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Future of the BLUES

It was June 2010. Six-year-old Sadie Moss stood on the stage at the Blues From the Top Festival, looking out at a sea of people below.

“I was really nervous,” she said, retelling the story in a phone interview. “It was my first time performing in front of a large crowd.”

Joining her for that performance was harmonica player Curtis Delgado.

“I sang an original song,” Moss said. “Then I sang ‘Jesus on the Mainline.’”

“Music has been a part of my life since I was born. It makes me happy when I’m down and I really enjoy seeing the people who are there to watch me perform.”Sadie Moss

Festival organizer John Catt stood in the wings, watching, waiting and holding his breath, unsure of the crowd’s reaction.

“It became one of those moments frozen in time that was so entertaining and so magical,” he said. “It captivated the audience in a unique way.”

And then it hit him. This could work. This could really work.

“We realized there was entertainment value here that an adult audience would accept,” Catt said. “There are some boundaries you have to watch out for, you know, the line between musical and cute. When Sadie sang, I embraced it and realized this was acceptable at an adult music event.”

At that moment, the “Future of the Blues” stage was born. During the next year, as he traveled the country searching for blues artists to perform, Catt also took note of young talent.

“I started inviting them to Colorado,” he said. “It was an interesting experience for the parents. It helped them get used to the idea of a musician’s life: traveling and performing on the road.”

Once he found his lineup, Catt had to decide where the Future of the Blues performers fit. His solution: placing the young musicians on a separate stage as an intermezzo between the main acts.

“Instead of having canned music blasting from a megawatt PA system like they do at other concerts, which I’ve always personally hated, we could have live performers,” Catt said. “It’s become a real trademark of the Blues From the Top Festival.”

For the artists it’s an incredible experience. Not only do young musicians get a chance to perform; they learn how to behave in a festival atmosphere.

“There’s a certain standard,” Catt said. “Be in the right place at the right time. Be rehearsed and easy to get along with. Even though they are kids, they don’t have the luxury of behaving like kids in that setting. They have to be more mature and embrace that. Pay attention to your performance, take it seriously and cherish it.”

Even though it wasn’t in the original plan, including young musicians in the festival seems quite fitting. Ten years ago, Catt founded “Blue Star Connection,” a non-profit that donates musical instruments to local children’s hospitals in an effort to bolster music therapy programs. To date, the organization has helped more than 50 children’s hospitals and made a number of individual donations.

For Catt, it’s an interesting juxtaposition.

“There are kids on stage who have these dreams of performing, and then you see the kids who have dreams of simply living,” he said. “They want to be healthy and have a normal life again. One helps the other. I want the musicians to see it’s great to have dreams, but here is a kid who is dreaming of living to adulthood or trying to survive a disease. It provides perspective.”

This year, Sadie Moss will join 16 other talented young musicians, the youngest just 8-years-old, on the Future of the Blues stage. These artists will travel across the country, gathering in Winter Park for a chance to share their passion and creativity with the blues world.

For Moss, a singer and keyboardist who recently added the ukulele to her repertoire, there’s nothing quite like it.

“Music has been a part of my life since I was born,” she said. “It makes me happy when I’m down and I really enjoy seeing the people who are there to watch me perform.”

Each young musician will perform multiple times, playing solo or accompanying other acts.

“You get to meet people and make new friends,” Moss said. “It’s a chance to share your talents with other people and see how they perform.”

And this year, just like every year, John Catt will stand in the audience, waiting and watching, excited to be a part of the future of blues music.

“If you’re going to help children, the best way is to include them,” Catt said. “It’s the only way. We don’t do any Blue Star events without kids. They own this.”

The Blues From the Top Festival kicks off this weekend. Check out the festival website, http://www.bluesfromthetop.org for tickets and a schedule of performances.