Society Blues

The showcase that rocketed Piano Bob and the Snowman and the Roach Thompson Blues Band into the Handy Awards history book and the national spotlight is in peril. After two consecutive victories by local acts in the national battle-of-the bands, apathy, mistrust, and irreconcilable differences of opinion are dogging the South Florida Blues Society and its regional contest.

The deadline for entering a blues-society sponsored band in the national competition in Memphis (held Labor Day weekend) is August 15, according to David Less of the Memphis Blues Society, organizers of the national Handy project. However, Less is eager to accommodate local societies by extending the deadline. "We're working hard to include everybody," he says. All organizers need do is call him on the phone. Before August 15. (Individual musicians or bands who wish to compete without benefit of a blues society's backing can do so by entering "at large," meaning they'll go up to Memphis and compete in a two-day contest, using their own funds. The South Florida Blues Society has contributed $500 to winning bands in previous years.)

As of this writing, not only hadn't the South Florida chapter chosen a winner to compete in Memphis, it hadn't even held the contest. (Last year, the blues showdown took place in late June.) According to board member and local promoter Mark Weiser, the competition, open to blues musicians who derive less than half their income from performing, may not take place this year. "There's just not a whole lot of energy," Weiser says of the dissipated Blues Society and its inability to organize.

At least part of the difficulty the organization faces is due to the fact that all five board members must be present for it to act on anything. "It's very frustrating trying to get anything done," says Piano Bob Wilder, who became a board member after his duo won the local and national competitions in 1992. "The most recent reason we all got together was they wanted to disband."

Composed of Wilder, Weiser, ex-Roach Thompson harp man Jack Bluni, promoter and musician Mike Cotton, and Cactus Cantina owner Linda Lou Nelson, the board of directors appears to be hamstrung. Perhaps, as some members suggest, the society would be better served by a board of directors composed of regular folk -- people who are not musicians, promoters, or club owners. And the only way to restructure the board, Wilder surmises, may be to disband altogether and pass on the group's nonprofit status and mailing list to successors.

With time quickly running out, South Florida may have to take a pass on this year's national competition, in effect defeating its chances for a three-peat. Boasting two consecutive winners, South Florida will be conspicuous in its absence. Truly something to give South Floridians the blues.


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