Marietta plays host for 22nd River City Blues Competition

MARIETTA – The Lafayette Hotel’s ballroom will be rocking during the 22nd annual River City Blues Competition in Marietta Friday and Saturday.

Sponsored by the Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society of Marietta, the contest is the oldest and largest blues talent competition in Ohio, according to Helen Holt, a member of the BJFMS board of directors.

Blues artists from Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York have competed in past events for sponsorship to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

“This has become an international event, too. We have 13 competitors this year, including a band from Italy, and in past years have had groups from Israel and Japan,” Holt said. “Acts from other countries are often referred to us by many American artists who know about our competition.”

The three-piece Dany Franchi Band from Italy will perform at 2 p.m. Saturday.

A group of Japanese players, Tokyo Tramps, working out of the Boston area, won the River City Blues Competition in 2010.

“We still stay in contact with them,” Holt said. “A lot of the bands who compete keep in touch with us year after year, letting us know how they’re doing.”

First place winner in Saturday’s Marietta competition will receive $1,000 and the Blues, Jazz & Folk Music Society of Marietta will sponsor that artist or group to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., in early 2015. After registering for the Memphis challenge the local winner will receive an additional $500.

Second place winner in the Marietta competition receives $500, while the third place winner takes $300. If the second or third place winner also qualifies for the Memphis challenge during the Marietta performance they, too, will receive an added $500 in cash after registering for the Memphis Blues Challenge.

Longtime BJFMS member Peggy Bolen, who, along with “Cobbler John” Bolen, has helped coordinate the annual local competitions, said participating in the Memphis Blues Challenge provides invaluable exposure to record label and blues industry professionals and festival promoters who can help advance a serious musician’s career.

This year’s River City Blues Competition features 13 artists who will provide a weekend of great blues entertainment for a bargain price, Bolen said.

“Marietta has set the stage for other blues competitions that exist in the state,” she said. “One of the things that makes the Marietta competition unique is that is has no geographic restrictions and is open to serious blues acts from anywhere. That’s why the River City Blues Competition pulls talent from many states. The Blues is an attitude and state of mind, not confined to a geographical area.”

The competition means business for the Lafayette Hotel, according to hotel general manager Sheila Rhodes.

“The blues competition has always been held here, and many people come back year after year to see the competition,” she said. “It brings a lot of people into downtown Marietta. We’re sold out of rooms for this weekend’s competition, as well as for the annual blues festival that will take place in March.”

Former Marietta mayor, current councilman, and Over the Moon Pizza business owner Michael Mullen was among the founders of the BJFMS back in 1987, and said the annual blues competition has become a tradition for the city.

“In fact, the first meeting was held in the building at 170 Front St. where my pizza shop is located,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good folk and jazz acts here, but the blues just seemed like a natural fit that draws crowds to our river city every year.”

For tickets and more information, call 304-422-2944, 304-428-8393 or (740) 376-0222, or visit the website at