Tuning up for Canadian Big Band Celebration

The dance floor was jammed with swirling couples at the First Canadian Big Band Celebration Sept. 23, 1995 in Port Elgin. CANADIAN BIG BAND

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The popular music performed in the dance pavilions gracing the Lake Huron shoreline from the 1920-80s was a cherished period of time for popular dance music and is what the Canadian Big Band Celebration after 25 year has become.

Many people reminisce that they found their true love at these summer dance pavilions. Combine warm summer 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 the perfect summer evening with cherished memories in the wake.

Now celebrating its 25th year the CBBC offers four main events, Friday Night Jazz, Saturday Big Event Afternoon Show, Saturday Big Event Evening Show, and Sunday Jazz Brunch, September 20-22, 2019.

The first Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC)was held on Sept.  23, 1995 at the UNIFOR (formerly CAW) Family Education Centre Main Assembly Hall located in the beautiful Lake Huron community of Saugeen Shores, encompassing Port Elgin and Southampton Ontario.

Prior to the first Canadian Big Band Celebrationevent in Saugeen Shores, the local Stardust Big Band had been participating for a few years in Thornbury’s annual hitch 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 bandleader 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”.
Following the support of the CAW and Chamber of Commerce a volunteer organizing committee was established that year to organize the first Canadian Big Band Celebration in Saugeen Shores.
The volunteer committee consisted of big band enthusiasts; local businessman Peter Little Sr., Pat McGrath – it’s important to note here that Pat and her then late husband Emmett McGrath, himself an accomplished saxophonist/clarinetist, ran the Port Elgin Cedar Crescent Casino from 1944 -1968 which was one of the crown jewels of the dance pavilions along Lake Huron. The first committee also included Connie Barker, Mini Jacques, Wayne McGrath, Charles Bell and Donna Kane.

Both the Thornbury and Saugeen Shores big band 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 and loved 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 wonderful 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. Catharines, Thornbury, Timmins and Toronto.

There was some friendly competition at the Thornbury festival whereby bands, vocalists and featured instrumentalists received awards from a panel of celebrity judges before the afternoon ended.  In the case of the CBBC(Saugeen Shores) festival the competitive component was not included, rather, celebrity hosts would choose their favourite song performed by each band during the afternoon performance and give a short description of why they enjoyed the song.

Thanks to a dedicated and hard working committee and the wonderful sponsorship from the Saugeen Shores business community the 1995 first Canadian Big Band Celebration in Saugeen Shores was a success, completely sold out with audience surveys requesting the committee offer the CBBC an annual event.

Celebrities CBC Host Kathryn O’Hara (left), musician/compose/ educator Ken Bray and Actress Dinah Christie enjoyed the First Canadian Big Band Celebration Sept.23, 1995. CANADIAN BIG BAND

Canadian Big Band organizer Charle Bell entertained a toe-tapping crowd during last year’s Friday Night Jazz performance. SHORELINE BEACON FILE PHOTO Canadian Big Band