Blues on the Loose

Blues on the Loose, led by Lewis Bechtold, center, is one of two Lancaster bands that will compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2020. 

Lancaster's music scene will be significantly represented at a competition in Memphis early next year.

Two Lancaster bands - Blues on the Loose, and the Benjamin Vo Blues Band - separately qualified to advance in the International Blues Challenge. 

The challenge, hosted by the Blues Foundation, highlights bands who are "ready for the international stage, yet just needing that extra big break." 

The competition is judged by blues professionals, and the foundation has a specific set of criteria to guide judges in their evaluation of performers. There are separate categories for solos/duos and bands. The judges will select 44 bands to advance to semi-finals, and then nine to compete in the finals. 

Blues on the Loose qualified in a show hosted by the Steel City Blues Society in Phoenixville, Chester County. The Benjamin Vo Blues Band qualified at an event hosted by the Billtown Blues Association in Hughesville, Lycoming County. 

Both bands will be in Memphis Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2020. More than 260 acts will compete at venues on the city's famous Beale Street, known as "The Home of the Blues." 

Benjamin Vo Blues Band

Benjamin Vo, far right, and his blues band are one of two Lancaster groups who will advance in an international competition in Memphis. 

Blues on the Loose, founded in 2015, is Lewis Bechtold, Doug Porter, Tom Lowry and Jay McElroy. Dave Secunda, Tommy Leanza and Gordon Keeney rotate on drums. 

Benjamin Vo is an Atlanta, Georgia, native now living in Lititz.

"Personally, I feel the whole competition aspect of it is silly," Vo said in an email. "Music and art isn't meant to be competing with each other. But I got into it for the opportunity to be heard and seen by folks in the business down in Memphis. People in the music business from all over the world will be there for that week observing talent. If nothing else, it will just be a fun trip to a new place."

Vo said. Bechtold, whom he's known for a few years, texted him at 2 a.m. the night Blues on the Loose qualified for Memphis.

"It made me smile for Lew and his band when I heard they qualified in Phoenixville," Vo said.

Bechtold said his band advancing in the competition is proof they're doing something right. 

"This regional blues band battle win (Steel City Blues Society/Phoenixville) has been both a validation of our collective musical direction and shows us that we appeal to an audience beyond our home area," Bechtold said in a message. "Blues on the Loose looks forward to the international experience and challenge that awaits in Memphis during IBC Week."

Blues on the Loose will play at Stoner Grille in Manheim Township on Saturday, Nov. 16. Check out the Facebook event here

Vo and his band will play Friday at the Soundback in Phoenixville, and Jan. 18 at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse. For updates on those shows and more, see the band's Facebook page

For more information about the International Blues Challenge, visit blues.org