Competing, against better judgement

So there’s the Kalamazoo Blues Challenge on Sunday (Sept. 23). In 2003, the first year we existed, we entered and won the Kalamazoo contest. We’ve entered a couple other times in Kalamazoo and not made the cut. We competed once in Detroit and made it to the finals, where we won the Fan Favorite award, but came in second in the competition.

Now there’s a lot unsaid up there. I could dog the winners of those contests that I thought we’d won. I could spew hate at the judges whose comments dealt with brand names and booze and not the music. None of it matters, though.

There’s a fundamental problem with contests like this. It’s five individuals subjecting bands to their biases. Five different rulers by which to measure the same bands. It doesn’t make sense. And when you look at judges’ comments, you see that five people are seeing five different things at one time. It’s maddening as a band to try to figure out how to compete in that landscape.

When we won in Kalamazoo, I feel like we played about all the songs we knew.  I think we only had two original tunes at that point and we did them both. The rest of that set seems very cliche to me. But…we won. Ever since then, our originals aren’t “blues” enough.

The last time we did the Kalamazoo contest, I think Tony did all the singing. When we competed in Detroit, I did all the singing. The thought was we would give the crowd one vocalist to focus on…to gain rapport with. Both times, the comments were, “why isn’t the other guy singing?”

My point is…it’s a crap shoot with the judges. If we play a funky blues, they’ll call it funk. If we play straight shuffles, they’ll say we were boring. Heh. You can’t win. So…after trying to present a particular flavor of OFB for a contest, we’ve decided to just do what we do. We’ve only been a band for 9 years, but I think we finally feel confident enough in who we are to just be that.

The good news for the other bands is that there’s a good chance the judges aren’t going to think we’re “blues” enough. And we’re not going to give the judges one person to focus on. The bad news is that there’s a chance we’ll be just the right amount of “blues.” And why focus? I think we’ve got the baddest rhythm section in the world…and Tony is unequaled in the realm of saxophonic hijinks.

For tonight, we have to be the opposite of contest-minded. It’s the blues jam. It’s about the music…not about the players. It’s about spontaneous collaboration…not out-doing the next guy. There’s no judges, just people. Just how it’s supposed to be.

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