365 Things to Do in Memphis #19: Sneak In To The International Blues Challenge

Posted by Holly Whitfield | January 24th 2020 8251 0

Updated January 2020

The IBC is 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.

These artists 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 36th annual IBC January 28 – February 1, 2020. 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.

Photo by Alex Shansky

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 online here. Here are all your ticket options:

  • Purchase a week pass at blues.org. It’s $100 and. You get a wristband that allows you access to all of the week’s performances (go in and out of clubs) and the Finals, plus any of the daytime panels, workshops, and classes.
  • The IBC Finals start at noon on Feb. 1 at the Orpheum and tickets to that are $65, if you don’t already have a pass. Get Finals-only tickets via the Orpheum website.
  • Can only make it one night? That’s fine. Just walk up into Beale and grab a nightly wristband from any club. This gives you access to the venues for that night. It’s $10 for Tues. and Wed. and $15 on Thursday.

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 detailed schedules or you can just walk down Beale and let the blues guide you.

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, and they’re nominated for a GRAMMY this year, if you want to know the kind of exciting, energetic bands you might get to see.

If you need yet another reason to go to the International Blues Challenge (I’m talking to you, Memphians) keep in mind that this event is world-renowned, brings in $4 million, and helps out Beale Street during its slowest month of the year.

Photo by James Wessels. Provided by The Blues Foundation.


Photo by James Wessels. Provided by The Blues Foundation.


Mojo Theory. Photo by Roger Stephenson. Provided by The Blues Foundation.


2018 IBC Winners Keesha Pratt Band. Photo by Sean Davis.

The 2020 International Blues Challenge by the numbers:

  • 5 days
  • 20 Beale Street clubs
  • 800 musicians
  • 230+ challengers
  • 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.

Go There:

International Blues Challenge

January 28 – February 1, 2020

Beale Street
Memphis, Tenn.

Top photo by Andrea Zucker.

Show Comments


  1. […]  For another local’s view on the IBC check out the I Love Memphis Blog “365 Things to Do in Memphis #32: The International Blues Challenge” […]

  2. Katie says:

    So I know you totally don't have time for it, but it would be fan-freaking-tastic if you had things for highschoolers to do in this ever so interesting city of Memphis. We are quite the bored crowd. 

  3. […]  For another local’s view on the IBC check out the I Love Memphis Blog “365 Things to Do in Memphis #32: The International Blues Challenge” […]

  4. Richard Broadnax says:

    Hi. I”m Richard Broadnax from USA live in Zurich, Switzerland. I attend your blues festival there in Memphis. B B King Restaurant and club on Beale Street. I had a ball 2014. Now i began to enjoy the spirit of the
    Blues. http://www.broadnax.ch. I will be tune in for 2020. Looking to be a part one of these good days. keep the blues live and well.

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