It took years before Jazz & Blues in the Village hit its stride and grew into one of Sarnia’s premier music events and fundraisers.
No one expected it would make money for at least five or six years, says long-time volunteer Connie Ellis.
“We really struggled at first when we held it in the municipal parking lot on Mitton Street,” she said. “We closed the street and the merchants weren’t happy.
“So we moved it to McGibbon Park and got smarter about it. We began bringing in better known bands.”
By 2010, Jazz & Blues in the Village had become a reliable fundraiser for S.O.D.A. (Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness) and a real attraction for music lovers.
Last year, a solid lineup of jazz and blues musicians drew about 1,500 people over two days and made $13,000 for SODA, even though it rained.
The event goes rain or shine and is held under big heated tents.
The money is used by SODA to help transplant recipients or people waiting for transplants with their bills, their living expenses away from home, and transportation.
Potential organ recipients are often required to live within an hour of the hospital and must pay for two residences. SODA sometimes helps with mortgage payments and utilities so they don’t lose their homes.
“We have two Sarnia residents living in Toronto right now and waiting for lung transplants,” said Ellis.
She became involved with SODA in 1996, about a year after receiving a new kidney.
“I’m one that wants to give back because I’ve been given this wonderful gift,” she said.
Awareness is also a big part of what SODA does and the group has made real headway in that department. It was announced recently that half of Lambton County residents have registered for organ donation at www.beadonor.ca. That’s well over the 31% provincial average.
Ellis is grateful for any offer to support the cause and is thrilled that one of this year’s festival performers offered to help out SODA any way possible.
Not only will Harpdog Brown & The Travelin’ Blues Show perform under the tent Friday night, Brown will also do a harmonica instruction at Great Lakes Secondary School Friday afternoon and SODA will talk to students about organ donation.
Brown was named Canada’s Harmonica Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016 at the Maple Blues Awards gala.
That’s the equivalent to Canada’s Grammys of the Blues, explained Ellis.
Friday’s lineup also includes the Smoke Wagon Blues Band, a five-piece Canadian outfit with international hits atop of the roots and blues charts.
On Saturday, Chris Murphy and Mardi Gras Mambo return to the festival to perform a tribute to the music of New Orleans with funky jazz and blues.
The Bruce Dean Quartet is also returning with a selection of modern jazz. New this year is 18-year-old Spencer MacKenzie from Niagara Falls, named New Artist of the Year at the Maple Blues gala for his contribution to the blues scene.
“It’s not what you’d expect out of an 18 year old,” said Ellis.
Teeny Tucker rounds out the Saturday night entertainment roster. Her voice is described as exquisite, strong and soulful. Teeny Tucker is someone Jazz & Blues in the Village has waited for years to book, said Ellis.
“We’re very excited about her vocal abilities and really strong blues.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 2017 Jazz & Blues in the Village
WHEN: Sept. 15 starting at 7 p.m. & Sept. 16 from 12:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.
WHERE: McGibbon Park on Lochiel Street
TICKETS: Available at www.jazzinthevillage.com. Weekend pass is $75 or $60 in advance. Separate evening and afternoon prices too. Also at Bank of Nova Scotia, The Eye Guy or the SODA office (519-344-7777).