The challenge is a local blues competition with two categories, for solo/duo and band. Winners earn the right to travel to Memphis, Tenn., to further compete next January in the 39th International Blues Challenge.
This year’s competing solo and duo acts are Cory Luetjen and the Traveling Blues Band, E-Train, Foster Wiley, Lynn Swisher Spears and Two Picky Guys. The five competing bands are Acisse Jay, beckwith, Busted Knuckle Blues Band, Greylan Hall and the Nasty Kings, and Mojo Collins and Triple Vision.
Admission charge for the Triangle Blues Challenge is $10, with funds helping to underwrite the winners’ trips to the International Blues Challenge. Triangle Blues Society members will receive a 50 percent discount, including those who join during the challenge.
Here are provided biographical snapshots from each of this year’s featured acts:
Acisse Jay (äkēsā jā) is a rock/blues singer-songwriter from Norfolk, Va. With a sound that can be described as “the soul of rock,” Acisse Jay brings new perspectives to music. She released her debut EP in 2019 — fittingly entitled Experimental Phase EP, Vol. 1 — where she seamlessly blends musical styles with the ease of a veteran. She showcases her distinctive range throughout the project, infusing each title with texture, tone, nonconformist melodies, and musical intelligence. Acisse Jay has opened for legends such as Roy Roberts, Johnny Rawls, Darryl Johnson, Penny Smith, and 2021 Junior Bluesman Award winner Brendan Hinch during the 35th annual Carolina Blues Festival. Studying under guitar legends such as Kevin Wilson Sr., Acisse Jay provides a unique live experience and is surely one to keep on your radar.
While rooted in the blues, beckwith branches out and carries those roots into the related genres of rock, jazz and gospel. Whether sounding like a visit to the Big Apple, the Big Easy or the Big D, East Coast or West, it all becomes incorporated with those roots and what emerges may or may not sound like traditional blues, but there is always that root. The players are as diverse in their experience and influence, and what they bring is foundational to the resulting music. We hope you enjoy what you hear and can feel the bond with the blues that we do.
BUSTED KNUCKLE BLUES BAND
The Busted Knuckle Blues Band is an American blues-rock band originated in North Carolina. The band members are Pat Logsdon on guitar and vocals, Rafael Tetro on guitar and vocals, Mike Maness on bass and vocals, and Drew Remaley on drums. Mike is the only North Carolina-born member, while the other three moved from different states. Rafael is originally from Israel, and became a citizen in 2021.
CORY LEUTJEN AND TRAVELING BLUES BAND
Cory Luetjen and the Traveling Blues Band is comprised of Cory Luetjen on guitar and vocals and Jonathan Link on saxophone, the founding members of this multi-award-winning group. They perform original tunes at nearly 100 shows a year as an acoustic duo, appearing on large stages, small bars, breweries and everything in between. Cory Luetjen and the Traveling Blues Band’s unique combination of guitar and sax keeps crowds tapping their feet and coming back for more.
Eric “E-Train” Manning is a guitar player, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from outside Raleigh, N.C. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Eric started playing guitar at 10 after his father showed him all the “cowboy” chords and taught him “Froggie Went a Courtin’.” Finger-picking guitar became something of an obsession. “Listen to, and appreciate all music,” he was told – and he did. (Except for free jazz; still doesn’t get it.) Fast forward more than 40 years, and Eric is a songwriter fusing elements from blues, jazz, Latin, country, and rockabilly into a unique blend of storytelling that ranges from cathartic and thoughtful, to humorous and clever, and just plain fun. Eric just likes seeing people smile when he plays. Having played in many local and regional bands through the years, Eric always returns to his first love: acoustic guitar and songwriting.
William Dawson studied music at the University of Memphis and spent years playing bass and keyboards in bands on Beale Street. He then moved to Clarksdale, Miss., where he ran a recording studio and played drums in local juke joints for bluesmen including T Model Ford and Robert Belfour. Dawson spent two years on the road with the platinum-selling Squirrel Nut Zippers playing saxophone, guitar, keyboards and accordion before leaving the band to attend North Carolina Central University, where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in elementary education. Since 2014, he has worked at Duke University Hospital as their first musician in residence, and can be seen performing around Durham with his group the Wiley Fosters. He performs under the name “Foster Wiley” in tribute to friend and mentor, the late Foster Wiley of Clarksdale.
GREYLAN HALL AND NASTY KINGS
Greylan Hall and the Nasty Kings have deep roots in blues and rock music, though it’s not uncommon to hear them dip their notes in colors of country, jazz, funk and fusion. Based in Durham, N.C., the passionate quartet features Greylan on majestic guitars, Jacob Seyle on heated Hammond B-3 organ, Matt Grady supplying the low end and Ethan Prindle delivering thundering drums.
LYNN SWISHER SPEARS
Hailing from the heart of the midwest, but now calling central North Carolina home, Lynn Swisher Spears is a designer and musician who also pens critical essays and creates illustrative art. Her first album, Walking the Cat, was released 2021, and features an eclectic mix of 10 instrumental compositions bridging influences ranging from bluegrass, jazz, and folk to classical music. A video for the song “Bump” produced by Sallie Scharding/Sallie Scharding Design+, took first place honors in 2021’s 38th annual Mid-Atlantic Songwriters Contest, sponsored by the Songwriters Association of Washington. Lynn’s second record, I Am: Songs by Lynn Swisher Spears, was released in 2022 and features 21 original songs interpreted by talented female vocalists. Lynn is presently back in the studio working on a new album tentatively titled The Bearded Lady Sings.
I am a North Carolinian, born in Raleigh. I was raised in a musical family, and my father William Collins was a featured performer on two local television shows: WTVD of Durham’s Saturday night country-style program and the Daybreak show in Raleigh with Homer Briarhopper and the Dixie Dudes. I started singing and playing the guitar at the age of four during back-porch jams, which included my aunts, uncles and siblings each Sunday after church. I learned at an early age that music was a healer, and it has been with me now for over 75 years. In 1999, I was awarded a fellowship in songwriting through the North Carolina Arts Council. In 2021, I was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Roy Cooper. I still enjoy performing live and recording as I approach my 80th birthday.
TWO PICKY GUYS
Bob Sarnataro came from a musical family. He started playing classical piano and performed his first recital at Carnegie Hall at age 13. He switched to guitar in college and played in bands from California to Austin. He is an accomplished singer-songwriter. His favorite story is him playing a blues tune he just wrote to his wife. She remained quiet for some time then asked if there was anything wrong with their marriage. He knew he was on the right track. Spider Mike started out on piano but switched to guitar when the family moved to the country. A defining moment in his musical development came when he heard Mississippi John Hurt play a one-chord song on PBS TV. Later, he attended the Philadelphia Folk Festival, where he saw Mississippi John perform and got to talk to him. In college, he met a student of the Rev. Gary Davis, which opened the door to the intricacies of fingerpicking. Spider Mike and Bob formed an acoustic duo in 2016, blending flatpicking and fingerstyle guitar playing into a distinctive sound.