Jackson County

Coast’s Libby Rae advances to semifinals in international contest

A Coast duo is headed to the semifinals in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Waking up Friday after a long night, Pascagoula’s Libby Rae Watson and Hattiesburg’s Wes Lee learned they have advanced to the semifinals and will perform Friday night at Peoples on Beale Street.

The pair — playing by the name Sweet ‘n Salty and sponsored by the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola — advanced from a rigorous double set on Thursday night, where they faced two separate sets of judges at Club 152 on Beale Street.

Watson got a text at 2 a.m. Friday, that they had made the semifinals.

This is the 34th year of the international challenge. Two years ago Watson made it to the semifinals and last year, Lee made it to the finals, both in solo acts. The finals will be Saturday at the Orpheum Theater.

Lee and Watson have played together within groups, as a duo and as solo acts.

“He’s a killer player. He’s also a great songwriter,” Watson said Friday. “Last night, we did a couple he wrote and a couple I wrote and some old traditional blues cover songs.”

The Indianola blues society is putting them up.

“Four nights in Memphis! We were winners before we got here,” Watson said. “If you make it here (to the IBC), no matter where you’re from, you’ve accomplished a lot.”

The solo/duo competition is especially tough, she said, with great players. The judges look at not only the music, but also how they relate to the audience, stage presence, guitar work and vocals.

They’re looking for people who can perform on a big stage and hold up to that professional ability, she said.

“We decided if we could hit the semifinals, we could hold our head up and know we did good,” she said.

They did and they have.

For the results of Friday’s semifinals, check out the International Blues Challenge website at https://blues.org/ibc-schedule-2018/.