Each February, blues societies from around the nation and across oceans send a band from their scene to Memphis for the International Blues Competition. This year, the Patti Parks Band won a competition arranged by the Blues Society of Western New York, which also puts on a Memphis Bound Benefit to help the band get there. This year's benefit takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Lafayette Tap Room and will feature Billy McEwen, Rod Nickson, Mark Winsick and many more.
Parks will headline, of course, propelled by her ace band -- Glenn Stiver (guitar), Guy Nirelli (keys), Bob Serette (tenor sax), Paul Vanacore (baritone sax), Bob Ambrusko (bass) and Richard Rey (drums) -- a tenured troupe of veterans able to whip up a wild workout at will. But while Parks may seem to be a new face on the scene, she revealed her success to be the result of a most rewarding rebirth.
>When did you first start playing out?
I've only been back out in the world of music a year, but when I was 16, I was playing in circuits all over Buffalo, and I also played classical cello with the Cheektowaga Symphony Orchestra. Then I didn't play out for a very long time.
>What inspired you to get back in?
There's one band member that was in my first band when I was 16, Guy Nirelli, our keyboard player. I saw him downtown, and he asked if I was still singing, and I said, "No, I think it's gone, I don't do that anymore." He said: "It's never gone, try it again. You'll never want to stop." And he was right! It's like a light with a bushel over it -- you can cover it up, but it never goes out, and once the bushel's off, the flame becomes more intense. I think I'm gonna write that in a lyric -- you're never gonna put out this flame, baby!
>What's the set-up for the competition in Memphis?
You have a 30-minute set the first day, and the second round is 20 minutes. I don't think people realize that it's an international blues challenge, it's really remarkable. There are blues societies in Poland, across Asia -- it's unbelievable to me. There'll be 160 bands all down Beale Street.
>So what are you going to do to stick out?
We're gonna do what we do best: try to bring the audience to their knees with emotion and give them a great show. These guys are all from different bands -- I'd say they have 200 years of playing between them. We have a big blues band sound with horns, it's huge.
Music makes you whole, and what makes us unique is that we're able to deliver that onstage -- we're high-energy, we laugh at ourselves, and we empower people. That's the key.
-- Seamus Gallivan, Special to The News