It was hard to know what to expect when I heard that the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards would be held in Champaign, Illinois. This is a college town that is quite a hike from downtown Chicago and it seemed like a gamble to get artists and fans to head 2 ½ hours south on a Thursday night to attend an awards show. Well, it looks like Bob Kieser had a solid vision of the event as it turned out very well in all respects!
At first glance, the Fluid Event Center seems like an odd building for a big blues show, as it is an old lumberyard barn that has been converted to a multi-use facility. It worked very well with a huge main hall that is cavernous when compared to the club that had been used in the past. The size of the room allowed two full-sized stages to be set up, so that there was little downtime for band changes, which helped keep the event on schedule. The stages were also more generously sized and positioned higher so that everybody could see better.
There were two large video screens set up so the crowd could see the details, and the stages were well-lit and the sound was very good. Kudos go out to the videographers and the light and sound technicians for delivering the goods to the audience and artists.
And there were plenty of folks that made the trip to Champaign for the 5:00 start times. There were a few dozen bands on the bill, and all of the seats would have been taken if everybody were in the hall at the same time. This did not happen often, as there was good catering and drinks that were reasonably priced. The prices were light-years away from downtown Chicago prices, with $3 domestic beers and meals that were under 10 bucks. Not to mention that parking was FREE and plentiful.
It would be hard to go wrong after a set-up like this, and when you figure in the fabulous entertainment and the opportunity to meet some of your favorite blues artists the $45 ticket cost was the bargain of the year.
It would be hard to describe all of the performances, but here are a few highlights:
For blues-rock lovers, Albert Castiglia tore the house down, and Too Slim and the Tail-Draggers brought their own brand of countrified blues with no holds barred. RB Stone was also in this category, and fortunately they stuck it out to the end of the show so their fans could have a change to hear them.
Acoustic blues was represented by the amazing Steve Dawson, as well as Bernie Pearl and special guest Barbara Morrison. Lisa Biales also came up with a lengthy set of material. Also, the soul blues performers, including the incomparable Tweed Funk, knew how to show the crowd a good time.
But for overall entertainment value, I have to give the nod to Josh Hoyer, who played with the house band as the rest of his band (the Shadowboxers) were not in attendance. His voice is huge, and he is definitely the future of the blues. The Andy T Nick Nixon band was the house band, and they did a stand-up job of supporting the artists that were not able to bring their bands with them to the show.
It was great to see Bobby Rush get his lifetime achievement award, as well as finally getting to see Trudy Lynn and Lisa Mann perform in person. And it was also fun to connect with artists whose music I had reviewed, and none of them seemed too upset with me!
All-in-all, it was a worthwhile evening and I am sure that nobody regretted making the trek to Champaign for the show. I would certainly not mind heading out there for the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards, if that is where Bob decides to have it.