Kevin Nichols and Blue Tuesday jammed their way into the 2016 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee by way of winning the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association’s sponsored blues competition held at Shakespeare‘s lower level this past September.
“It always seems to come back to blues,” says bandleader Kev Nichols. “We’re a group of musicians who really just enjoy being on stage with each other, and it starts with that, and it just kind of goes from there.” Kev Nichols has been around the blues music scene in one band or another for 15 years. Around 2012, Kev had hosted jam sessions in his basement, and this evolved into his band Blue Tuesday. This Jackson-area five-piece powerhouse of a blues band consists of Kev Nichols, guitar and vocals; Tony Riske, guitar; Rex Hambone, drums; as well as Heather Kulaga, bass; then finishing out the band is Mike Crupi on steel guitar, harp, sax and keyboards. “We try our best to sound like an eight-piece band in a five-piece body.”
Kev also is involved as a music worship leader at the church he attends in Jackson (Westwinds Community Church). “I play blues on Saturday night at juke joints, and worship music just as hard on Sunday morning with my guitar. Some say the blues is the devil’s music, but music that is as good as the blues has to come from God!”
Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday is one of the many bands running for the top spot at the International Blues Challenge, which begins Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 and concludes Saturday, Jan. 30. This will be the 32nd annual IBC competition, and Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday will be part of the 200-plus acts from all over the world facing off for the top spot as IBC champion. The groups will be performing at venues along the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. After the first cut of the competition, the remaining bands will perform at various locations in the semifinal round Friday night. Nine will then advance to the finals, which will be held at The Orpheum Theatre on Saturday.
“It’s a madhouse, completely crazy,” Nichols said. “You have 900 or so musicians from all over the world and then a ton of blues fans having a great time soaking up the blues on Beale Street, and hopefully you can get some new fans and get your music in other people’s hands.”
The KVBA provided some of the money to help finance the trip, and the band financed the rest through funds raised by selling CDs at its gigs around the Jackson and Kalamazoo venues “to cover gas, hotels and maybe a little food.” On Saturday, Jan. 23, just before they leave on their trip, there will be a fundraiser at the Michigan Theater in Jackson. “I also do a lot of solo / duo work and I try to push the current CD, and that goes for the trip fund. We are also working on a new CD with the newest lineup that we hope to have available before we go to Memphis.”
“A huge shout-out to the people of the KVBA!” Nichols said. “They are very gracious and helped us be able to get down there and do this.”
The bands are competing for prizes. However, Nichols says that’s secondary to what it means just to be part of the challenge and be in Memphis this week. “The cool thing about the IBC is that it makes the blues world a small world,” Nichols said. “It’s really all about the networking and meeting new fans and blues lovers as well the camaraderie. It becomes a Facebook, Twitter kind of party. You will start to see your videos and pictures of people take of you. It’s a great networking opportunity to get festival work and, hopefully, it will just open up to other musical opportunities for us.”
It’s Nichols’ seventh time competing in the IBC, which he said has gotten bigger every year he’s been. “This is the strongest lineup we’ve had, going down and representing the KVBA and Kalamazoo. We are hitting all different musical styles and I love our performance energy! I currently have a five-piece band that I think is stronger than any other that I’ve taken to Memphis to compete in the past.”
Nichols has been to the IBC six times previously:
- 2004 – The WhooDoo Band – IBC Semi-Finalist (Detroit Blues Society)
- 2005 – The WhooDoo Band – IBC Top Ten Finalist (Capital Area Blues Society)
- 2008 – 6 Hands Down – IBC Semi-Finalist (Capital Area Blues Society)
- 2009 – 6 Hands Down – IBC Top Ten Finalist (Capital Area Blues Society)
- 2011 – 6 Hands Down – IBC Semi-Finalist (Capital Area Blues Society)
- 2014 – Kev Nichols & Blue Tuesday – IBC Semi-Finalist (Capital Area Blues Society)
When asked about the state of the blues genre, Kev said, “The blues is a smaller market, unlike rock or country music, especially since we lost guys like B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins, but I don’t worry about the blues. We have a lot of great, young musicians like Jacob Kershaw and Jim Shaneberger (who represented the KVBA at last year’s IBC). I believe the blues is in good hands with all the younger talent that’s out there. It’s a smaller following but it’s a mighty following!”
If you are a fan of the blues like I am, as well a fan of live music, do yourself a favor! Go check out and support Kev Nichols and Blue Tuesday, and please go support live music at your local venue!The International Blues Challenge is put on by the Blues Foundation.