Iowan Kevin B.F. Burt plays blues joyfully, winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last year. Photo: Roger Stephenson


By Michael Morain

You know what gives Scott Allen the blues?

Folks who don’t like the blues.

The president of the Central Iowa Blues Society says, "Anybody who likes music has to like the blues. If they say they don’t, they don’t know what the blues is."

To see what he’s talking aboutand to make his dayhead to the annual Iowa Blues Challenge this weekend at the Des Moines Social Club. The event starts at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 8) in the courtyard (or the Kum & Go Theater if it’s raining) and wraps up five cathartic hours later, after you’ve had a chance to wallow in and ultimately transcend everything that’s been dragging you down.

Winners in both the solo/duo and band divisions will proceed to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where last year Kevin B.F. Burt of Coralville won the solo/duo trophy, out-bluesing competitors from all over the world.

This year’s Iowa registrations were slightly down, so the preliminary rounds in Davenport, Des Moines and Fairfield were canceled, and nine acts are going directly to the statewide showdown. They hail from Albia, Cedar Rapids, Decorah, Greater Des Moines, Fairfield, Ottumwa and the Quad Cities.

"You get to see bands from all over the state playing all different kinds of bluesrockin’ blues, swingin’ blues, gospel blues," Allen said.

That includes everybody from old-fashioned "Freight Train" Frank Strong of Des Moines, who plays guitar and a mean harmonica, to southeast Iowa’s John-Paul Jones Group, who specializes in the sort of "heavy blues" that appeals to fans of heavy metal and hard rock.

Allen himself first caught the blues bug as a teenager, when he started to spot names like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in the liner notes of his Led Zeppelin records. "I’m curious by nature, so I was like, ‘Who are these cats?’ " he recalls.

He was hooked by the time he saw "The Blues Brothers." Back then, he says, a lot of blues acts toured the country and booked gigs every night of the week. These days they spend more time on the festival circuit, from Las Vegas to Tampa to Duluth. In Iowa, they flock to the annual Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport and Blues Under the Trees in Fort Dodge.

But only the Iowa Blues Challenge offers musicians a chance to go to Memphis and record in one of Beale Street’s big-time studios.

"So do yourself a favor, and just come and enjoy it," Allen says. "It’s all about Iowa musicians competing to perform on an international stage."

Gates open at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Des Moines Social Club courtyard. (Bring lawn chairs; seating is limited.) $15 for adults, $10 for Blues Society members, free for kids under 12 who come with an adult;

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By Design presents dsmDining —

OMG! It's the Ocean Mixed Grill dinner for two at Bonefish Grill.

By Wini Moranville

Restaurant Week may be an ever-distancing memory, but if you’re still yearning for a three-course dinner for a good price, consider the OMG (Ocean Mixed Grill) dinner for two at Bonefish Grill. As a local food writer, I was given a chance to try this special as a guest of Bonefish Grill. Here’s the deal:

Available through September only, the three-course meal costs $49 (for two) and starts with a shared order of Bang Bang Shrimp, the signature appetizer of lightly breaded-and-fried shrimp and tossed in a spiced-up mayonnaise-like sauce. Yes, you’ll have to share, but one order is more than any two sane people should eat (I always eat too many of these).

Next, each diner can order a choice of Caesar salad, house salad or soup. While the Caesar was solid, the sweet, lightly bacon-y corn chowder with lump crab meat was the clear winner here.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of the main dish: Set in the middle of the table for us to share was a large rectangular plate of four differently topped fish and seafood items. These included snapper with chimichurri, cobia topped with fruit salsa, salmon with butter sauce, and a combo of shrimp and scallops topped with a pan-Asian sauce. Served alongside was another rectangular plate of jasmine rice, au gratin potatoes and crisp-tender broccoli.

The server brought two large dinner plates, so we could serve ourselves from the entrees and sides. The fish was all top-notch. Each was cooked to a perfect, moist medium, and we especially enjoyed the firm, flavorful snapper. The only section of the quartet that seemed out of tune was the shrimp and scallops. While serviceable, they just didn’t have the sparkle of the fish dishes.

The bottom line? Of all the chains in the Jordan Creek area, Bonefish is one of two that I’ll gladly go to (the other is Fleming’s). If you, like me, enjoy Bonefish, you’ll appreciate this special. P.S.: Arrive before 6:30 p.m., and you can enjoy house wine for $4 and select spirits for $5.

Bonefish Grill is at 650 S. Prairie View Drive, West Des Moines; 515-267-0064.

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An amazing home landscape started with the owner's Google search for "funky shed."


A whimsical cottage forms the centerpiece of an enchanting backyard in the Waterbury neighborhood. From that idea, a stream flowed and an enchanted woodland grew. See more and learn about the magical transformation of a family wonderland in this story from the current issue of dsm magazine.

Author and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain presents "The Future Starts Here" at Chrysalis Foundation's luncheon Sept.18.


Chrysalis Foundation’s annual aptly named Inspired luncheon—this year Sept. 18—always leaves us feeling exactly that way. We’re confident this year’s event will do the same: Tiffany Shlain, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, author and Webby Awards founder, will let us in on how "The Future Starts Here."

Known as a creative and fearless risk-taker, Shlain has produced works—ranging from films to TED talks to books—that explore complex and profound issues, such as cultural identify, gender, politics and technology. And she does so in ways that are provocative, enlightening—and even whimsical.

"How can we possibly make a difference in such a complicated world with so many problems?" Shlain has said. "The good news is, if you want to make change, just a small change can have a huge positive ripple effect. Because we are so connected, impact can spread far and wideeverything affects everything else."

Shlain, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, has been recognized with more than 80 awards from, among other organizations, the U.S. State Department, Sundance Film Festival, National Public Radio and National Geographic. Newsweek named her one of the magazine’s "Women Shaping the 21st Century."

The Sept. 18 Inspired event is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the CCCU Convention Center. Tickets are $75, or $60 for those age 35 and younger; the price includes lunch. For more information and to purchase a ticket, click here.

A chrome-plated swan tops the radiators of many antique Packards, pictured at a past Concours in Des Moines.


The Des Moines Concours d’Elegance, a showcase of gleaming classic cars, returns Sunday, Sept. 9, from 10 a..m. to 4 p.m. More than 150 elegant automobiles will encircle downtown's Western Gateway Park. The lustrous exhibit is free, produced by participating car clubs, and includes games and activities for children plus a midway of food, merchandise and service vendors. For more information, click here

"Finding Neverland" depicts the relationship between playwright J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up." Photo: Jeremy Daniels


The musical "Finding Neverland" comes to the Des Moines Civic Center Dec. 27-29. For other fun opportunities, explore a pair of easy-to-use online calendars. We at dsm magazine and the Business Record maintain this calendar with handy filters so you can see just the types of events you're searching for. For even more categories, check Catch Des Moines.

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