Young musicians shined Saturday on a cloudy day in downtown Longview in the Big Pines Blues Society of East Texas Junior Showcase.
“Blues is all about feeling good and feeling bad,” 11-year-old Dylan Shaw said, sitting with his parents shortly before five contestants took the spotlight at Alibi Eatery on East Tyler Street. “It’s where I speak.”
His mother, Christine Winburn Shaw, picked up on that last phrase from Dylan, who has Asperger’s syndrome.
“It really is where he speaks,” she said, hugging her son who would provide a three-song keyboard set for the crowd of about 80 people midway through the competition. “Awww, I love how you said that.”
Five young guitar mavens were chosen by video tryout for the contest, which is a sole survivor of the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival. Originally scheduled for Heritage Plaza, the showcase found a rain venue in the month-old eatery recently opened at 115 E. Tyler St. by Jeff Kannard and his wife, Kasee Pringle-Kannard.
Blues Society President Susanne McGee said the contestants were from as far away as Natchitoches, Louisiana.
“We have just five this year,” she said. “Rock ‘n’ roll was born out of the blues. Muddy Waters said, ‘The blues had a baby, and it was rock ‘n’ roll.’ “
She also said the Big Pines Blues Society is a nonprofit club for blues lovers. Information on the club can be found by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
McGee said people also can call her for information at (903) 445-3889 — leave a message; she said unknown incoming phone numbers give her the blues.
Warming up his 12-year-old fingers outside the restaurant before the showcase began, Ethan Rivers of Athens said a cousin introduced him to the guitar. A friend who died in a wreck at age 18 “made me love music, all kinds of music.”
“And I kept playing in his honor,” he said of that friend, Troy Saunders.
Saturday’s showcase was staged in two categories, for grades six through eight and grades nine through 12.
Ben Smiley, the Louisianan, and Grant McInnis of Bullard played off in the older class. And Ethan, Cody Lattis of Brownsboro and Brady Bowman of LaRue filled out the younger set.
Julia Walden, 20, of Athens brought her bass to join the trap set and rhythm guitar backing up the contestants.
“You can practice for so long,” she said. “But you need that real, live experience, and this is a good way.”
The competition consisted of one song from each musician standing feet away from judges Alan Fox, Tyler Lenius and last year’s finalist, Andrew Greear.
Each player drew enthusiastic cheers with covers of songs by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and other kings of guitar blues.
Dylan’s three-song intermission set, on a keyboard with a vocal mic, ended with his self-written “Homework Blues,” which had audience members shouting the song’s refrain back to him in response to the already seasoned performer’s prompts.
The young man from Highland Village north of Dallas wasn’t the only non-contestant grabbing the audience. Young Brookelyn Burgin crooned a soft ballad while the judges tallied results.
Seth Nobles, emcee and stage manager for the contest, said members of the newly formed nonprofit music appreciation club stage a fun event.
“It really is,” he said. “Every year we have a good time with it.”