Wasaga students schooled in the blues

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WASAGA BEACH, ONTARIO, CANADA – Wasaga Beach elementary students got a lesson in the blues this week. Mark ‘The Bird’ Stafford, one of a number of musicians in town for the Stonebridge Wasaga Beach Blues Festival spent some time in Birchview Dunes and St. Noel Chabanel in the lead-up to this weekend’s event, turning on a new generation to an old style of music.

Stafford runs a similar program in Port Credit as part of the Southside Shuffle.

“My role is to just have fun [with the kids],” Stafford told The Sun in an interview during the kick-off for the festival last month. “I’ve been in a lot of schools, with kids who have the blues, and those who have never heard the blues before.

“It’s just a matter of going in and having some fun with them, do a workshop, get them to sing a bit.”

Stafford hosts a ‘junior jam’ on Sunday at 1 p.m. on the main stage at Stonebridge.

Stafford’s main instrument is the harmonica, and he took the kids through a history of the harp, and some of the early blues players who made their mark with the instrument.

He also discussed a history of the genre, and its roots in the culture of African-Americans when they were first brought to North America as slaves.

“Out of their suppression came a music we now call the blues – and the harmonica was a big part of that,” he told Grade 8 students at Birchview Dunes on Tuesday. “It came out of hardship, and it also came out of a love of music.”

Birchview Dunes Grade 8 teacher Derek McLean, who is also a local musician, facilitated Stafford’s presentation at the school. McLean said the school already runs a guitar music program.

“Part of the program is to introduce the kids to different styles of music they might not encounter by listening to pop radio,” he said. “We thought it was a fantastic way to get them connected to a very important music style from the past, and the present.”

Blues festival chair Nancy Jarrell was excited to see the students take to the program.

“It’s roots music, and children are our roots, so it’s a great place to grow it. We’ve had the [festival] in Wasaga for five years, but we’ve never engaged the kids, so we’re hoping through programs such as Blues in the Schools, and an interest will grow there and maybe they’ll see the opportunities they may be able to participate in the festival.”

She hopes the festival can expand the Blues in the Schools program for future years, noting other programs provide harmonicas to the students through a sponsor, and teach them how to play; the goal is to bring the local Blues in the Schools program up to that level.

“It would be wonderful to do that,” she said. “We hope to be on board for that next year.”

The festival begins in earnest on Thursday night with a blues crawl, and the Boogie Woogie Blues Banquet on Friday; tickets for the banquet are $75. On Saturday and Sunday, the party shifts to Stonebridge, featuring performances by Canned Heat, Downchild Blues Band, Cheryl Lescom, and Monkey Junk

Ian Adams/Wasaga Sun

The Stonebridge Wasaga Beach Blues is Sept 17-20 held at the Stonebridge Town Centre, located at Stonebridge Boulevard and Main Street in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.


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