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From Canadian Big Band Celebration

The popular music performed in the dance pavilions that graced the Lake Huron shoreline from the 1920s to the 1980s was a cherished time for many as well as for popular dance music and, after 25 years, is what the Canadian Big Band Celebration has become. Many people reminisce that they found their true love at these summer dance pavilions. Combine warm nights at the beach, dancing under the stars to a beautiful love song or struttin’ your stuff to an up tempo barn burner, wonderful live bands, a summer romance or a good time with friends and you have what was for many a perfect summer evening.

Now celebrating its 25th year the Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC) offers four main events, Friday Night Jazz, Saturday Big Event Afternoon Show, Saturday Big Event Evening Show, and Sunday Jazz Brunch, all happening in Saugeen Shores venues September 20 to 22.

How it All Began

The first Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC) was held on Saturday September 23, 1995 at what was then the CAW Family Education Centre (now Unifor) Main Assembly Hall in Saugeen Shores.

Prior to the first Saugeen Shores CBBC event, the local Stardust Big Band had participated for a few years in Thornbury’s annual Canadian Big Band Dance Festival, which was established by Georgian Sound Big Band leader clarinetist/saxophonist Bob Cringan, a retired music educator from Toronto. The success and popularity of the Thornbury event prompted Stardust band leader Charlie Bell and lead trumpeter in the band, Wayne McGrath, to investigate the possibility of bringing a similar big band festival to Saugeen Shores.

In 1994 Charlie and Wayne began discussing the idea of bringing a similar festival to the area with Family Education Centre manager Ken Oulette and Chamber of Commerce manager Connie Barker. Connie was enthused about the plan to bring musicians, music lovers and dancers to the community and Ken thought having the event out at the CAW complex was “worth a try." With the support of the CAW and Chamber of Commerce a volunteer organizing committee was established. The committee consisted of big band enthusiasts; local businessman Peter Little Sr., Pat McGrath who ran the Port Elgin Cedar Crescent Casino from 1994 to 1968 along with her husband Emmett McGrath; Connie Barker, Mini Jacques, Wayne McGrath, Charles Bell, and Donna Kane.

Both the Thornbury and Saugeen Shores festivals celebrated big band music by inviting up to five big bands and their supporters from different communities to attend the festival. Dancers and supporters came from near and far to enjoy the variety of bands and dance repertoire while the band members got a chance to compare themselves to other bands and discuss a big band arrangement or two.

The format for the day included an afternoon and evening show where each band would perform a set of dance music. There were two stages set up so that when one band was finishing their set the other was set up and ready to play. Between the afternoon and evening shows the musicians and their guests enjoyed a dinner buffet and some socializing. The break for dinner was seen as a time to meet and greet other musicians. Bands and their supporters hailed from across Ontario including the communities of Barrie, Burlington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kincardine, London, Peterborough, Saugeen Shores, Stratford, St. Catherines, Thornbury, Timmins and Toronto.

While the Thornbury festival included friendly competition whereby performers received awards from a panel of celebrity judges, the Saugeen Shores event did not include a competitive component and instead celebrity hosts would choose their favourite song by each band during the afternoon performance. Thanks to dedicated volunteers and support from local businesses, the first CBBC in Saugeen Shores was a success and a completely sold out event.

It became clear to the CBBC committee that celebrating popular dance music from the 1920s to 1980s was not complete without including a tip of the hat to the local shoreline pavilions which including Kincardine Pavilion, Inverhuron Pavilion, Cedar Crescent Casino (Port Elgin), The Breakers Annex (Southampton), Sauble Beach Pavilion, and McKenzie’s Pavilion (Oliphant).

In 2010 two local history enthusiasts, Larry and Julie Cardif, wrote a one act play based on the anecdotal accounts of locals who once attended the dances at the local dance pavilions during the Big Band Era, the 1930s and 40s. The play was entitled, “A Good Time at the Dance Hall”. Popular music of the Big Band Era was added to the play and it wasn’t long before the play was presented at the Bruce County Museum as a venue for the Friday Night Jazz event.

In addition to the play local visual artist Linda Bester was invited to share her watercolour depiction of the Sauble Beach Dance Pavilion as well as create on site her interpretation of a big band performing at Saturday’s Big Event. In 2012 Ken Thornburn, a local artist, created depictions of Port Elgin’s Cedar Crescent Casino.

Canadian Big Band

Big band music can be challenging to perform especially when using original arrangements or transcriptions from the Big Band Era. Finding a group of 17 musicians to perform the music is in itself a challenge. By 2010 the local big bands participating in the Canadian Big Band Celebration began having difficulty maintaining the specific instrumentation required to perform this challenging music. As such, after 25 years, the local Stardust Big Band, also the host band for the CBBC, performed its last gig in Thornbury in April of 2011, resulting in the establishment of the Canadian Big Band in 2011. The band includes many of the finest jazz and big band instrumentalists in Canada performing some of the very best big band dance repertoire available including more contemporary arrangements as performed by the likes of Michael Buble, Diana Krall and Paul Anka.

Since 2011 special guest vocalists from near and far have been featured with the Canadian Big Band including Carol Welshman, Heather Bambrick, and local crooners Rebecca Binnendyk, Ethan Salmon and this year Aria 21, a local ensemble, will be featured singing hits of the Andrews Sisters.

The Lulus Band

2011 also marked the year the CBBC committee approached the very popular Lulu’s Band and Men in Black Brass to perform the Classic Rock hits of the 1950s through the 1980s at the Saturday Big Event. The show was a resounding success with an overflowing dance floor of boomers struttin’ their stuff to the popular music of their youth. The committee felt they had hit a home run with the changes and the audience comment cards overall gave a big thumbs.

Today, crossing many generations of supportive music lovers and musicians, an arts-friendly business community, a host of community volunteers and local service clubs, the CBBC is truly a local celebration of our cherished musical heritage.

CBBC 25th Anniversary Line-Up

CBBC's 25th anniversary edition is set to kick off with Friday Night Jazz, September 20. Hop on the SS Trolley at 7 p.m. at the CIBC corner in Port Elgin or 7:30 p.m. at the Southampton Post Office and travel to any of the five jazz and blues venues in Saugeen Shores. Shows begin at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. depending on the venue and ends at 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. In Port Elgin, the Queens Bar and Grill presents the nine piece Noodle Factory Jazz Project (jazz and rhythm and blues), Chester’s Bar and Grill presents Howlin’ Dog Vintage Jazz, and The Wismer House presents Bobby Dean Blackburn and Sons (blues, soul and rhythm and blues). In Southampton, Duffy’s Fish and Chips presents Tyler Goertzen Trio (jazz standards), and the Walker House presents Sarah Jerrom and Friends (jazz standards).

Both Saturday events take place at the Unifor Main Assembly Hall. On Saturday the afternoon show will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. where the Canadian Big Band with London crooner Sonja Gustafson, Saugeen Shores’ crooner Ethan Salmon, as well as Aria 21, a local trio performing an Andrews Sisters tribute, are set to perform.
The Saturday night event happens from 8 p.m. to midnight with The Lulu’s Band with Men in Black Brass and a salute to Elvis with Peter Irwin.

Wrapping up a busy weekend, enjoy a fabulous Sunday Jazz Brunch in the UNIFOR Dining Room from 11 a.m to 1:30 p.m. while listening to the fabulous jazz group, Midnight Ramblers.

For more information and online ticket purchasing, visit www.canadianbigband.com[http://www.canadianbigband.com/] or call the Saugeen Shores Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-387-3456.

Aria 21

Aria 21, a local ensemble will be performing a Tribute to the Andrew Sisters with the Canadian Big Band Saturday afternoon, September 21. From left, Christina Edwards, Megan DeJager, and Liz Coates.

Attachment 8

Kerry Jarvis photo

Attachment 10

Kerry Jarvis photo

Men in Black Brass

Men In Black Brass, from left, Cam Porter, Charlie Bell, Ian Burbidge, Wayne McGrath, and Peter Rissi, will be performing with The Lulu’s Band at the Canadian Big Band Celebration Evening Show September 21. CBBC photo

Sonja Gustafson

London crooner Sonja Gustafson will be performing with the Canadian Big Band Saturday Afternoon Show September 21. 


Peter Irwin as Elvis and The Lulu’s Band leader Mike Oberle will be performing at the Canadian Big Band Celebration evening show September 21. Kerry Jarvis photo

Bobby Dean Blackburn

Bobby Dean Blackburn and Friends. CBBC photo

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