Blues folk back for more head-cuttin'

In the early days of blues, it was called "cuttin' heads," a practice in which performers squared off onstage, musically speaking, to compete for the favor of the audience and perhaps a bottle of whiskey. Atlanta's contemporary equivalent is the Atlanta Blues Society's annual Blues Challenge, which takes place Sunday at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Ten local acts vie for cash prizes — best band, $1,000; best solo act, $350 — and the opportunity to compete in January's International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Judges choose the Memphis-bound winners, and audience members select a "People's Choice" winner, who will claim a $500 prize.

This is no mere neighborhood bar showdown. Atlanta's Delta Moon won last year's Blues Challenge in Charlotte (which preceded the Atlanta event), then won the international competition and soon graduated to festival-level gigs. Delta Moon's Gina Leigh recalls performing at the Memphis competition: "Each time we won a round, we were floating a bit higher. Winning was a great shock, for me. Afterward, the guys naturally said they knew we'd win, but I never had a clue. It was an extraordinary high."

This year's lineup includes Motor City Josh, Heaven Davis and the Aggravating Papas, the Blues in the Alley Band with Candy Man, the SaNa Blues Band, the Ken Rhyne Band, Nicole Petersen.

The Blues Challenge 2003 takes place Sunday 1-9 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall. For more information, visit www.atlantablues.org.