Saugeen Shores in September means a Big Band Celebration – Part 1 of its history

September 20 – 22, 2019

The popular music performed in the dance pavilions gracing the Lake Huron shoreline from the 1920-80s was a cherished period of time for popular dance music and is what the Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC) after 25 years has become.

                                                   Dance floors are always filled when big band music plays

Many people reminisce that they found their true love at these summer dance pavilions. Combine warm summer nights at the beach, dancing under the stars to a beautiful love song or “struttin’ your stuff” to an up tempo barn burner, wonderful live bands, a summer romance or a good time with friends and you have the perfect summer evening with cherished memories in the wake.

Now celebrating its 25th year, the CBBC offers four main events – Friday Night Jazz, Saturday Big Event Afternoon Show, Saturday Big Event Evening Show, and Sunday Jazz Brunch, all from September 20th-22nd.

How it All Began (Part I)

The first Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC) was held on Saturday September 23, 1995 at the UNIFOR (formerly CAW) Family Education Centre Main Assembly Hall located in the beautiful Lake Huron community of Saugeen Shores, encompassing Port Elgin and Southampton Ontario.

Prior to the first CBBC event in Saugeen Shores, the local Stardust Big Band had been participating for a few years in Thornbury’s annual Canadian Big Band Dance Festival, which was established by Georgian Sound Big Band leader clarinetist/saxophonist Bob Cringan, a retired music educator from Toronto.

The success and popularity of the Thornbury event prompted Stardust band leader Charlie Bell and lead trumpeter in the band, Wayne McGrath, to investigate the possibility of bringing a similar big band festival to Saugeen Shores. In 1994, Charlie and Wayne began discussing the idea of bringing a similar festival to the area, with Family Education Centre manager Ken Oulette and Chamber of Commerce manager Connie Barker at the time.

Connie was enthused about the plan to bring musicians, music lovers and dancers to the community and Ken thought having the event at the CAW complex was “worth a try”. With the support of the CAW and Chamber of Commerce, a volunteer organizing committee was established that year to organize the first CBBC in Saugeen Shores. The volunteer committee consisted of big band enthusiasts; local businessman Peter Little Sr., Pat McGrath – it’s important to note here that Pat and her then late husband Emmett McGrath, himself an accomplished saxophonist/clarinetist, ran the Port Elgin Cedar Crescent Casino from 1944 -1968 which was one of the gems in the crown jewels of the dance pavilions along Lake Huron.  Members of the first committee were Connie Barker, Mini Jacques, Wayne McGrath, Charles Bell and Donna Kane.

Both the Thornbury and Saugeen Shores big band festivals celebrated big band music by inviting up to five big bands and their supporters from different communities to attend the festival. Dancers and supporters came from near and far and loved the variety of bands and dance repertoire while the band members got a chance to compare themselves to other bands and discuss a big band arrangement or two.

The format of the day included an afternoon and evening show where each band would perform a set of dance music. There were two stages set up so that, while one band was finishing its set, the other was setting up and ready to play. Between the afternoon and evening shows the musicians and their guests enjoyed a wonderful dinner buffet and some socializing. The break for dinner was seen as a time to meet and greet other musicians. Bands and their supporters hailed from across Ontario including the communities of Barrie, Burlington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kincardine, London, Peterborough, Saugeen Shores, Stratford, St. Catherines, Thornbury, Timmins and Toronto.

There was some friendly competition at the Thornbury festival whereby bands, vocalists and featured instrumentalists received awards from a panel of celebrity judges before the afternoon ended. In the case of the CBBC (Saugeen Shores) festival, the competitive component was not included.  Rather, celebrity hosts would choose their favourite song performed by each band during the afternoon performance and give a short description of why they enjoyed the song.

Thanks to a dedicated and hard working committee and the wonderful sponsorships from the Saugeen Shores business community, the 1995 first Canadian Big Band Celebration in Saugeen Shores was a success and was completely sold out with audience surveys requesting the committee offer the CBBC as an annual event.

For a complete schedule of events … CLICK HERE (allow time to load)