Jackson County

Update: Libby Rae thanks fans for support after Memphis blues challenge

Video: Libby Rae Watson performs at International Blues Challenge

Pascagoula's Libby Rae Watson performs in Memphis at Silky O'Sullivans as part of the International Blues Challenge.
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Pascagoula's Libby Rae Watson performs in Memphis at Silky O'Sullivans as part of the International Blues Challenge.

PASCAGOULA -- Coast blueswoman Libby Rae Watson advanced to the semifinals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis on Friday, playing late Friday night in that round.

This is her second year to make the semifinals in the annual competition. She learned on Saturday morning that she did not advance into the final round of the challenge, but she said on Facebook that she was "already a winner."

"Still a lot to do and people to see!!" Watson posted. "Like the sign at Miss Polly's sez .. Love, Peace and chicken grease!"

Earlier this week, she advanced through two performances at Beale Street venues. She's representing the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola, where she won the regional Blues Challenge as a solo act in November.

The 32nd annual International Blues Challenge took over Beale Street this week, attracting performers from around nation and the world.

Watson, a Pascagoula native, has been playing the blues for 40 years.

But she got her real direction in the genre at 22, when she met Sam Chatmon, a highly regarded longtime Delta bluesman. He became her mentor and friend, though their styles are somewhat different.

"He and I just clicked and bonded," she said. "He'd teach me licks and we'd talk, just conversation. It wasn't all about the music. There were life lessons.

"I'd say, 'Sam, I can't play it like you.' And he'd say, 'You ain't supposed to -- you ain't me.'"

She developed her own style. It was more like "country blues -- acoustic guitar on the porch," she said.

There are so many categories of blues -- folk, country, primitive, Chicago, rock and so on -- being represented at the international competition this week.

"But I'm with the people BB King learned from," Watson said. "Where it all started" before the blues scene migrated to Chicago, gathered in groups and moved onto electric guitars.

"It's tough competition up here," she told the Sun Herald on Friday morning from Memphis. "There are a lot of good musicians."

Three judges rank voice, guitar skills, interaction with the audience and other aspects during each level in the competition, which started Tuesday with 257 musicians.