365 Things to Do in Memphis #19: Hit The International Blues Challenge

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

The IBC is the most underrated music event in Memphis, and it happens right under our noses every year. This is a must attend event for live music fans.

Several hundred blues musicians from around the world head to downtown Memphis for the annual International Blues Challenge held January 16-20, 2024. 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 annual IBC which represents a worldwide search for those blues bands and solo/duo blues performers ready for the international stage, yet needing that extra big break. Seeing bands from South Korea and Germany playing Blues music at B.B. King's during the IBC is still one of my favorite Memphis experiences to date.

Participants will travel from multiple countries and states 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 a wristband, which you can purchase at Will Call during the event. Usually, weeklong passes are $100+ and let you into any of the week's performances, will day wristbands are $10-$20 and get you into that day's showcases at clubs on Beale Street.

This year, the Blues Foundation will sell passes at Will Call during the event.

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 usually 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. It's a great opportunity to pop around different bars on Beale that you may not traditionally visit.

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 were nominated for a GRAMMY, 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 and helps out Beale Street after a rough few years especially during a slower time of the season.

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.

Click here to see the full schedule including showcases, seminars, and the competition parts.

Go There:

International Blues Challenge
January 16-20, 2024
Beale Street Memphis, Tenn.

Top photo by Andrea Zucker.

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Last blues man…
[...]  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” [...]
February 2, 2012 3:27pm
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. 
February 2, 2012 8:57pm
Last blues man…
[...]  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” [...]
February 4, 2012 2:27pm
Richard Broadnax
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. 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.
March 8, 2020 6:23am
Jason Petty

Are minors able to get into the clubs for the blues challenge with a different wristband or something?

November 11, 2022 12:00pm
Holly Whitfield

Hi Jason, I haven't heard about a minors wristband. The age requirements can be tricky on Beale, but they might be allowing it for certain showcases or during certain times. The best thing to do is to call the clubs. I know that's a pain, but it will depend on each one's manager individually.

November 24, 2022 4:29pm
Mary Ann Pauling

I do not understand how I can purchase a wristband that will allow me to attend events in clubs and the finals at the Orpheus in January 2023.  I am here in houston Texas and would like to ensure my attendance at this event.  Thank you .

November 28, 2022 3:44pm
Holly Whitfield

Mary Ann, Please contact the Blues Foundation for information! Thank you!

December 30, 2022 6:10pm