A blues guitar festival held March 17 in Walla Walla has sown seeds for even more music jams in the community -- and particularly one that would let young area musicians grow and multiply.
Robin Barrett, leader of the local Coyote Kings with Mush band, brought the Coyote Kings Invitational Walla Walla Guitar Festival to town and with it came a number of local and regionally popular blues bands.
When the music was over, trombonist Randy Oxford and members of his Puget Sound-area band turned on the lights of a number of young musicians who attended a post-festival tutorial called Blues 101 at Jacobi's Cafe.
Oxford and other musicians instructed the eight teens attending in style and technique, then handed out percussion instruments and encouraged participation.
A few youths grabbed their own instruments and jammed with the Oxford's band, and then received singing and songwriting advice from other musicians volunteering for the tutorial.
But when the teens heard Oxford say the town where he lives in the Tacoma area has a place where any kid can go and play with a number of people -- peers and adult musicians alike -- their "eyes lit up," said Kariann Savelesky, a recent Walla Walla Blues Society board member and co-organizer of Blues 101.
"'Oh, we need to do that,'" she said the teens exclaimed, among them her musician daughter Kristina.
And so it might be, with a little community help.
"That is something we're going to be looking for ... a restaurant or club willing to host one night a month for a youth jam," said Mike Hammond, a longtime board member of the Walla Walla Blues Society. He said he plans to bring up the jam idea as something the society could sponsor when members hold their next monthly meeting.
"We have a great number of young musicians with no venues to play," he said. "Let's make one."
The Blues Society for more than a decade has had bringing music to community youths in the forefront of its mission. It has worked toward maintaining support for maintaining music programs in schools and has backed that up by funding instruments for students.
Another local effort to support youth music is the Walla Walla Symphony-sponsored Rock 'n' Roll Camp, a free summer program supported by schools and business so 12- to 18-year-olds can learn music photography, journalism and new media components in addition to instrumental techniques.
And coming April 15 on the lawn of the YMCA is another new event showcasing young singers and musicians organized locally, the Sweet Onion Jam.
Savelesky, who with Hammond and Barrett organized volunteer help to put on Blues 101 -- which they intend to hold again next year -- said regular jams at community venues would add more opportunities in a town where many youths say there's nothing for them to do.
"It would be something led by an experienced musician so it's not all chaos, something led by an adult where the kids can go and have a safe, somewhat controlled environment," she said.
There's payoff for the greater community as well, not to mention several academic studies that show youths in music programs tend to score higher in reading and math tests.
"After my daughter and her friends picked up music from the annual Rock Camp, kids would go down to Main Street, open up their guitar cases and play for coffee money," Savelesky said. "They were out doing something for the public, something constructive for society instead of taking something away."
Said Hammond: "In a small community like this you get to see those kids where they are now after they've been furnished with instruments and opportunities to work with other musicians. There are a half a dozen youth groups out there now, playing before the public. Some where headed in a kind of wrong direction, and music has given them something to turn around and hang on to."
Thomas P. Skeen can be reached at 509-526-8320 or email@example.com.
For more information about the Walla Walla Blues Society, its mission, events and how to become a member, visit www.wwbs.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information about the Walla Walla Symphony's Rock 'n' Roll Camp, call 509-529-8020 or visit www.wwsymphony.com and click the "Program for Kids" tab.