The International Blues Challenge (IBC) is a five-day event held annually in Memphis, Tennessee. This year marks the 36th annual challenge, which draws thousands of music lovers to Memphis to celebrate the blues and watch 250+ bands and performers compete to be named the best! Here’s everything you need to know for attending the IBC, as well as our recommendations for the best places to eat, shop, and stay in the area.
This year’s International Blues Challenge will take place from January 28 through February 1 along historic Beale Street. Prior to January 28, affiliated Blues Societies worldwide host their own regional IBC competitions. The winning band and solo/duo blues performer of each of these preliminary events then go on to represent their regional organization in Memphis’ International Blues Challenge. The IBC is judged by blues aficionados from around the world who have a deep understanding of the genre and years of experience in producing or creating blues music. The performers are judged on a variety of criteria including blues content, originality, vocals, instrumental talent, and stage presence.
There is a lot crammed into the five-day challenge, and chances are you won’t make it to everything. You can view the full schedule of events here, but these are the highlights we recommend:
- International Showcase on Opening Night: January 28 at 8:00 pm
- Quarterfinals, Round 1: January 29 at 5:00 pm
- Quarterfinals, Round 2: January 30 at 5:00 pm
- Youth Showcase: January 31 at 5:00 pm
- Semifinals: January 31 at 6:20 pm
- Finals: February 1 at 12:00 pm; doors open at 11:30 (Orpheum Theatre)
There are also many other musical showcases over the five days as well as other events such as networking, health screenings, jam sessions, parties, yoga, master classes, and special exhibits.
Along Beale Street, you can find many of Memphis’ most iconic restaurants. Probably the most famous of these eateries is B.B. King’s Blues Club, which features live music, great barbeque, and other spectacular Southern dishes. Just down the road, you’ll find the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe & Honky Tonk, created by the rock and roll legend himself. The restaurant serves up delicious Southern favorites that you can enjoy while listening to live music and exploring the rockabilly musician’s memorabilia. For breakfast, treat yourself to some classic soul food from Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe; their chicken and waffles are the best in the city!
The shops on Beale Street are eclectic and unique, just like Memphis! You’ll find everything from rare vinyl to clothing, art, and even voodoo accouterments. A. Schwab is one of Memphis’s unique dry goods stores, where you’ll find quirky souvenirs and gifts, plus it also has an old fashioned soda fountain counter. Blues City General Store is another popular gift shop featuring a variety of Memphis-themed merchandise. Memphis Music sells lots of records and tapes, as well as unique wall art and – wait for it – handcrafted toilet seats. Beale Street isn’t all kitschy gift shops; you can also check out the clothing store Eel Etc. Fashions.