BEST BETS: Blues band Barrelhouse on the way to Memphis

Local blues band Barrelhouse, made up of, from left, Charlie Rickner, John Whiteley III, Tom Nowland and Chris Miller, will compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January. A musical fundraiser to help offset their expenses will be held Sunday at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia. (Submitted photo)

After substituting on drums for about a year, John Whiteley III officially joined the Middletown-based blues band Barrelhouse one year ago this week.

In that time with the group, he’s played gigs around the region, opened for some heavy hitters and now he’s headed to Memphis to play in the prestigious International Blues Challenge.

By virtue of besting four other bands in the Central Delaware Blues Society’s International Blues Challenge in October at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia, Barrelhouse punched its ticket to compete at the World Series of blues music Jan. 16-20 where they will compete for cash, prizes and industry recognition.

A fundraiser for their trip to Memphis is planned for Sunday at Jonathan’s Landing, featuring performances from Barrelhouse and five other groups.

“This band has a 10-year history. They’ve been pushing hard just to get gigs through the years. Finally, someone said ‘You guys are really good at this.’ It’s an emotional thing for everyone,” Mr. Whiteley said.

He and bass player Chris Miller have actually competed in the Blues Challenge before when they won the Steel City Blues Competition in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania two years ago as part of The Billy Pierce Band.

He said the weeklong conference and music festival along famed Beale Street is an “incredible experience.”

“The town is so rich in history. You have Sun Records and Stax Records, which isn’t around anymore. There are nearly 275 bands every year,” said Mr. Whiteley, a native of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania now living in Wilmington.

“I remember two years ago there were bands as far away as Germany there. The different takes on the blues were amazing. You had pop-oriented John Mayer kind of stuff and then straight-up traditional blues bands as well.”

Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Miller are joined in Barrelhouse by vocalist and harmonica player Charlie Rickner and guitar player and vocalist Tom Nowland.

“Charlie goes down every year as a fan. It’s just a thrill for him to be going down as a musician this year,” Mr. Whiteley said.

The band first tried to gain entrance to the IBC by competing in this year’s Steel City competition. Not making the cut there, they were able to win the judges over closer to home.

“We really wanted to win and worked really hard to do it,” Mr. Whiteley said.

“We only had one original song written by their late bass player Billy (Snyder) to start with, which they had only rarely played. But then we came up with two more originals, which gave me a chance to put my spin on things and sort of give my musical ideas. It turned out really cool.”

Mr. Whiteley said originality is key when competing in Memphis.

“That’s one of the main categories. They look for originality and you’re not just doing the standard Muddy Waters stuff. They want you to come up with your own spin on the blues. Blues music has such a rich history but it has to move forward as well,” he said.

Originality has been the hallmark of Barrelhouse throughout its decade of music, whether it’s giving an old song a new sound or performing an obscure tune.

“This whole thing has really been a learning experience for me. I was a fan first. The first time I saw those guys, I realized what a great front man Charlie is and how they don’t play the normal everyday covers,” said Mr. Whiteley who started playing the drums when he was 5 years old and began teaching drums in 1995 when he was still in high school.

“In having to learn their setlist, I would be asking ‘Who’s this by?’ There were few that I recognized. But these guys never phone it in. They don’t play off the record. They really make songs their own.”

Mr. Whiteley grew up in a musical household. His father played the bass and exposed his son to blues greats such as Muddy Waters and the blues-infused rock bands such as Cream. The Rolling Stones and Bad Company.

“He was in a blues band and I would just absorb the blues music straight up and down,” said Mr. Whiteley, who has also played rock, funk, Latin, jazz, reggae, rhythm and blues and singer-songwriter material.

Sunday’s benefit at Jonathan’s Landing will include the band Bad Avenue; Dirty Deal; AC Steele and the Galvanizers; Jon Hay and Zach Lees who will represent the Central Delaware Blues Society in Memphis as its youth showcase act by being able to use the society’s name and help for registration; last year’s local Memphis entrant Tom Craig and Soul Patch; and Barrelhouse.

There will also be auctions, a 50/50, Christmas treats and other activities.

The Central Delaware Blues Society will give Barrelhouse $2,000 for winning October’s competition.

According to society president Barry Pugh, bands are generally awarded $1,500 and if they take the initiative to raise more money themselves through other means such as a GoFundMe account, shows or other sales, the CDBS will match their fundraising amount up to $500.

“The band must prove to me that they raised that amount or more through receipts, deposits, etc. I witnessed the owners of the Celtic Pub (in Smyrna) give them $500 cash at their fundraiser a couple of weeks ago so our additional $500 will be awarded Sunday,” he said.

The band’s GoFundMe page can be found through Barrelhouse’s Facebook page.

“The Central Delaware Blues Society has been super kind and The Celtic Pub has been amazing. They donated money out of their own pocket,” Mr. Whiteley said.

“It’s an expensive endeavor to house and feed four people for five days. Our goal is to not to have to take money out of our own pockets.”

Doors open for Sunday’s fundraiser at noon with the music starting at 1 p.m.

Tickets for society members are $10 and $15 for nonmembers. Jonathan’s Landing is at 1309 Ponderosa Drive in Magnolia.

For more information, visit CentralDelawareBlues.com/ibc2018.

Aaron Neville tonight

A limited number of single tickets remain for tonight’s Aaron Neville holiday concert at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center. Prices range from $35 to $65.

Aaron Neville will perform holiday music at Dover Downs tonight. (Submitted photo)

Mr. Neville’s recording career began in the 1960s, and he first hit the charts with the single “Tell It Like It Is” in 1966, which reached No. 1 in the U.S. R&B listings. Neville’s other chart-topping singles came in 1989 with “Don’t Know Much,” a debut with Linda Ronstadt and “Everybody Plays The Fool” in 1991.

In 1977, Mr. Neville began recording with brothers Art, Charles and Cyril, forming The Neville Brothers. The Neville Brothers disbanded in 2012, but reunited for a farewell concert in their hometown of New Orleans in 2015.

Overall, he has recorded 17 solo albums, including two Christmas collections, and 10 studio albums with The Neville Brothers. Mr. Neville’s top solo albums include “Tell It Like It Is,” “The Grand Tour,” “Devotion,” and “My True Story.”

Mr. Neville’s latest solo album “Apache,” much of which he co-wrote, was released in 2016, the year he celebrated his 75th birthday.

To check on availability for the 9 p.m. show, call 800-711-5882.

Smyrna Singers Saturday

The Smyrna Singers will present their inaugural concert Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Smyrna Opera House.

The group will perform an eclectic mix of traditional choral repertoire and holiday music. The ensemble is under the direction of Andrea Stewart Davis and accompanied by Kathy Castro.

Tickets are $8 to $16 and available at SmyrnaOperaHouse.org, by calling 653-4236 or at the box office at 7 W. South St.

Open house, walking tour

Staying in Smyrna, the Smyrna Historic District Holiday Walking and House Tour is set for Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

The self-guided walking tour will feature outdoor displays and 10 historic houses open to tour. The Smyrna Museum and Belmont Hall are decorated and included on the tour. An exhibit of dollhouses depicting historic houses of Smyrna/Clayton will be at one of the tour sites.

A $5 donation is requested for this event, sponsored by Friends of Belmont Hall and the Duck Creek Historical Society,

Pick up your map and make your donation at the Smyrna Museum at 11 S. Main St. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. or at Belmont Hall’s Open House, 217 Smyrna Leipsic Road, Smyrna.

Christmas decorations designed by the Duck Creek Gardeners and the Friends of Belmont Hall will be on display Sunday at Belmont Hall’s free open house from 1 to 4 p.m.

Call 302-653-3703 or visit www.belmonthall.org for more information.

Ocean City Comic Con

Fans of Dover’s popular annual Comic Con may want to take a trip south as another Comic Con comes to Ocean City Saturday.

Held at the Grand Hotel and Spa, the first Ocean City Comic Con will boast comic creators, artists, cosplay, anime screenings, panels, and more.

The convention features a selection of guests and events. Special guest Greg LaRocque will be in attendance. Mr. LaRocque is best known for his work on “The Flash,” but has worked for both Marvel and DC as well as being a fixture on the indie comic scene.

A cosplay contest with prizes will be held, and those who show up to the con in costume will receive $1 off admission. Professional cosplayers, Katie Coe Cosplay, Kevin D Cosplay, Carter Cosplay, as well as the 501st Legion (Star Wars costuming club) and others will be in attendance to take pictures with attendees and discuss the art of costuming.

Admission is $7 with children 9 years and younger free with a paying adult.

For more details, visit oceancitycomiccon.com.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is the comedy “Just Getting Started” with Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones and the critically acclaimed coming-of-age film “Lady Bird” with Saoirse Ronan.

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “Kingsmen: The Golden Circle,” Reese Witherspoon in “Home Again” and civil rights story “Detroit.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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