The ninth annual Tulsa Blues Challenge brings an evening of blues to Cain’s Ballroom.
Dustin Pittsley and his band, from left, bass guitarist Donnie Wood and drummers Malachi Burgess and Demetrius Williams, will compete in the Tulsa Blues Challenge’s Band competition this month at Cain’s Ballroom.
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When a group of blues lovers gathered at Carl’s Coney Island almost a decade ago, they had no idea what they were about to start.
They had gotten together to create what soon became the Tulsa Blues Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving this uniquely American musical style.
The group began delving into Tulsa’s rich music history and music scene and then went a step further. In October 2004, the Blues Society hosted the first Tulsa Blues Challenge at Cain’s Ballroom, an event that highlights both solo and group acts from the area.
“We’ve had as many as 16 bands and seven or eight solo acts in a day,” says Bill Martin, Tulsa Blues Society president. “When the Blues Challenge started at 2 in the afternoon and went until midnight, it made for a killer day.”
The Blues Challenge consists of two categories: Solo/Duo and Band. The Solo/Duo challenge took place in July. The Band competition will be held Aug. 18 at Cain’s Ballroom. Prizes vary each year but in the past have included money.
Many participating blues musicians and bands have gone on from Tulsa to national and even international music careers. The Rickey Preston Band, which is no longer together, won the first Blues Challenge.
Other winners include Dustin Pittsley and Little Joe McLerran. After participating in the Blues Challenge, McLerran competed in the 2009 International Blues Challenge at Memphis’ historic Orpheum Theater.
This is a point of pride for the society, Martin says, because McLerran competed against almost 100 acts from around the world — and won.
“He won the whole shebang,” Martin says.
McLerran moved to Tulsa from Boulder, Colo., at age 15 and immersed himself in the local music scene, eventually perfecting the Piedmont blues style for which he is now famous.
Martin considers McLerran’s participation in the Blues Challenge a major success for the Blues Society as well as for the artist.
“It’s really been a boost to his career,” Martin says. “And that’s our primary goal as a nonprofit organization … to promote the blues in northeastern Oklahoma and the artists that perform it.”
Pittsley and his band are five-time Blues Challenge champions, having won or placed in the top three for several years.
“He (Pittsley) has gotten really popular in Colorado, for example,” Martin says. “And Dustin has opened for Dierks Bentley on tour and many others.”
The Tulsa Blues Society aims to continue to discover and promote world-class blues musicians from Tulsa.
This month’s competition features 12 bands and five judges.
Past judges have included local music stars David Teegarden Sr. (of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band), Brian Horton (of The New Tulsa Sound and Horton Records) and Pittsley.
This year’s judges will remain a secret until the night of the event.
Martin says he is happy to see the continued success of the Tulsa Blues Society.
“All this work, all these volunteers who have put in so much time on this — it’s kind of gratifying,” he says.
See it Aug. 18 at Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St. Doors open at 5 p.m., and the show runs from 6 p.m.-midnight. Tickets are $3 at the door. Children age 12 and under are admitted free.