Review of the Atlanta Blues Challenge
by Rhetta Akamutsu
Photos by Sandra Richardson:
The packed house in Hard Rock Cafe’s Music Room exploded in cheers and applause again and again during the more than 7 hours of music we witnessed at the Atlanta Blues Challenge on Sunday, August 21. Twelve of the best blues acts in Georgia competed for the opportunity to win the chance to represent Atlanta at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2017.

The competition was judged by five music professionals, four of whom are musicians themselves. They had a tough job because all of the acts were sensational. In addition, the attendees voted for a People’s Choice Award, and that winner receives $250. There are monetary rewards as well to help with the costs of going to Memphis for the winners. Also, every band that participates in the challenge gets an HD video of their set mixed with a full multi-track LIVE recording, free of charge! This is provided by Midnight Circus Productions and Rich L’Hommedieu, which is an invaluable tool for promoting themselves to future venues and festivals. The winning band and Solo/Duo act will also be eligible for free studio time from Midnight Circus Productions to record a CD, so they can go to Memphis with a finished professionally Studio recorded product!

YOUTH Act Winner:
Garrett Collins
Collins is a 17-year-old who plays a fiery guitar and sings his own songs. with soul and enthusiasm.

SOLO/DUO Act Winner:
Dos Blues Guys
This one was a very close match, with Dear Watson barely in second place. Bennie Mobley, long-time Atlanta favorite and winner of the 2015 Southeastern Harmonica Championship, and Andy Johnson, guitarist and vocalist for Royal Johnson, carried the day, and Mobley should have won a special prize for Best Clothing for that golden suit!

BAND Winner:
Rae and the Royal Peacocks
This group, which was named after a famous Atlanta night club of the past because Rae wanted a name with some history, was new to everyone, but several of the members were very familiar to most of us.  Danny Vinson, also of The Cazanovas, on guitar has long been my pick for best guitarist in the Atlanta area, and Art McNaughton on drums and Harold Patillo on bass and Valerie Waters on keys were equally formidable, but it was their incredible vocalist, Rebekah “Rae” Easely, who sealed the win for them. What a perfect blues soul that woman projects! When she performed “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” it was as though she was channeling Ruth Brown right there on the stage.

Rae and the Royal Peacocks
It was no surprise that the audience agreed with the judges. They simply dazzled us all.

Any one of these acts could have won. That is how good they were. Some groups were more obviously blues-based while some leaned toward the rock side. Quite a few were new to the audience, so you never knew what to expect until the music started. Then it was just a thrill to hear that all of them were real contenders this time around.

Judging by the packed room and the people being turned away at the door by the Hard Rock staff because the room was too full by around 5 pm, word has gotten out that the Blues Challenge each year is an event you don’t want to miss. As usual, this year the event was thoroughly enjoyable. Kudos to the bands, the Atlana Blues Society, and the Hard Rock Cafe for a phenomenal event!

The Atlanta Blues Society Press Release

What: 2016 Atlanta Blues Challenge
When: Sunday, August 21, 2016, 1 pm – 9pm
Where: Hard Rock Cafe, Atlanta, GA

The Atlanta Blues Challenge is the Atlanta Blues Society’s competition to select our representatives for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. The Atlanta Blues Challenge will be held on Sunday August 21, 2016 at the Hard Rock Cafe, 215 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, 404-688-7625 in downtown Atlanta. We will be starting at 1 pm and will end about 8:30pm. To help offset the costs of the challenge we will be charging $10 for ABS members and $15 for non-members at the door.

Musicians, time is of the essence to get into the challenge. We may need to limit the number of entrants we accept due to time constraints, so being the first to apply will be very important to ensure your entry. We will be accepting applications beginning immediately for 3 categories, Band, Solo/Duo and Youth. The deadline for submitting applications is midnight August 1, 2016.

The winners in each category will represent The Atlanta Blues Society at the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, TN which will take place January 31-Feb 4, 2017. Winners must finance their own trip to Memphis and fund raisers are encouraged. All members in the act for the Youth category must be under 21 as of the IBC dates. The Youth winners will be featured in the Youth Showcase (not a competition) in Memphis on Friday Feb 3, 2017. Under 21’s may compete in the Band & Solo/Duo categories.

Entrance fees for the Challenge have been significantly reduced from past years and you can get a discount by being a Musician Sponsor of the ABS. The entrance fees for this year’s Atlanta Blues Challenge are as follows:

Band Act: $25 for Musician Sponsor, $100 for non-musician sponsor
Solo/Duo: $20 for Musician Sponsor, $75 for Non-musician sponsor
Youth Act: $25 for Musician Sponsor, $100 for non-musician sponsor

Musician sponsorship is $50 a year. To see sponsorship benefits and to apply to become a musician sponsor contact us for a sponsorship form or go to our website at
Prize money for each winning act is as follows:

Band - $750
Solo/Duo - $300
Youth - $400
People’s Choice - $250

Winner of People’s Choice act will be determined by voting of the paying patrons at the event. The Prize winners will be invited to play at the Atlanta Blues Society’s Holiday party in December, where the prize money will be awarded along with any tips raised at the party. Winning acts are encouraged to have at least one other fundraising show.  In addition to the prize money, the Atlanta Blues Society has made arrangements with our sponsor; Midnight Circus Productions, to provide a studio Master recording that can be used to produce CD’s which can be sold before, during and after the Memphis event. Midnight Circus will also provide high quality videos of the Hard Rock performances.

For questions and applications to enter the Atlanta Blues Challenge contact us via Email, click here. For further updates go to the following ABS website page . The competition will be judged by a impartial group of judges who are not associated with the Atlanta Blues Society or any of the acts competing. The ABS follows the same rules and scoring criteria as the International Blues Challenge (IBC). All acts will be expected to know and follow all rules as specified by the Blues Foundation for the IBC. Please read all about it on the Blues Foundation site at

CD graphic   3-4-5 System, Explanation of Band Selection Limitations:

Since we only have one event for the Atlanta Blues Challenge, the number of acts might have to be limited to the amount of time we have for this one day. The maximum number of acts we can have in this time frame is 12. The board has come up with what we think will be a fair way to limit the number of bands should we find it necessary to do so. We call it the 3-4-5 system. We have 3 categories of acts, Youth, Solo/Duo, and Band. Depending on the category the first acts to get their registration form and payment in will be the first to secure their slots in the Challenge. For the Youth Category, the first 3 acts that submit will be guaranteed to be in the Challenge. For the Solo/Duo acts, the first 4 acts that submit will be guaranteed to be in the Challenge. For the Band Category, the first 5 acts to submit will be guaranteed to be in the Challenge. All other acts that submit will be put on a waiting list in the order they submit. Once the entry deadline has passed we will see how many acts we have in each category, and if there are any open slots available we will fill these slots with acts on the waiting list in the order they submitted. For example, if we have 5 acts in the Band category, and 3 acts in the Youth category, but only 2 acts in the Solo/Duo category, we will fill the 2 open slots with the first 2 acts on the waiting list, regardless of their category. So it is very important to get your entries in as soon as possible to be able to secure a spot in the challenge.

CD graphic   Winners of the Atlanta Blues Challenge will be able to take advantage of a special offer from Midnight Circus Studios, an Atlanta Blues Society Corporate sponsor.
 Here are the details of the offer:

In order to give the Atlanta Blues Society (ABS) Blues Challenge winners the opportunity to both raise funds to help finance the trip to the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis and to have a recorded product to sell and promote themselves while in Memphis, the Atlanta Blues Society have made arrangements with Midnight Circus Studios to “Record and Master” a CD of up to 12 songs for FREE for both the Band and Solo/duo winners.  The ABS bands will be given first preference in booking time to produce these recordings, with the goal of having a finished product recorded, duplicated and ready for fund raising prior to the IBC competition in Memphis and for use in Memphis as both a for sales product and as a promotional tool.  The only requirement requested by Midnight Circus Studios is that the bands come to the studio “Record Ready”, in that they have all songs chosen, arranged and rehearsed prior to booking studio time. Midnight Circus Studios (if needed) will also advise bands on what is needed to produce graphics and Duplication of the physical CD as well as advising on the procedure of the release of the bands recordings digitally (i.e., ITunes, Amazon MP3).  The actual duplication costs of producing the physical CD and charges that are involved with the digital release of the Recordings are the sole responsibility of the acts. Midnight Circus Studios is only responsible for delivering a finished Mastered recording.
Midnight Circus Productions and Touring  – is owned and operated by Richard L’Hommedieu. As a recording engineer for over 30 years, his list of credits include Gary U.S. Bonds, Frank Latorre (harp for Johnny Winters), JPBlues, Johnny Juice (Public Enemy), Sam “Bluzman” Taylor, Sweet Suzi to name a few. He was the Blues Music Director for WUSB in NY and founded the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. He has relocated to the Atlanta area and is honored to help the Atlanta Blues Society in making this studio offer possible.  In the past, Richard has helped several bands record their masters.

In conjunction with the Internationa
* The CD entered does not have to be performed by the band entered in the 2014 International Blues Challenge.
* Compilations are not eligible.
* The eligibility period is the same as for the Blues Music Awards-the CD must have been released during November 1, 2012 - October 31, 2013 time frame.
* If an affiliate does not conduct a competition to determine who it will sponsor but instead appoints a CD, that CD may not include a board member or officer.
*A performer who has previously been

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