Who’s best with the blues?
When you put on an event for two decades, you learn a thing or two. And eventually, other people want to learn from you.
That’s what has happened with the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of Marietta’s River City Blues Competition, the 21st edition of which is slated for Friday and Saturday.
“Over the years … we have fine-tuned it,” said “Cobbler” John Bolen, president of the society. “We work on it now to the point where it’s down to a science.”
That’s just one reason Andy Pressler, president of the Northeast Ohio Blues Association in the Akron-Canton area, plans to be in Marietta this weekend.
“It’s a lot of fun to begin with,” he said.
Pressler’s group is getting ready for its third annual competition in April. Before they even contemplated having one of their own, a number of members attended Marietta’s. Eventually, they adapted aspects of the Marietta format to their own event.
“The society down there has done this competition for 20-plus years, so we’ve got a lot to learn,” Pressler said.
The competition awards at least one act sponsorship to the next year’s International Blues Competition in Memphis (two if a band and a solo/duo act finish in the top three). But the city of Marietta wins too with the number of people the event draws from outside the area.
“They come out of the woodwork,” Bolen said. “We’ve got pre-sales from all over Ohio (plus) Pennsylvania, Kentucky.
“I think maybe cabin fever must have set in by February. People need an excuse to get out and have a good time,” he said.
Blues music appeals to some people who might not otherwise have Marietta on their itinerary, said Casey Knowlton, public relations and social media manager for the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Blues is a very niche market, but people follow it very closely, and any time there is a competition, people tend to flock to it,” he said.
The fact that there are no geographical restrictions on who can enter the contest is a plus.
“This competition draws people from different areas and (brings) in visitors from those different areas,” Knowlton said.
This year’s competition features one local act and 10 others from around the Buckeye State, along with four from an hour-and-a-half to more than four hours away in West Virginia and one group from Kentucky.
Some, like Marietta’s Vinnie and the Lubricators and Chris Sutton of Barboursville, W.Va., have been here before, but many are newcomers.
“A lot of the bands, I really don’t know what to expect,” Bolen said. “We like that, you know, to have some new blood.”
The competition begins at 8 p.m. Friday, with six acts performing. The music resumes at 12:30 p.m. Saturday as 10 more take the stage. The top two competitors from Friday and the top four from Saturday will perform for the judges once again Saturday night, after which scores will be tallied and winners announced.