365 Things to Do in Memphis #19: Sneak In To The International Blues Challenge
Updated January 2019
The IBC is possibly the most underrated music event in Memphis, and it happens right under our noses every year. Each January, several hundred blues musicians from around the world head to downtown Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge. They fill the clubs and bars for five nights of music, as legendary artists and up-and-comers alike compete for awards and recognition.
Assignment #19 on the 365 Things to Do in Memphis list is to experience the International Blues Challenge for yourself.
The Blues Foundation hosts the 35th annual IBC January 22 – 26, 2019. This year’s 800 participants traveled from 15 countries and almost every state to compete for prize money and gig bookings. They’ll be judged on vocals, instrumentals, originality, and stage presence.
The best part? You can “sneak” in to the showcases and judge the bands for yourself. All you need is an IBC pass, which you can purchase on the 2nd floor of 152 Beale Street starting at noon each day from Jan. 23 – 25 or at individual clubs.
OK, so it’s not really sneaking in if you have a pass, but it certainly feels like you’re a part of an exclusive, semi-secret meet-up when you attend these showcases. They’re hosted at a dozen venues from around 5 p.m. until 10 or later, so you can either peruse the multiple, detailed schedules or you can just walk down Beale and let the blues guide you.
International Blues Challenge Ticket Info
- Week-long passes are $100 and gets you into every day-time event, along with the challenges each night, and the Finals on Saturday. Online sales for passes have closed and be purchased at Club 152, 2nd Floor – IBC Headquarters
- Daily wristbands are sold on Beale Street at participating clubs. Wednesday night is $10 Thursday and Friday are $15
- Saturday Finals is $65 and can be bought through The Orpheum: https://orpheum-memphis.com/event/international-blues-challenge-finals-2019
Sure, the blues have been around for a long time, but expect folks of all ages playing and enjoying music from afternoon until late, late night, since there are plenty of after parties and jams that follow the showcases. Memphis band Southern Avenue got their kickstart after representing Memphis at the IBC in 2016, if you want to know the kind of exciting, energetic bands you might get to see.
The 2019 International Blues Challenge by the numbers:
- 5 days
- 800 musicians
- 260+ acts
- 15 countries
- more than 40 youth showcase acts
- thousands of people all along Beale Street, here for the music
Click here to see the full schedule including showcases, seminars, and the competition parts. If you want to buy tickets to individual events, go to the 2nd floor of Club 152 on Beale Street, aka the IBC’s headquarters for this week. They do sell passes ahead of time, so keep that in mind for 2020.
The week long schedule also includes a film screening, book signing, photography exhibit opening at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum, master class workshops, youth education workshops, keynote panel, speed networking, and more.
January 22 – 26, 2019
Top photo by Andrea Zucker.