All jazzed up for Jazz and Blues in the Village
TARA JEFFREY \ The Observer
This year's Jazz and Blues in the Village promises to be the best yet.
"Going into it, I think we're in our best position that we've ever been," said event chair, Frank Stewart, noting heavy corporate sponsorship and steady ticket sales.
The event, now in its seventh year, will feature two days of live entertainment including Toronto blues harpist David Rotundo and his band, Juno-award winning blues artist Julian Fauth, local acts Lit'l Chicago, the Dominant Seven Jazz Band, and more.
"It's more of a family-oriented event," said Stewart, adding that it's different from the typical, crowded concert. "It's more quaint. People just love the setting — especially with all the fall decorations."
The event — an annual charity fundraiser for the Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness Group — kicks off Friday, Sept. 17 at McGibbon Park, and runs through to Saturday night.
"We usually average about 500 people per session," said Stewart, referring to the Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening concerts. "But we have the capacity for 1,200, so we're hoping we can grow."
Some 150 to 200 volunteers help out with the festival, which also includes food vendors, 50-50 draw, and beverage tents.
This year, organizers really want to focus on educating the public, said SODA chair Connie Ellis.
"Our push this year is to really make people aware that this festival is not just about entertainment," she said. "It's about supporting organ donation and transplantation and patients."
In fact, the Jazz & Blues festival, along with SODA's annual golf tournament, have played a huge role in raising the group's profile in the community, said Ellis.
"They've really helped us in terms of awareness, which was our struggle for a long time. People didn't know who we were."
The non-profit organization, which is strictly volunteer-based, relies entirely on community funding for its operations, which includes providing financial assistance to local transplant patients and their families — including accommodations and transportation.
All the money raised stays in Sarnia-Lambton.
"I think that's something people don't realize," said Ellis. "That we can direct our money to cover non-medical expenses for those who are on the wait lists, or have had transplants."
SODA provides gas cards to patients traveling to and from appointments, and even helps with paying pills while patients can't work.
"With lungs and hearts, they have to be within an hour of the hospital, so they need to relocate to their transplant centre, which in most cases, is Toronto," said Ellis. "And we can help to cover the living expenses while they're there."
Currently, 1,600 people in Ontario are waiting for a transplant, according to the Trillium Gift of Life Network.
One organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives, and enhance as many as 75 more.
Last year, nearly 700 lives were saved thanks to 218 organ donations in the province — an increase of 17 per cent from 2008.
Still, 215 Canadians died that year while waiting for an organ.
"There's still a lot of work to do," said Ellis, referring to the group's ongoing awareness campaign, which includes visiting area high schools each year to discuss organ and tissue donation.
"When we go into the schools, we see an entirely different attitude today than what we would have seen, say, 10 years ago," she said.
"To the kids, it's a no-brainer; its just the right thing to do. Often, their main concern is that their parents wont do it.
"Getting families and people to talk about it is so important."
Meanwhile, Sarnia native Michelle Weber will be on hand at the Jazz festival to speak about her teenage son, Jamieson, whose organs went to six recipients after his tragic death two years ago.
"We're hoping to make $10,000-plus, and, out of the six years we've been doing this, that goal has been difficult," said Stewart. "But we knew it was going to be a work in progress.
"I think we've got a good plan in place now."
Staging the annual event has been particularly enjoyable for Stewart, whose entire family is involved in every aspect, he said.
That includes wife Donna, a SODA board member, and daughters Larissa, Calla and their friends, who help with everything from ticket sales, to working the "Hurricane Hut," the event's popular drink station.
"Anytime you can keep your kids involved in something, especially a charity like this, it's great," he said. "Hopefully it's something we can continue for years to come."
Jazz & Blues in the Village Schedule:
Friday night blues:
7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. — One Bald Tire
9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. — Julian Fauth
Saturday afternoon jazz:
12 p.m. — opening ceremonies
1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Dominant Seven Jazz Band
3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. — Dave Bennett's "Tribute to Benny Goodman"
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. — Dave Reddoch & the Johnny Bond Quartet
Saturday evening blues:
7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. — Lit'l Chicago
9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. — David Rotundo Band
Friday evening blues: $20
Saturday afternoon jazz: $20
Saturday evening blues: $20
Weekend pass: $45