Jon Shain of Durham has won the 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, out of a worldwide field of more than 260 competitors.
The finals of the annual contest, overseen by The Blues Foundation, happened Saturday night at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. Shain won in the solo/duo category, beating out seven other competitors who also made it to the finalist round.
First place was worth a cash prize of $2,500. But the calling-card potential of being IBC champion is even better.
“You get a bunch of bookings out of it,” Shain said by phone Sunday morning. “Immediately afterward, a guy from the Blues Bender Festival in Las Vegas walked up and said, ‘We always book the guy who wins, so here’s my card.’ I might get to do one of the Legendary Blues Cruises, too, which has people like Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt.”
Shain, 51, is a Massachusetts native who has lived in the Triangle since coming to Duke University, where he earned a history degree in 1989. He has released around a dozen albums over the years, including the just-out “Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday Soon” with longtime collaborator FJ Ventre.
Shain earned his ticket to Memphis by winning the Triangle Blues Society’s local contest last August. This was his second time to reach the finals of the national contest, but first time to win.
For Saturday night’s 20-minute finalist set, Shain played originals and a few covers including songs made famous by the long-ago Durham Piedmont blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Despite the success, Shain was still almost overcome with anxiety.
“Something like this is way different from playing a coffeehouse, where you’ve got all night to do your thing,” he said. “This distills everything into 20 minutes. So instead of letting the music come to you, you have to make it happen: ‘Now, I am going to conjure magic!’ That’s tough, and it may not go as well as you want it to.”
It went more than well enough for him to win, however.
Shain’s next Triangle performance is Feb. 24 at the Hillsborough Arts Council.