Competition brings blues to Marietta

MARIETTA – Music lovers united with sweet sounds of the blues in the ballroom of the Lafayette Hotel Saturday for the second day of the 22nd annual River City Blues Competition.

Due to press deadlines, the winner of the competition will be announced in Monday’s edition of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel/Marietta A.M.

“Things are going really well and the new format for this year seems to be working,” said Helen Holt, co-director of the competition, which is sponsored by the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of Marietta.

Throughout the more than two decades, the manner in which parts of the event are presented have been changed and moved, Holt said Saturday.

“The format of the competition has changed several times to fit the mood,” she said. “We used to have the festival and competition on the same weekend and as it has grown and become more popular we’ve separated them.”

This year’s competition was moved to Saturday afternoon and evening with Friday evening’s program having kicked off the weekend with non-competitive performances by C&S Railroad from Huntington and the Sean Carney Band from Columbus.

“Having the competition on one night instead of two really allowed the musicians to relax,” said Holt. “Everyone got to have fun and enjoy some music before the work began.”

All 13 bands were given 20 minutes to perform between 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday before the six finalists sweated it out during a second round of performances which ran late into Saturday night.

As the largest and oldest blues competition in Ohio, Holt said the Marietta event draws musicians and bands from all over.

“One thing that makes us unique for a blues competition is we have no boundaries,” said Holt. “We have bands come from everywhere because we won’t say no just because of where they are based.”

Case in point, this year’s standout performers were the three-person Dany Franchi Band who jetted across the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa, Italy.

“It is really amazing how far bands will come for the love of blues and to be part of this level of competition,” Holt said.

The other competitors were from within driving distance – eight bands from within Ohio, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Elyria, New Matamoras and Zanesville; while others came from Huntington, W.Va.; Augusta, Ky.; Detroit, Mich.; and Lexington, Ky.

Musician Micah Kesselring, who plays pre-war blues from the late 1920s and early 1930s, traveled more than three hours from South Bloomville, Ohio, to attend the competition for the first time.

“It is a really great event,” Kesselring said. “Being here is a great way to network with fans and meet other musicians and blues promoters.

“Really, meeting the people who are here is just as valuable as winning the contest,” he said.

The winner – or two of the top three finishers if there is one group and one solo/duo among the finishers – will receive sponsorship from the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of Marietta to the 2015 International Blues Competition in Memphis.

“Being a part of this competition can be a major career advancement for any serious blues musician,” Holt said. “Music careers have been made here.”