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Oshawa Jazz and Blues Festival

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Jazz and Blues…

Several months ago an acquaintance told me about this great jazz and blues festival in Oshawa. She thought it was really great, but she was prejudice, she was the founder and organizer, Kerri King! Kerri even sent Judi and I an invitation to the Oshawa Jazz and Blues Festival's Media Launch Party, which was held in mid June at the General Motors Centre. We had a wonderful time. The festival organizers did everything right, super music, great food and short speeches. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. At the launch party the festival organizers told us all about the events that were going to take place during the week long festival, a Jazz Dinner Cruise, a Keynote Talk and Performances, a Jazz Divas Showcase, a Swing Night, a Jazz and Blues Crawl and finally a free main event Jazz and Blues Concert in Memorial Park. It all seemed too good to be true, but it wasn’t! Although we weren’t available for the weekday events, we were able to visit the festival on Saturday. We arrived at the park a little after the starting time of 11:00am. Memorial Park is not a large space, but today it was loaded with plenty of interesting activities. After circling the park a few times, we found a parking spot that was quite close to the park. After parking the car and gathering up our festival gear (folding chairs, camera, water, etc.) we walked the short distance to the park. The music hadn’t started yet, so we set up our chairs and started to investigate the festival grounds…

The Walk About…

Festival attractions surrounded the Bandshell. We start our explorations to the east of the Bandshell. Most of the arts and crafts were located here. The area wasn’t large, but it contained a number of booths, selling such items as jewelry, art and hand bags. From the arts and crafts we moved on the semi-circle path back towards the western part of the park. Lining the south side of the walkway were more attractions. First there was a small stage (more later), then food vendors, an energy drink booth and a health spa exhibit. Further on there were more food vendors and then a series of Rogers displays. This was the Rogers kids’ area. They had a number of activities for kids including face painting and balloon bending. Completing the semi-circle were several more food booths. The festival information booth was located just to the west of the Bandshell. During our walk about Judi and I were each searching for something to eat for lunch. Judi chose a “Smoothie”, not very filling! I chose “Pulled Pork on a Bun”, very filling! Along the way we ran into Kerri a number of times. She and the Oshawa Jazz and Blues Festival staff were making sure everything was running efficiently. We started to return to our chairs just as the first performers were tuning their instruments. Let the music begin…

The Side Stage…

The really great thing about the Saturday Main Event was that there were actually two stages. There was the main stage and then there was Steve’s Side Stage. The side stage performers entertained while the main stage was in transition. The side stage performers were great! The first group that played was from the area and they were very good. The next group on the side stage was Chris McKhool’s FIDDLEFIRE Kids Concert. This man was an entertainer supreme. It was amazing what he could do with a fiddle (violin). He had the kids up dancing and participating in playing his and his group’s music. He may have been playing to the kids, but the parents and adults loved it too. I think the audience was really sorry when he had to stop for the next main stage performance. Little did we know that we would see a lot more of Chris later on. After Chris there were two performances during the next break. It was all for the kids, jumping up and down, sing along, magic! The kids loved it and so did everyone else in the audience. The final sessions we saw feature another local group. The lead vocalist was a sensation. He could really belt-out a song, so much so that the upcoming main stage performer commented on it. The side stage was certainly a hit…

The Main Stage…

After our tour around the park, we came back to our chairs. The Swing Shift Band was about to begin. The band was a large ensemble of very gifted musicians and the tunes they played were classic, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey to name a few. The audience loved them! It’s amazing, that even though these were older songs, they transcended time and were enjoyed by old and young alike. Next up was Laura Gauthier. Laura is a very talented singer songwriter. She and her band performed many of the songs she had written. You could see that the words of her songs came straight from her heart and soul. Too soon her segment was over. Mark “Bird” Stafford was our third performer. Mark’s musical instrument is one that every kid would love to play, a harmonica! And play it he could! The sounds that came from under his hands (and the harmonica) were fantastic. Mark and his group played and sang a wide range of tunes and when the performance was over, he left the audience wanting more. The final performance that we stayed for was none other than Chris McKhool! This time he was on stage (the main stage this time) not as FIDDLEFIRE, but as one of the “Sultans of String”. The Sultans of String  is made up of 3 Toronto musicians, Chris McKhool (violin), Kevin Laliberte (guitar) and Drew Birston (bassist). Together they set the stage on fire with their music. The all perform superbly individually and together. The Oshawa Jazz and Blues Festival was certainly full of great music, but one that needs to be attended in person. Words simply can’t replace the real thing!

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