What began as a challenge between a father and his son has morphed into the musical highlight of San Diego spring season. The 13th Annual Spring Harp Festival takes place on Saturday, April 7, at Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa, noon-6pm (springharpfest.org). The festival started as a collaboration between Chet Cannon, Budd Willis, and Harmonica John Frazer. The elder John remarked to his son, “If you are such a hot shot harp player, why don’t you have a harp competition to prove your merit?” The idea was then presented to Chet and Budd as the three brainstormed at a local restaurant. Budd knew about the amphitheater in La Mesa and after a quick visit to the site, the Spring Harp Festival was born. The onset of the gathering was meager, but the enthusiasm was, and still is, after 13 years, monumental. It is one of the few events that rely strictly on volunteers. No one is paid for any of the tasks involved from set up, sound engineers, video pros, photographers, emcees, musicians (even those traveling from far away), food sellers, raffle hosts, and the clean up crew all are contributors. The common thread of this annual celebration has one goal in mind: “to promote the understanding and appreciation of harmonica music and to pass on the love of the harp to the next generation.” Any monies raised during this event are channeled back into the community with recipients such as the Boys and Girls Club of La Mesa and the Blues in the Schools program, which is a subsidiary of the Blues Lovers United of San Diego. To date, the Spring Harp Fest has donated over 4,500 harmonicas to local youngsters. Funding was non-existent at the start in 1999. Since the crowds were sparse, no permits were required and the sound system was borrowed. The festival had more of a “jam” feel to it at that time. As more harp players assembled, bands were formed and those bands would return the following year to perform again. With the number of musicians ever increasing, the bar has been set higher as each year goes by. Notable harp players have included James Harman, Johnny Dyer, Bob Corritore, John “Juke” Logan, Al Blake, Johnny Maestro, Little Barry G, Billy Watson (who has never missed the annual party), Lance Dieckmann, Dane Terry, Dan Gage, Karl Cabbage, Steve Bulger, Zach Cole, Chet Cannon, Harmonica John Frazer, and many others. Along side of these virtuosos have been some of San Diego’s most stalwart players, ever present and willing to perform.
Expect nothing less this year as promoters promise the 2012 edition to be better than ever. Also on track for this year is a series of events leading up to the Saturday show, including seminars, drum clinics, harmonica jam camps, and a special show at the Marble Room in the Gaslamp Quarter (535 5th Ave.) on Friday, April 6. Dane Terry has dubbed this Harmonica Week and it will likely be established as such in the coming years.
Promoter Robb Bower, who joined the team in 2010, projects this year to have the largest attendance yet. National acts set for this April, include Rob Paparozzi, Bernard Purdie, Jason Ricci, and John Gindick, all of whom will participate in the gatherings prior to the Harp Fest. On Thursday, April 5, a family friendly music clinic will be led by Paparozzi and Purdie and held at the Rock and Roll San Diego Studios (3360 Sports Arena Blvd. Suite A). Topics cover techniques for playing, recording, and performance tips. These music icons have over 50 years of combined stage and recording experience. Parents are encouraged to attend with their children for this clinic. For further info contact Ric Lee at BayouBrothers@cox.net. www.robpaparozzi.com www.bernardpurdie.com
Friday afternoon the historic Lafayette Hotel (2223 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego 92104) will showcase the 2nd Annual Blues Harp Mini Jam Camp, led by John Gindick along with both Jason Ricci and Robb Paparozzi demonstrating techniques and coaching participants. For further info: bluesharmonicajamcamp.com/harpfest.html
The Friday evening concert features Paparozzi and Purdie as well as a multitude of musicians not yet announced. Attendees have said that the pre-show can be as impressive as the Saturday afternoon event, albeit without the sunshine, and it should not be missed.
One of the highlights of the Spring Harp Fest, although there are many, is the Unknown Player’s Jam, which grants any audience member a chance to take the stage for a $10 donation. This joyous competition has been dubbed the heart and soul of the event and the crowd is allowed to judge who the most entertaining player is. More than one winner of this challenge now fronts a local band, indicating the level of the participants. Both young and old alike enjoy this contest. And should your thirst for music not be quenched at the end of the Spring Harp Fest, an after party with the Cadillac Wreckers will be held at Lacy J’s, 8861 N. Magnolia Ave., Santee.
Further info can be found on the web: www.springharpfest.org.