Talking With 2018 Telluride Blues Challenge Winner Alex Paul

Each year, the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival’s Telluride Blues Challenge invites undiscovered and unsigned solo blues talent to test their skills against a field of blues musicians. Artists from all over the country submit recordings for a chance to be selected as one of six finalists, earning them an invitation to compete for glory in front of a crowd and a panel of judges at the Telluride Blues Challenge Finals at the Festival’s Blues For Breakfast. The winner receives a premium Martin guitar provided by Telluride Music Company, a 20 minute set to perform on the Main Stage at the current year’s Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, a full 60 minute set on the Blues Stage at the next year’s Festival, a two night performance on the Durango Blues Train the following year, and a $300 cash prize.

The 2018 Telluride Blues Challenge winner is Alex Paul! Alex is a longtime Southwest Colorado resident and was one of the first locals to ever win the Challenge. With a diverse repertoire of covers and original material and a contagious energy to his live performance, Alex draws listeners into his musical world. Following his winning set at the Blues Challenge, we sat down to chat with Alex, read the interview below.

Where are you from? How long have you been playing music/ the blues for? What artists are your influences?

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado and have been living in Southwest, Colorado for the last 9 years. I asked my dad for a guitar when I was 13 and we went straight to a local music store. That was 23 years ago. Every time I hang out with my dad he mentions that that was one of the best decisions he ever made.

My influences include Taj Mahal, Mandolin Orange, Charlie Parr, Andrew Bird, Jim Croce, Paul Simon and so many more.

Congrats on winning the 2018 Telluride Blues Challenge! How did it come to be? How did you hear about the competition? Did you think you would make the finals and win it when you entered?  How did it feel to win?

Thanks! I was hanging out at Telluride Music Company one day in late June and Tom Nading told me about this competition and encouraged me to enter. I did some serious woodshedding over the next month and was able to write and record two new original songs just for the competition. It was a really cool challenge to write within the constraints of genre and time frame and I was really happy with what I was able to create.

I had no expectations after submitting the songs and was thrilled to make it into the finals! It was such a solid group of musicians and everyone had a lot to offer. I was happy with my performance but felt like the judging could have gone so many ways. I had a lot of friends in the crowd showing support and it was a crazy, surreal experience to be announced as the winner among such a talented lot. It was really a well-orchestrated competition and event and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

How was your festival experience? From the competition, to your Main Stage performance, to your favorite acts - What were your “standout” moments?

The Telluride Blues & Brews Festival is something I look forward to every summer and to have been a part of it in this capacity was really special. I don’t think many things in life will compare to that first experience of playing on Main Stage in front of that many people, friends and strangers alike. I’ve had so many of my most memorable musical experiences in Telluride’s Town Park and to get to be on that stage right before JJ Grey & Mofro and Robert Plant was pretty all-time.

We're looking forward to having you at next year's festival and on our Durango Blues Train this spring! Is this the most unique place you’ve played? Does it stack up to a moving train? I hear you lived in Durango for a few years- Is exciting to play in event back in town?

I think the Durango Blues Train will surely be one of the most unique places I’ve played. My dad was a train nut all growing up and we had a really elaborate model railroad set in my house as a child. I never imagined that my affinity for trains as a wee lad would translate into a performance like this so many years later.

I still have a really solid community of friends in and around Durango and am very much looking forward to sharing my tunes with a lot of them on the Blues Train!

Do you have any advice for musicians who are thinking about entering the Telluride Blues Challenge this year?

The criteria for judging is laid out explicitly and the most heavily weighted category is blues content. I highly recommend anyone thinking about submitting to keep that in mind. That said, I encourage anyone interested to do the work and submit some songs because it’s an incredible competition and such a solid group of people involved with putting it on.

Watch Alex Paul perform aboard Colorado’s best moving musical experience on the Durango Blues Train on May 31 & June 1, 2019. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, February 13 at 10 am (MT). You can also catch him at the 2019 Telluride Blues & Brews Festival on September 13-15 on the Blues Stage.

Think you have what it takes to compete in the Telluride Blues Challenge? Entries for the 2018 Challenge open Wednesday, April 11, 2019.