to meet as many promoters and fans as possible. It was a great year at IBC, and I hope all of you reading this will consider going over there with us next year.

Categories: Legacy Archive