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The Karen Lovely Band hits high note

Good fortune and success are whirling around local blues vocalist Karen Lovely and her band, and the dust may never settle.

Lovely's band, featuring guitarist Joe Diehl, drummer Teri Coté, bassist Bob DiChiro and keyboard player Allen Crutcher, took first place early this month at the annual Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, guaranteeing the group a slot at the International Blues Challenge to be held in January in Memphis, Tenn.

The Karen Lovely Band was nominated to compete at the Cascade Blues Association's Journey to Memphis competition held in June in Vancouver, Wash., and was among the top four bands that went on to compete at the Waterfront festival, where they went up against regional blues artists such as Colin Lake and Wellbottom, Franco Paletta and the Stingers and Son Jack Jr.

"Some of the best music I've heard in my life was there," Lovely says. "The bands were judged on blues content, vocals, talent, originality and stage presence. We won for best performance and best band."

It's a win that not only puts them in Memphis next year, but also takes the Waterfront Blues' prize money and other awards — including a place in next year's festival.

Karen and her band were the last to perform at the competition in Portland, and within minutes after the show the group was announced as the winner.

"We played six songs at the festival," Lovely says. "The judges were up and dancing after two songs. We debuted a new song called 'Knock, Knock, Baby' that Allen and I wrote, and that song got a standing ovation. That was a big highlight for us. And that song is going on my next record.

"After the announcement, people were lined up three-deep for photographs and autographs. We sold all of our CDs. It was wild," Lovely says. "We were jumping up and down."

There was more good news during the band's drive home to Ashland. Lovely received a call from Nashville music producer Eddie Bayers.

"He said he'd just gotten out of a meeting with Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson," Lovely says. "He said Delbert heard my CD 'Lucky Girl' and loves my voice. He wants to record a duet with me written by Nicholson. I got goose bumps. I've been listening to Delbert's music for years."

McClinton is a three-time Grammy-winning country blues artist who has recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Tanya Tucker. Nicholson is a hit songwriter, a two-time Grammy-winning producer and a session guitarist. He was nominated to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

When the Karen Lovely Band travels to Memphis to compete at the IBC, it will go up against blues musicians from around the world for cash, awards and industry recognition. Clubs up and down Beale Street will be crammed with competing blues acts, with the finals held at the historic Orpheum Theatre.

During the last three months, "Lucky Girl" was No. 1 on Sirius/XM satellite radio's Bluesville channel. Lovely's band will record with Richard Cousins and Jim Pugh of the Robert Cray Band in July in Los Angeles. In August, the band will perform at the Klamath Blues Festival, the Washington Blues Festival, the Britt Festivals and at a benefit for Habitat for Humanity with the Ty Curtis Band — the second-place winner at the 2009 International Blues Challenge.

"We're working on new material and getting ready to go all the way into Memphis," Lovely says. "I think our biggest strength is that we play from the heart, from our souls and we have a lot of fun.

"Winning the opportunity to go to Memphis is my biggest thrill yet," Lovely says. "That and the fact that my mom, my brother and my daughter were at the Portland show wearing Karen Lovely T-shirts."