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Nutty Irishman hosting benefit show for LI artists going to International Blues Challenge in Memphis

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A handful of Long Islanders will do their part to keep the blues alive when they compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis this May.

Red Eye, a jump blues band, and Rob Europe, a blues-influenced singer-songwriter, won the Long Island Blues Society‘s competition in September to decide which local artists will represent the island in The Blues Foundation‘s 37th annual event.

Tony Davenport, secretary of the Long Island Blue Society, said the group sends representatives each year. In 2020, Brooklyn-based Felix Slim took second place in the solo/duo category at the international event.

Expenses for the competitors are not covered, Davenport explained, so the blues society hosts fundraisers each year to ensure its artists can afford the trip and lodging costs.

This year, the society booked a benefit show at the The Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale on Sunday, April 10, from 1-7 p.m.

In addition to Red Eye and Rob Europe, The Pamela Betti Band, who represented Long Island in Memphis in January 2020; two-time Long Island chapter winners The Johnny Mac Band; and Thorogood Jenkins are on the bill.

Heading down to Memphis

For Northport-based Red Eye, the trip to the International Blues Challenge is a not only a chance to compete, but an opportunity to spread their music. They released their debut album, “Cool Blues,” in February 2021.

“It feels fantastic, its an honor,” Red Eye front man Paul Curcio said of heading to the competition. “It means a lot because the competition on Long Island is definitely fierce, and we’re just really excited to have to opportunity to carry on the blues tradition.”

This year’s event is Europe’s second foray into the competition. He trekked to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge in 2017, the same year he released his debut “The Fear.”

“What I always found most enjoyable about it is the camaraderie that you feel, you’re accompanying fellow travelers,” Europe said. “It’s not you out there on your own drifting through strange crowds. You get to go with some kindred spirits so to speak.”

Many shades of blues

Both Red Eye and Europe have their 25-minute sets locked in for the competition.

Curcio said his band dips into a wide pallet of blues in an effort to build on tradition of taking it forward.

“There really are a lot of different types of blues,” he said. “We’re doing traditional Chicago blues, we’re doing jump blues, we have some jazzy blues songs like ‘The Story of Billy.’ We cover the ’60s groovy period as well, some real down in the gutter Delta swamp blues as well.”

Europe said his setlist consists of a months-old song he wrote during an “existential crisis” when the International Blues Challenge was pushed from this past winter to May. He plans to release them next month via a new album that he will title “Saddle River.”

As for what inspires Europe’s writing is a universal emotion that surely inspired the forbearers of the musical tradition a century ago.

“Everybody has there ups and downs relative to where they are, so feeling down is very much a universal thing,” Europe said. “Channeling your negative emotions into something positive and constructive is probably the best way to deal with those.”

Feature photo: Courtesy of Red Eye/Facebook.