Although Jason Vivone and The Billy Bats didn’t advance past the first round of the International Blues Challenge last week, the group with Independence ties still emerged with increased exposure and a new fan base.
With a sense of humor, Vivone (the band’s lead singer, guitarist and songwriter) said Monday that not making it further in the competition wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“There’s no issue there. There are an extreme amount of talented people who didn’t,” Vivone said. “Looking at the amount of stress that some of the bands who made it had, I’m kind of glad we didn’t. I can say that now. The amount of pressure at that level must be tremendous.”
Last September, The Billy Bats qualified by winning the local round for the International Blues Challenge. The 29th Challenge took place Tuesday through Saturday in Memphis, Tenn., with the competition’s top honors went to Atlanta musician Little G Weevil and Florida group Selwyn Birchwood Band.
The quarterfinals took place Wednesday and Thursday evening.
“I felt good about our set. The greatest part was that there was no one there like us,” said Vivone, who also competed in the International Blues Challenge two years ago as a solo artist. “It was fun that our little mix of gospel energy and cigar box guitar in a blues energy could play with the more textbook examples that are out there.”
Additionally, on Thursday afternoon, The Billy Bats played a separate showcase with the blues and roots publicity firm, Blind Raccoon.
“They’ve been helping to get our CD played all over the world, actually,” Vivone said of the Blind Raccoon, which currently features The Billy Bats’ latest album, “Lather, Rinse, Repeat,” on its website among the likes of Buddy Guy. “We got to play for quite a few industry types there – journalists, producers and a bunch of radio guys.”
It’s too early to tell whether The Billy Bats will try to qualify for the competition again, Vivone said. The sextet has a new album in the works, which could go toward the Best Self-Produced CD category at the International Blues Challenge, Vivone said.
“We may look at something like that this upcoming year,” he said. “We’ll see.”
The Billy Bats' six-member lineup includes three graduates of Independence high schools and several current Independence residents. A couple dozen fans also followed the band to Memphis.
“It was funny to play the showcase with Memphis locals and industry officials,” Vivone said, “and then look out and see the people we usually see every Friday night out there beside them. In a way, they are our greatest spokespersons.”
The band’s appearance in Memphis has provided a definite boost, Vivone said. On Monday, The Billy Bats reached No. 1 for Kansas City in the Blues category on ReverbNation, a website that helps music industry professionals manage and promote their business.
Page 2 of 2 - “People from all over the world are looking at us,” Vivone said. “We’re the most observed band in Kansas City right now.”
Last month, The Billy Bats also were in the Top 25 in Living Blues magazine, a publication that Vivone called “the epitome of integrity.”
“To just even have our name mentioned in there is a big deal,” he said.
The Billy Bats’ focus, now that the competition is over, includes working up new material for their next album, as well as scheduling more out-of-town gigs and music festival performances. For Vivone, the best part of the experience was gaining new fans who had never heard of the group until local press covered The Billy Bats leading up to last week’s competition.
“It’s great to come home to a lot of new fans,” he said. “Just like Dorothy said in ‘The Wizard of Oz’: ‘There’s no place like home.’ It was fun there, but it’s great to be back.”