Journey to Memphis Finals
Over two nights in late May, the Cascade Blues Association held their semi-finals round for the Journey to Memphis at the Mekong Bistro. Fifteen acts competed, playing twenty minute sets before three judges each night, for the opportunity to move on to the final round at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Wednesday, July 4th, on the Front Porch Stage beginning at 11:30 am. The winner of the finals will become the Cascade Blues Association and the region’s representative at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, in late January/early February 2019.
Past CBA acts have fared well in Memphis, including Karen Lovely, Ty Curtis, and Rae Gordon each taking home prizes from the finals.
Schedule for this year’s Journey to Memphis on the Oreonian Front Porch Stage:
Wednesday, July 4
11:30 am – Johnny Wheels & The Swamp Donkeys
12:10 pm – Rae Gordon & Kivett Bednar
12:50 pm – Ben Rice
1:30 pm – Fenix Project
JOHNNY WHEELS & THE SWAMP DONKEYS
Johnny Wheels is a singer / songwriter / harmonica player inspired by the soul of the Pacific NorthWest. The “Swamp Donkeys” are Johnny’s band-mates who are inspired by Johnny to “live a song” on the edge. Johnny: “Nope! You won’t hear a song exactly the same way twice – that’s what CD’s are for. We like to add some spice of musical exploration”
The son of a traveling bass player and singer, Johnny “Wheels” Kennicott had music in his blood since birth, but expressing himself musically took on new importance when Johnny broke his neck in a childhood accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
Johnny found, through determined trial and error, he could manipulate his paralyzed diaphragm to not only sing, but also blow the harmonica. Since that time, Johnny has been traveling the Pacific Northwest music scene, spreading the gospel of the blues.
The Band Collectively, the band hails from Oregon, Texas and California and is typically tagged as a Blues band; Although, the diversity of the members’ musical backgrounds becomes evident as the worlds of R&B, Soul, Jazz, Funk and Rock are blended under a Blues umbrella. Members include Brandon Logan, Vocals, Guitar Doug Knoyle, Drums Michael Rabe, Vocals, Guitar Sky Wescott, Vocals, Guitar Taylor Frazier, Vocals, Bass
RAE GORDON & KIVETT BEDNAR
“Add equal parts of Janis Joplin’s pain, Aretha Franklin’s soul and Grace Slick’s power; mix them thoroughly, and add a big gob of gooey molasses and you have Rae Gordon’s voice” – Positively Entertainment and Dining
Vocalist Rae Gordon started her singing career in the piano bars and comedy clubs of Los Angeles, where she honed her ability to relate to any audience – from a small wine bar with a few people sipping libations, to a big festival attended by thousands. Rae’s approachability and onstage charisma is as well-known as her multi-octave range. She has been honored by the Cascade Blues Association’s by being inducted into their Muddy Awards Hall of Fame for Female Vocalist. She has appeared in the International Blues Challenge multiple times, most recently taking 3rd place overall in the band competition in 2017, this will be her first attempt in the solo/duo category
Guitarist Kivett Bednar originally hails from Austin, Texas but has made a name for himself in Portland and beyond for his passionate solos and dynamic onstage presence. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Kivett has also turned heads in Portland with his projects The Pining Hearts and Land of the Living as well as working as Rae Gordon’s guitarist in her band. This versatile guitarist is also an accomplished painter who has had his artwork displayed in various galleries and shows around Portland and Austin; he was named Best Visual Artist in Willamette Week’s 2017 Best of Portland reader poll.
His music is deeply rooted in traditional blues, yet at the same time fiercely original. His guitar playing earns labels like “fearless,” “inventive” and “powerful,” and he routinely brings audiences to their feet with his stunning and emotionally honest vocal delivery. Ben is as much home fronting his electric blues band as he is captivating a crowd solo with nothing but his voice and his resonator guitar.
Ben Rice has been leaving huge impressions on audiences around the Northwest and winning awards for his vocals and guitar playing for the last seven years. In 2014 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis Tennessee he left the audience speechless with a raw emotional delivery of his version of “Key To The Highway.” His second consecutive trip to the International Blues Challenge he made the finals in the solo/duo category. Where he was awarded the St. Blues Guitarist award for best guitarist.
THE FENIX PROJECT
The Fenix Project is a Portland based blues band that has entertained local blues audiences for over 15 years. Our weekly Wednesday show at Portland’s premiere juke joint, the Blue Diamond, is one of the longest lasting continuous blues residencies in the city.
Fenix Sanders has graced the stages of Portland with sultry saxophone and passionate gravel vocals for over a generation, but has not attained the accolades that such career longevity should provide. He is an underground favorite who holds court with a loyal fan base, and his mastery of a soulful blues saxophone envelops audiences with an energy that can only come from a life of living the blues.
Guitarist Jason Thomas gives the band a classic blues tonality that compliments Fenix’s raw vocals, and gives a fresh voice to the traditional blues guitar canon. Drummer Jeff Frankel provides a foundation that tauts his jazz chops, and lays the perfect groove for bassist Calen Uhlig to funk and swing the band to dance hall dizziness. On the Keyboards is Danny Barnett whose fingers create magic over the keys to auditory perfection.