Five bands and three solo acts vied for a chance to land a spot at the International Blues Competition in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday, at a Battle of the Bands event held at the American Legion hall in Old Town Newhall.
In addition to earning a trip to Memphis, the winning acts could also earn a purse of $2,500. The battle was organized by the Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society, in coordination with the Sons of the American Legion.
One of these bands was The E Flats, whose front man, Eric McConnell, already has some trophies under his belt. McConnell said although the battle is a competition, it’s a friendly one.
“The big thing with all of this, and the thing that makes me happy about it, is I really don’t care about the competition. I came out here to play with my friends and to play in front of my friends,” said McConnell. “The band that’s on right now — I used to be in this band. One of the drummers that’s in the band coming up, he was in our band for a while. So we’re all just close-knit friends.”
McConnell said that if one of them makes it to Memphis, all of them make it and that the most important thing about the show was that it brought the blues community back together again.
The pandemic was especially tough on musicians – unless you’re signed to a major label or sell an ungodly amount of records on an independent one, the only reliable source of revenue is through performing live. McConnell said the whole industry took a hit when things locked down.
“After everything is closed down… the musician friends that I knew, that were out touring and making all their cash doing this when everything took a turn, it was just, it was hard. It [was] hard for everybody.”
Henry Urick, Blues Society life member and master of ceremonies, shared the sentiment of bringing people back out.
“The most important thing is a society like this stimulates the performance of live music here in our community and that’s so important. I think we should all pay attention to the local artists performing live here because it supports our culture and our music, especially now that things are opening up from the pandemic,” said Urick. “We got to stop being couch potatoes. You gotta go out and see bands again.”
The battle did more than just provide a space for the blues to return to SCV. The event also helped raise funds for veterans. Chuck Strong, Blues Society president and member of the Sons of the American Legion, said this was important to him.
“It’s a great place to gather and support the vets. Spend a little money here and it supports the vet programs, for whatever they’re doing. And it’s just going to be a great, nice little local venue for people to come from all over and listen to music,” said Strong. “You don’t have to mortgage your house to pay the bill at the end of the night. It’s not an expensive place to listen to great music.”