Local musician wins International Blues Challenge after 20 years of performing


Coralville musician Kevin Burt has earned the spot of Iowa’s representative blues musician.

By Sarah Stortz


Several years of performing blues has led Coralville resident Kevin “B.F” Burt’s work to be recognized on a global scale.

Burt won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, a few weeks ago, along with winning the categories of “Best Solo/Duo Guitarist” and “Best Harmonica Player.” He was the first contestant to ever sweep all three awards in the challenge’s 34-year-old history.

Burt’s professional career in music began in 1991, when he was the lead singer for a band called The Instigators. Since then, Burt has grown especially fond of the blues.

“I started hearing blues in everything I listened to,” Burt said. “If I sang you ‘Happy Birthday,’ it would come out as a blues song.”

Burt holds a special attachment to the blues because of its origins.

“People have a tendency to play down the significance of blues and its relevance,” he said. “It is the root of American music. Without blues, what we have with American music isn’t there.”

Wanting to broaden his horizons, Burt eventually learned how to play the guitar and harmonica. After going solo, he described himself as a “one-man operation” throughout the majority his career, with no manager or production team.

Burt dedicates a large amount of his time to music, and he performed more than 300 shows in the past year.

Outside of performing, he was contacted for a private audition for “America’s Got Talent” and tried out for the X Factor. However, he said, he thrives in local competitions, describing the prior auditions as nothing more than “game shows.”

Burt won the Iowa Blues Challenge in September 2017, earning him the spot of as the representative solo act of blues for the state.

For more of Burt’s music, click below to watch him perform.

Setting off to Memphis, Burt went up against some of the most highly regarded blues musicians from around the world. After his performance, he received two standing ovations.

“That was amazingly humbling,” he said.

Since earning the distinction, he has received several different offers to play in festivals located in 15 states. Burt said his increasing image may positively influence the current music scene.

“I’m hitting this mark at a good time, because as a society, we’re coming back to wanting something that’s real,” he said. “We’re starting to be OK with somebody that could be perceived as a nice person. That’s not a thing that’s out there that much.”

Matt Panek, the Instigators’ guitarist, said he thinks Burt was naturally set to win the competition.

“He does what he does, and he does it great,” Panek said. “Not only at playing and singing but relating to an audience, making them feel like they’re part of the program.”

Eric Madison, The Instigators’ drummer, shared the sentiment.

“He works really hard for what he does,” Madison said.

Mark Ginsberg, the owner of M. C. Ginsberg, has had Burt play in front of his business since it moved downtown in 1987. Ginsberg said Burt’s music has had a large impact on the Iowa City community.

“The Friday Concert series, the Iowa City Jazz Fest, and the Saturday Night Movie Series were all inspired by our affiliation and friendship with Kevin,” Ginsberg wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “This a well-deserved award and recognition for Kevin.”

Panek said he also values Burt’s musical contributions to Iowa City.

“It’s a treasure to have Kevin around here,” he said.

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