Harp Fest fundraiser at Tio Leo’s with all-star lineup
by BART MENDOZA
Published - 03/15/19 - 08:06 AM | 1917 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Billy Watson
Billy Watson
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For Southern California harmonica enthusiasts, there is no greater event than “Spring Harp Fest,” happening April 20 at La Mesa’s Harry Griffen Park. Now in its 20th year, on that date more than 1,000 fans of the “Mississippi Saxophone” will gather to hear some of the countries best players, but first, on March 24 there will be a special afternoon fundraising concert at Tio Leo’s.

Beginning at 4 p.m., blues fans will be able to take in an all-star lineup of Chris Fast Band with Mercedes Moore, Bonneville Seven, Harmonica John Frazer, The Bayou Brothers With Karl Dring and Billy Watson.

The versatile portable instrument can be heard everywhere from garage rock such as The Loons to soul classics from Stevie Wonder, but perhaps has the closest relationship to the blues. While a harmonica isn’t as glamourous as a keyboard or guitar, event co-organizer Ric Lee notes that it’s still a very popular instrument. Perhaps best known as drummer for Cajun/zydeco band, The Bayou Brothers, Lee has been involved in the event since the beginning.

“It’s always been used in a variety of musical styles,” Lee said. “Anybody can play it, it’s used a lot in the blues, but appears in a lot of music. Bands use it as a lead voice.”

He considers the fest an important step in keeping the instrument in the spotlight and exposing it to new generations of musicians. “The event has grown ten fold in the past 20 years, but it’s a pro concert, produced by non pros,” joked Lee. “This pre-concert benefit is to help cover administrative costs for the Fest,” he continued. “

The Fest itself is all volunteer, including Bud Willis, Harmonica John Frazer and my wife, Karen Lee. It’s about a dozen people all together, plus a boy scout troop that helps with parking. However, the costs associated with this sort of show continue to rise, so something like this is needed.” All musicians at the fundraiser are also donating their services.

Funds raised through the fest go to Blues Lovers United of San Diego, which promotes the youth programs, Blues In The Schools and BLUSD Summer Blues Camp. For Lee, the hard work by all plays a big part in helping keep a musical art form vital, by bringing it directly to young listeners.

“We are run on a shoestring budget, but it’s really important to keep the blues going, especially when there is no music in many schools,” he said. “When performers take the music into the classroom, I see a lot of little lightbulbs go off,” he enthused. “With students, we include blues in many forms, including everybody from W.C. Handy to Muddy Waters, from Stevie Ray Vaughn to B.B. King. The blues is the root, music is the fruit.”

While Lee is happy to be spreading interest in the harmonica, he also notes sentimental reasons for his continued involvement in Spring Harp Fest. “It’s where I took my wife on our first date,” he said. “I told her I was taking her to this harp concert. I then told her I wouldn’t be able to see her much because I would be playing drums at the show. Then I asked her if she would mind bringing some food for the folks.”

Luckily for Lee, his future spouse was up for the challenge. “She jumped right in to help and has since become the queen of backstage over the years. “I do the front of the house, she has the back of the house, it’s our community service,” Lee remarked good naturedly. “It’s been very bonding.”

Harp Fest Fundraiser: Sunday, March 24 at Tio Leo’s, 5302 Napa Street. 4 p.m. 21 and up. www.tioleos.com
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