By Jen Van Tieghem
The sight of children and dogs running about, the scent of freshly cooked food filling the air and the sweet sound of harmonica-laced music reaching the ears of the community; this is just a bit of the fun-loving scene one can expect from the 16th annual Spring Harp Fest taking place on Saturday, April 4.
Started by local musicians “Harmonica John” Frazer, Chet Cannon and Budd Willis, the festival has always been held at La Mesa’s Harry Griffen Park, on Milden Street near Grossmont High School. In addition to being dog friendly, the park has ample space and parking with an amphitheater ideal for musical performances. Frazer also noted that Harp Fest organizers purchased an alcohol permit so attendees can bring adult refreshments.
The common thread in all of this is for everyone to have fun and either gain or continue an appreciation for the harmonica. While the event is free, there is a suggested donation of $10. The proceeds from these donations, as well as the sale of raffle tickets and food (including pizza plates and Hodad’s burgers) and the Unknown Players jam (more on that later) will benefit Blues Lovers United of San Diego’s Blues in the Schools Program. The funds will help “fulfill a mission to promote, educate and pass the love of the harmonica on to the next generation,” said Marketing and Sponsorship Coordinator Mary Lewis in a written statement.
The money will be used to buy harmonicas for school children and hire instructors for them, Frazer said.
This year’s festival is scheduled to kick off at 10 a.m. with opening remarks and vendors opening for business. Frazer mentioned that past vendors have included sellers with apparel and handcrafted items, food vendors with kettle corn and various other treats, booths with CDs by the performers and a harmonica museum.
Of course, one of the main draws of the day is the music. The lineup of this year’s talents will begin at 10:15 a.m. and continue at regular intervals ending with an all-star jam at 6 p.m. There will be over a dozen performances in all. One surefire highlight will be headliner Kim Wilson at 4 p.m. Wilson is a blues singer and harmonica player best known as the frontwoman for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Local talents on the bill include Chet and the Committee, featuring event organizer Chet Cannon (1 p.m.); event co-founder “Harmonica John” Frazer himself (5:30 p.m.); and bluesman Billy Watson (1:45 p.m.).
Between bands there will be raffles for prizes donated by community members. Previous donors have included Lee Oskar Harmonicas and Moze Guitars.
Another highly anticipated feature of the day is the Unknown Players Jam (12:15 p.m.) wherein players of all ages give a $20 donation to participate. The players then get a chance to wow the audience with their harmonica skills — we hear the kids do exceptionally well at this. The winner of the jam gets to take home a trophy and bragging rights.
If you’re a fan of harmonica or just interested in a great weekend outing for the whole family, the Spring Harp Fest should offer plenty of enticement. Event shirts, hats and necklaces will also be on sale for more fundraising opportunities.
Since the harmonica is also known as the “blues harp,” we had to ask: Should we expect only blues music at Harp Fest?
“You will have to come and find out,” coaxed “Harmonica John” Frazer. “All I guarantee is that there will be a harmonica player in every act!”
—Jen Van Tieghem covers music for La Mesa Courier. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.