It was nearly a year ago that guitarist Satoru Nakagawa, bassist Yukiko Fujii, and drummer Kosei Fukuyama made what turned out to be a fateful 13-hour trip from Boston to Marietta to play in the 2010 River City Ohio Blues Competition.
"We didn't know what to expect," Nakagawa said. "But we came, played for 20 minutes, and won."
Their band, the Tokyo Tramps, was back in town Friday, performing at the Adelphia Music Hall on Second Street.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
ABOVE: The Tokyo Tramps, winners in the group category at the 2010 River City Ohio Blues Competition, were back in Marietta Friday, playing their unique style of blues for the crowd at The Adelphia Music Hall.
"We were surprised - this venue didn't even exist when we were here last year," Nakagawa said of the music hall.
The hall was packed as the Tramps joined fellow blues-makers and 2010 duo competition winners Bongo Joe and Little Steve-O of Akron for a "Memphis Bound Get Down" performance.
The event was a fundraiser to help foot the bill as both groups head south next week to compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.
Upcoming blues events:
Tokyo Tramps, winners of the 2010 River City Ohio Blues Competition, will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday at a fundraiser for the Campus Martius Museum, 601 Second St., Marietta.
The 2011 competition is scheduled for Feb. 18 and 19 at the Lafayette Hotel in downtown Marietta.
Winners will compete for cash prizes and local Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society sponsorship to the International Blues Challenge in 2012 in Memphis, Tenn.
For more information about the competition and upcoming events, visit www.bjfm.org
The River City Ohio Blues Competition is the oldest and largest blues talent competition in Ohio, with 18 competition slots to be filled by blues acts from Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states.
"We're just looking to have a great time and meet a lot of people in Memphis," said acoustic guitarist Bongo Joe Bongiovanni.
His partner, vocalist and harmonica player Little Steve Fine, agreed.
"We've never been to Memphis, but we'd really like to win there," he said.
Both groups have been playing together for some time.
Nakagawa, Fujii, and Fukuyama, all natives of Japan, had never performed together until they met while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston.
"The majority of what we play is our own, although we do perform some covers of songs by artists like Muddy Waters," Nakagawa said.
He's lived in the U.S. since 1990, and spent five years in Louisiana before moving to Boston where he studied songwriting.
Fujii began playing bass in Japan, but gave it up to work on schooling there, then moved to Boston where she studied voice.
She and Nakagawa were dating and performing in their own bands when he learned she played bass guitar and asked her to join him.
Fukuyama came to Berklee in 2001 to study - what else? - drums, although he had been performing in some sort of percussion since middle school in Japan.
The Tramps have recorded five CDs, and Nakagawa said in addition to competing in Memphis they hope to make some connections with others in the recording industry.
He said their music doesn't fit any single description.
"We take it from many different styles of blues," Nakagawa said.
Fine and Bongiovanni have been a duo for the last three years, but both were initially playing in a four-man band in the Akron area.
"We have a passion for the blues and like playing together," Bongiovanni said.
A guitarist for 25 years, he originally hails from the Bronx in New York City, and moved to the Akron area in 1992.
Fine, from Mayfield Heights, said he moved through various styles of music, including heavy metal and rock, before finally settling on the blues.
"This music just feels right for us," he said.
In addition to the competition, the duo also plays three to four nights a week at various venues in the Akron area.