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Cascade Blues Association’s Journey To Memphis Finals

Over two nights in May, the Cascade Blues Association held their semi-finals round for the Journey to Memphis at the East Portland Eagles Lodge. Sixteen acts competed, playing 20-minute sets before three judges each night, for the opportunity to move on to the final round at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Thursday, July 4, on the Front Porch Stage beginning at 11:30 am. The winner of the finals will become the Cascade Blues Association’s, and the region’s, representative at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, in late January/early February 2020.

Past CBA acts have fared well in Memphis, including Karen Lovely, Ty Curtis, and Rae Gordon each taking home top prizes from the finals. Participation in the International Blues Challenge also brought Blues Music Award recognition with nominations for Ben Rice and Karen Lovely, and two award wins for Lisa Mann.

Schedule for this year’s Journey to Memphis on the Oregonian Front Porch Stage: 

11:30 PM

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. “The days of football practice after school were definitely over”, Johnny says, but music still provided an outlet for his infectious energy and his creative potential. Though his father’s instrument of choice and his early passion of playing drums were now out due to limited function, 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.

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.

2018 Muddy Award “Best New Act”

12:10 PM

The Fenix Rising band, is a dynamic, soulful rhythm and blues band led by saxophonist/vocalist Fenix Sanders. The band has held court in Portland’s most venerable juke joint, the Blue Diamond, weekly for nearly twenty years. Fenix, with his gravelly vocals and stirring sax, reveals the depth of emotion and experience of an authentic blues man. He is backed by a smooth and well-oiled rhythm section: Jason Thomas on guitar, Jeffery Frankel on drums, Calen Uhlig on bass, and Pat McDougall on keyboards.

12:50 PM

Vocalist Nikki Jones is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most exciting new talents to arise in recent years. Born in Beavercreek, Oregon, to a family of musicians, she has been singing and playing from an early age. In 2015 she began singing with bands in Portland, and in 2017 she moved to Salem, Oregon, where she assembled a group of talented singers and musicians that came to be known collectively as Riven. They performed all over Oregon at venues in Salem, Keizer, Newberg, and Dallas, before eventually making their way to Portland in May 2018 to compete in the Journey to Memphis competition. This event marked the beginning of Nikki’s own journey from rocker to blues singer, under the guidance of gospel blues singer extraordinaire Rae Gordon. In spring 2019, after numerous personal changes which left her as the band’;s sole vocalist, she began performing under her own name.


Not competing, but representing the CBA in Memphis as our Youth Showcase entry:

1:30 PM

Vancouver, Washington-based Generation Headstrong is quickly emerging as one of the area’s most explosive and captivating youth rock/blues cover bands. After meeting and playing in local music programs, this ambitious group took the stage together as an official band in February 2019. Generation Headstrong has performed numerous times at top local music venues including Billy Blues Bar & Grill and Heavy Metal Brewing Co. in Vancouver, WA, and A Beer At A Time in Camas, WA. Their crowd-pleasing, impressively complex song choices and delivery always leave the audience wanting more.

Generation Headstrong’s dynamic rhythm section is made up of two brothers, Jameson Fyfe (9) on drums and Bennett Fyfe (11) on bass guitar and lead vocals. Sharing the lead and rhythm guitar, Grayson Much (13) and Aiden Baird (13) bring together this group of four.