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One of the city's biggest annual music events takes place this weekend as more than 120 unsigned blues acts from around the world descend on Beale Street to compete in the International Blues Challenge, an event put on by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. Acts from across the globe, each sponsored by a local blues society, will compete in three categories: Best Unsigned Blues Band, Best Unsigned Acoustic Act, and the Albert King Award for "most promising guitarist." In addition to the live competition, the Blues Foundation is introducing a new IBC contest this year for Best Self-Produced CD.

The competition, which in the past has served as a proving ground for contemporary blues stars such as Sean Costello, Susan Tedeschi, Tommy Castro, and Memphis' Richard Johnston, takes place Thursday, February 3rd, through Saturday, February 5th, at venues on and around Beale Street. Semifinal competition in both the band and solo/acoustic categories takes place on Beale Thursday and Friday. At 10:30 p.m. Friday at downtown's Cadre Building, finalists will be announced and blues star Deborah Coleman will perform. The solo/acoustic finals will then follow at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Center for Southern Folklore, with band finals at 8 p.m. Saturday at the New Daisy Theatre. Ten dollar wristbands will get you into all of the semifinal action on Thursday and Friday, but the finalists' announcement party and performances will cost a separate admission at the door.

Memphis will be represented this week by The Memphis Snake Doctors, who are being sponsored in the competition by the Center for Southern Folklore. The center will keep the party going Sunday, February 6th, with an afternoon performance by Israeli IBC competitors CG & The Hammer Blues Band. -- Chris Herrington

Is it fair to call Mountain a one-hit wonder? Sure, they've got a greatest-hits record out, but for the average mullet on the street, it's all about "Mississippi Queen." Do you know what I mean? It was 1970 when Mountain, led by guitarist Leslie West, hit the charts. It was a post-Hendrix, post-Clapton world that was just beginning to heat up to Led Zeppelin. It was okay for solos to take over a song, and throat-wrenching vocals were all the rage. Bubblegum like the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" was gumming up the A.M., and an American heartland that was just waking up to the horrors of Vietnam needed nothing more than a thick, greasy slab of mindless meat-head rock with down-home lyrics that suggest a template for Skynyrd while setting the tone for all things Doobie. And now West and Mountain are going to be at Neil's on Thursday, February 3rd.

Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Jimmy Crosthwait, Don McGregor, and Kenny Brown will play a benefit concert at Earnestine & Hazel's on Saturday, February 5th, for Dan Zarnstorff, who is battling cancer. Zarnstorff owned the old Loose End, a tiny Pinch District club (now home to Ramesses Shadow Tattoo parlor) that, during the late '80s and early '90s, was a dingy downtown haven for underground music. He was also a photographer who helped chronicle the Memphis music scene in the '60s and '70s. The musical lineup this weekend, taken as a whole, represents as close an approximation to the storied Memphis band Mudboy & the Neutrons as anybody is likely to catch this side of blues-rock heaven, with Brown standing in for the late, certifiably great Lee Baker. n --

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