Rusty Wright Blues Band: I Ain't From Mississippi
RW: Yes, I was born here but my dad comes from Florence, Alabama and I spent a lot of time down there as well as up here. I'm just a creature of extremes.
LLW: I grew up in Davison, about 10 miles east of Flint. My parents still live there. Rusty and I moved into Flint in 2000.
AAJ: What kind of opportunities are there in the Flint area for blues musicians to perform?
RW: Well, as for music venues, the choices around here are slim for bands. Particularly blues acts. There was a bit of a blues music boom around here a few years ago but most of those clubs have since closed or been sold.
LLW: It's a challenge booking a seven-piece act. We're very happy about the number of local concert and festival opportunities we were offered this year, but there isn't much of a club scene around Flint and the surrounding area. There are a couple of teen clubs the really young bands play at, and the hard rock club in town does okay still but there isn't a whole lot going on at most of the bars. Most places just don't have the budget for an act our size anyway so we focus our energies on booking festivals and outdoor concerts for the warm months and when that season winds down we'll start putting together a series of performances at intimate concert theaters around the state.
Between everyone in the band we have a pretty good range of skills and experience in event planning, publicity, promotion, graphic design and concert production. We aren't afraid to create our own performance opportunities and that is working very well for us.
Rusty and I still play some laid-back duo gigs at area restaurants that we really enjoy. Beale Street Smokehouse BBQ in Fenton, Michigan is always fun, and Cranberrie's Cafe in downtown Goodrich, Michigan has been one of our favorite places for a couple of years now.
AAJ: For this reason, the two of you perform throughout the Michigan state area. In February, 2007 you represented the Detroit Blues Society at the year's IBC. This must have entailed a lot of planning and coordinating particularly so as you have, what, an eight piece band. Did all of the members of the band go with you? Can you share this experience with us, from possibly the playoffs in Detroit to your experience in Memphis?
LLW: Currently we are a seven piece act. It can be kind of confusing because we have two bass players who alternate shows, depending on which are available. Also, Tommy Stewart, who recorded the drum tracks for our first CD, may still be listed on some promo documents as an alternate drummer but he doesn't perform with us regularly.
Originally Rusty and I had planned on going to Memphis as spectators with the hope of doing a little networking while we were down there. We had no intention of entering the band into the competition but people kept mentioning it at our shows and we kept getting emails and phone messages from friends and fans saying "Hey! You gotta compete in this thing!" It was a little like getting pecked to death by a flock of friendly ducks. They finally wore us down and we agreed to compete.
Once the decision was made to participate, the band worked incredibly hard preparing for the competition. The Detroit Blues Society boasts the largest IBC preliminary competition in the world. In 2006 I think there were 36 acts that competed for the honor of representing Detroit in Memphis. We felt a sense of accomplishment just making it that far in the competition. I think there are more than four dozen bands that competed in the 2006 year's Detroit Blues Society competition [The Detroit Blues Society Finals were in Mt. Clemens, Michigan].
LLW: The show at the Emerald Theater was a blast. There was just an incredible wall of energy flowing off the stage from our first note and the audience sent it right back at us in waves. That's the vibe we strive for in every show. Rusty doesn't do anything halfway. We even brought in a video crew to tape our performance at the Emerald so that even if we didn't win at least we'd come away with a nice video we could use for promotion. We may have been reluctant initially about competing but once we made the commitment the band rehearsed almost every night for more than a month. Dan's sons, Brent and Brandon, had just joined the band after sitting in with us at one of our shows, so we had to create new song arrangements to incorporate the saxophones. It was a whole lot of work to be done in such a short amount of time.
Planning and Fundraising
As I mentioned earlier, we have quite a bit of collective experience in event planning so we put together a fundraising event at a large, casual country club near Flint. A friend, who is a member at that club, got us the use of the banquet facilities for free. Other friends went around collecting silent auction items from area merchants. We put stacks of flyers at the end of the checkout lanes at area grocery stores, we sent postcards and emails to everyone on our mailing list, and called everyone we'd ever known. The night before the fundraiser, the Flint Journal published a huge feature about the band and the IBC on the front page of the entertainment section. That was a huge help.
It was raining and cold the night of the event. We bravely told ourselves we would be thrilled if 300 people showed up. I think secretly most of us anticipated around 200. We were stunned when hundreds and hundreds of people showed up. The public response was beyond anything we ever imagined. We opened the doors at 6:30pm. We had printed 600 tickets. They were gone before 7 pm. The main floor and balcony was way beyond capacity by 7:15.
Fearing that the fire marshal would shut down the club if we crammed more people in the building, the manager told us we had to shut the doors. We have no idea how many people were turned away. A lot of folks never made it to the building because there was no parking available. The real diehards parked several blocks from the club and walked up the road in the rain. We have pictures of the crowd on our website. It was an incredibly cool night but we still feel bad about turning people away. We raised enough money for the trip that night.
RW: We took our seven-piece band down to Memphis as well as wives, kids, friends ... It was a huge undertaking finding accommodation for everyone, doing the fundraising, finding time for rehearsals, the pressure of trying to figure out what the judges wanted, etc. When we got there, every free minute was spent running to appointments we had scheduled with folks, attending workshops to network, and going to the music venues to see other acts performalthough we didn't get to do as much of that as we wanted to.