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Big bands still big in Quinte West

By Jack Carver

The big band sound of the thirties and forties will be alive and well in Trenton this weekend with the arrival of the Big Band Festival.

The bands contain 16 to18 musicians with singers, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and a rhythm section.

The festival features big bands such as the Brian Barlow Big Band, Swing Shift! and The Commodores’.

The Commodores’ has been in operation in the Quinte area since 1928, said band member Andy. And he is certain that big bands still have an audience.

“So big bands aren’t particularly popular theses days, certainly not like they were in the 40s,” said Sparling. “Back then you had thousands of these bands travelling across the country playing one-nighters or long engagements.”

“So now it’s just down to very few, it’s kind of a niche thing,” he said. “You still have people who are very passionate about and will come and hear these bands play when they can.”

Not only are the fans passionate, said Sparling, but the people who play for them are too.

“Those of us that are involved are extremely passionate about the music, we live it and breathe it,” Sparling said. “Its really a labour of love to put something together that will be enjoyed by the fans of the music of whom there are still a few around.”

Sparling said the Commodores’ are in the festival to show their stuff and, “play for people who really care about the music and to keep ourselves active and moving forward.”

Brian Barlow and Sparling come up with the idea a few years ago and formed a committee. They approached the mayor and he loved the idea.

Barlow said that the festival is less about nostalgia, and more about showing that young people are getting caught up in this too.

“I think we’re going to have a very wide age group coming to this,” Barlow said. “We have a group of swing dancers coming to this, and I don’t think any of them are over 30. I think there’s a wide appeal to this. I’d hate to have people think we’re only doing this to recreate the past, there’s more to it than that.”

Jim John, of the band Swing Shift!, said he also feels big band music is reaching out to a younger audience.

“Thanks to artists like Michael Buble and others that have come and gone in the past, Big Band music is being reintroduced to new generations,” said John. “And so we find that a lot of younger people do come out to listen to our music, not just the older crowd.”

John founded Swing Shift! in August of 1976. The band is coming up on their 17th anniversary next month.

Even though he is the last original member, John said most of the band has been around for at least 10 years and they, “have a lot of fun and enjoy coming out,”

He said he feels that talk about big band music going away just isn’t true.

“People over the years have spoken a lot about how this music has gone away, but that isn’t really true,” said John. “The music has always been around and had a strong presence; the audience has come and gone to certain degrees, over the years.

“We want to keep the momentum going, keep the music alive,” said John. “I enjoy performing, and I hope the audience enjoys our music. That’s really what it’s all about.”

If the festival is successful this weekend then the sound will stay alive for next year too, said special events coordinator of Quinte West, Colleen Vickers.

“We’re absolutely thrilled this is a new event, we’re hoping that it’s a huge success so we can carry on with it again next year and we have attracted an exceptional calibre of musicians,” said Vickers. “Making this an annual event is what were hoping for, we hope that it will grow and become more and more successful.”

Vickers said she thinks that events like this are good for community pride.

“Anytime that we can draw people into the area and create tourism dollars is a good thing,” said Vickers. “I think that events like this are really good because they bring the community out and it gets them together and allows for a bit of pride in the area.”

Admission for the festival is $15 in advance and $20 at the gate.  Tickets are available at the Quinte West City Hall, Season’s Dufferin Centre, Riverside Music and Pinnacle Music in Trenton.