The winner of the Solo/Duo challenge was established last night, before a full house, at the Pine Loft, in Berlin. Seven acts (preliminary winners) competed and all performed at the highest level. The audience appreciated the talent of each individual participating in the event. The duo of Ramblin' Dan Stevens and Clayton Allen won the competition, based on the scores of the experienced judges, using the criterion of the Blues Foundation, in Memphis.
RAMBLIN DAN STEVENS AND CLAYTON ALLEN - Dan Stevens is an acoustic bluesman, well known throughout the northeast, and a previous winner of this event. Clayton Allen has a unique style playing electric guitar and singing in a deep, bluesy voice. The two take turns on vocals and also blend well as a duet. They played homemade instruments (Dan playing slide on a cigar box guitar and Clayton playing a one string diddley bow and harp) on Lay My Burden Down. A highlight was the two singing the adventures of Dan's 88 Chevy Van. Dan is a master of the classic fingerpicking blues and they had an excellent rapport with the audience.
FRANK BREEN - Frank is an excellent acoustic musician, who makes the songs of the Mississippi delta come alive for our pleasure. He gives us a little history of each song which he delivers in a very authentic style. Excellent fingerpicking and a fine selection of songs by Lonnie Johnson, Tommy Johnson, and Charlie Patton. Frank's deep voice is well suited for these songs. He played slide and captured the emotion of Blind Willie Johnson's Dark is the Night. We are looking for Frank to be a leader in keeping traditional acoustic blues alive.
RON ANTHONY AND DENNY COLLINS - Ron is a previous winner of this event. He is known for his expert fingerpicking, deep soulful voice and fine songwriting. Denny provides excellent support on electric bass. Ron wrote Trepidation Blues for this event. Blues Over You had a nice swing, showing some jazz influences. He presented a country feeling, playing slide on Green Light. His only cover was a good version of Leroy Carr's Mobile Texas Line. They had a strong finish, with an uptempo traveling song.
THE REAL DEAL - The Real Deal is an exciting new act for this challenge. Dee Merchant plays electric guitar and has an outstanding singing voice. Al Dziedzic provides strong support on sax and harp. They have a unique look and Dee can really shout the blues. I'm So Good I'm Bad was an interesting song with some interesting tempo changes. Love Me Like A Man covered the Bonnie Raitt song, but was done in their own style. Another highlight was Sinners Prayer, featuring strong vocal and sax.
DAN LABICH - The room was very attentive to Dan. He played acoustic guitar and sang his original songs in a high, clear, strong voice. Dan started his set with Please Baby, showcasing his soulful voice and followed with the emotional Maybe Baby. Runaway Blues was an uptempo song before he slowed it down for Sweet Sylvia. Dan was new to this competition, but it was obvious that he had experience performing - based on his strong stage presence.
THE SAWTELLES - Peter Riccio (electric guitars and vocals) and his wife Julie (drums and vocals) are The Sawtelles, and have been in the challenge many times. They have fun and the audience picks up on the vibe. Their duet on Redemption is always a highlight–"Show me how redemption begins". Their only cover is a spooky version of Devil Woman. They closed with The Valley, which featured some nice slide guitar work.
DANNY DRAHER - Danny is a previous challenge winner, in the band format. He is an international musician, experienced in blues, jazz and zydeco. His voice is strong and he plays electric guitar with excellent tone and creative solos. He does a great version of Bobby Charles' Why Do People Act Like That. Going Upstairs was "stone blues". Another highlight was his slide work on Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go. - real Chicago Blues. And Danny has a fine collection of hats. [ ]