LEWISTON — The Maine Blues Society’s Winter Blues Bash will be held from noon-6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11, in the main ballroom of the Ramada Inn, 490 Pleasant Street. Proceeds from this event not only support the MBS but also help Maine blues act nominees

(solo act) and The Blood Orange Martinis (group act) pay for their expenses to the 31st annual International Blues Challenge competition on historic Beale Street in Memphis. The IBC, hosted by The Blues Foundation, will feature about 250 acts from Jan. 20-24 and is considered the world’s largest and most prestigious blues music competition.

IBC nominee French of Auburn has been playing blues for over 20 years. A Providence, Rhode Island native, French said, “As soon as I moved to Maine and discovered the Maine Blues Society, I knew I was supposed to enter their preliminary Road To Memphis competition and charge full steam ahead to the finals stage in Memphis! I sing, play, and write for a living, so I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity. I was brought up on Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan records and, as a teenager, blues music carried me through a battle with cancer. Now it’s my career, so I’m truly excited to represent Maine and showcase for the audiences in Tennessee. There are going to be a lot of industry professionals in attendance — who knows what could happen!?”

Harp (harmonica)/vocalist Lauren Williams of The Blood Orange Martinis of Winterport said it is about going home. “I spent some formative years in Memphis and still have family there. It’s a real chance to be heard by people who love the blues and to hear all the other awesome musicians … to be immersed in it – it’s an honor!”

Aside from the nominees performing, the MBS welcomes Maine’s own harp master, Jason Ricci, back to the state for this fundraiser. Ricci, who left for Memphis in 1995, was nominated three times for Blues Band of the Year by Blues Wax magazine with his initial band, New Blood and won “Best Harmonica Player” at the 2010 Blues Music Awards. Ricci said he had incredible guidance along the way “from people like Mark Miller, DW Gill, Per Hanson, Andy Argondizza, Pete Masterson, Dave Thibodeau, Mike Hayworth, David Wakefield and Mike Curran. It was a great scene when I was growing up as not many places else have I been that had players that nice and good, clubs as cool as the old Big Easy and Raoul’s. I was really lucky. Even my first harmonica teacher Dave Daniels who taught at Waynflete was really good, real informed and very cool. Maine is amazing and I’m honored to be coming home. This one means a lot, guys!”

Ricci has played with such renowned artists as Walter Trout, Junior Kimbrough, and the late great Johnny Winter. Although he started in punk bands at age 14, he soon discovered a love of the harmonica and blues. Having lived in New Orleans for a time, he now resides in Bloomington, Indiana, and has assembled his new band, Approved By Snakes, with guitarist John Lisi. Ricci will present a tribute to the late Biddeford blues artist Nick Curran, who succumbed to oral cancer at the age of 35 in 2012.

MBS’s Ron Gill said the Maine blues community has been somewhat fragmented for several years. “We see this as an incredible opportunity to bring folks together. After all, the mission of the Maine Blues Society, among other things, is to do just that. Not only that, but here is a performer and artist [Ricci] whom nearly everyone respects and admires. It’s a bit of the ‘prodigal son’ returning. No better blues story than that!”

The winner of the IBC solo/duo act will receive a $2,000 cash prize, an ad in the Blues Festival Guide and great gigs. The first place band act winner will receive $2,500 cash, an ad, and great gigs.

Individual tickets are $15 or, for $25, one also gets a membership to the MBS. Tickets can be purchased at https://mbswinterbluesbash.eventbrite.com. For more information, visit www.blues.org.

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