Congratulations to the 2021 Iowa Blues Challenge Solo/Duo champions Buckmiller / Schwager! They will represent Iowa at the 2022 International Blues Challenge to be held January 18 – 22, 2022 on historic Beale Street in Memphis, TN. Runner up was Dewey Cantrell and third place went to Frank Strong. Get more info about the IBC at

Thank to Mark Lage for the wonderful performance photos!


September 19, 2021
2 PM @ Lefty’s Live Music

Join us for the 2021 Iowa Blues Challenge on September 19, 2021 at Lefty’s Live Music in Des Moines, IA. This is a FREE event starting at 2PM. This year’s challenge consists of four Solo/Duo acts and the performance schedule is as follows.

2:00-2:30 Nate Croson
2:45-3:15 Dewey Cantrell
3:30-4:00 Frank Strong
4:00-4:30 Tom Buckmiller and Brian Schwager

Participating acts will be vying for a prize package that includes cash, opportunities for paid gigs (including but not limited to the 2022 Winter Blues Fest) and travel expense stipend for the 2022 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, presented by The Blues Foundation.

The Central Iowa Blues Society is an Affiliate of the Blues Foundation, which produces the annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. The International Blues Challenge will be held January 18- 22, 2022.

2021 Iowa Blues Challenge Sponsors

Iowa Public Radio, Sonic Factory Studios, Rieman Music,
VividPix & Design, Southeast Iowa Blues Society
and presented by the Central Iowa Blues Society


2021 Iowa Blues Challenge Participants

Nate Croson
2:00-2:30 – Solo/Duo

I’m 35 and live in my hometown of Newton. I started playing blues guitar when I was 18 and have been recording myself and posting to the internet since I was 20.  My biggest influences are John Lee Hooker, Fred McDowell, and Junior Kimbrough.

Dewy Cantrell
2:45-3:15 – Solo/Duo

Dewy Cantrell is a blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter form Des Moines, IA. Originally influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter, along with the British invasion of blues influenced guitar rock of the 60s and 70s, he first picked up a guitar more than 50 years ago and has never put it down since. He loves blues and blues-based rock but has really embraced finger-style acoustic blues over the last decade. Dewey’s songwriting covers the spectrum of emotion and life experiences- from the good times to pain and loss, to sentimental, to tongue-in check humor. “Hardly a day goes by without picking up a guitar and just picking a few tunes just for the sheer love of music.”

Frank Strong
3:30-4:00 – Solo/Duo

“Freight Train” Frank loves to play the blues on guitar and harmonica. Frank has been performing Blues for over 40 years. Frank is a member of the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.

Tom Buckmiller and Brian Schwager
4:00-4:30 – Solo/Duo

The Buckmiller/ Schwager duo have been busy playing shows all over the Des Moines Metro including the 2019 Winter Blues Fest Sponsored by Central Iowa Blues Society. Tom Buckmiller, in conjunction with the Blues class he teaches at Drake University, has written three blues books featuring artists, fans, and venues. Brian Schwager is a sought-after guitar player and has played with several acts in the area. The duo also plays together in Tom Buckmiller and the Tone Tailors and have played WaukeePalooza, the Oahe Blues Fest (Pierre, SD), Rock and Rumble (Yankton, SD), The Summerdaze Series (West Des Moines), and other big shows.

Call for Acts

Acts in the Central Iowa Blues Challenge perform for a panel of independent judges and are scored using the same criteria used by the Blues Foundation at the IBC. You can find the rules and criteria at: The highest scoring act in each category will be our representatives.

Download Application

Application submission begins August 9, 2021
Application DEADLINE is September 1, 2021

NOTE: the application is a fillable PDF. You will need to save to your
device and then complete it and SAVE again to retain the information.
Once completed and saved, submit with your high resolution photo.

Please contact the Iowa Blues Challenge Chair with questions.
Julie Spong — 515-401-8495 or

How to Compete – Important Information

  • Up to FIVE Bands will be chosen to participate
  • Up to FIVE Solo/Duo acts will be chosen to participate
  • Only Acts with a COMPLETED application will be accepted; meaning all sections of the application must be completed and photo submitted. Don’t delay; we are accepting the first FIVE completed applications for each category, and then no further entries are allowed.
  • Applications are available HERE.
  • Applications will be accepted starting August 9th, 2021. The last date to submit applications is September 1st, 2021. Completed applications should be emailed to Julie Spong at


  • An act may enter the IBC a maximum of three times after which they are no longer eligible
  • An act may not participate In the IBC three consecutive years
  • Acts are limited to the state of Iowa

Performance Categories

  • Band: any act with more than two members
  • Solo/Duo: any act with only one or two members

Equipment Provided

  • A PA system, mic, drum kits and throne
  • Drummers may bring their own throne, cymbals, snare, and kick pedal

Time Limits

  • Each act is allotted 25 minutes for their performance. Timing begins when the first note is played
  • Please review all rules and scoring criteria at