By Jackie Klapak
If you feel like you’ve been seeing the same faces at the same shows, you probably are. Unfortunately, it’s partially because there is an entire generation of audiences and players that are facing an institutional inability to see and participate in music in our city. With a lack of venue support for young and developing musicians, youth are unsure of where to go and how to start. But now the kids are making a comeback, and are prepared to promote and popularize the underage scene.
For about two hours on the third Monday of every month, down on the newly minted Music Mile, The Blues Can plays host to Blues’cool, a youth created and managed initiative which encourages people 21 and under to showcase their musical talents. It gives participants a feel for taking their talents from the bedroom to a real stage. It’s helmed by the Youth Musicians of Music Mile Alliance – who goes by the moniker YoMomma – which was created by Kate Stevens. An ambitious and vivacious 17-year-old singer-songwriter, she was driven by her own struggles as an underage musician and hopes to get more kids actively involved in the all ages scene.
“The goal is connect, educate, and perform,” Stevens tells BeatRoute. “We want to expand kid’s skills and confidence.”
With a desire to connect like-minded kids, Stevens and her YoMomma crew ‘band’ together to encourage those ready to take their favourite hobby more seriously.
“Playing my guitar is my way of life and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” says Stevens. “I don’t want to be just another girl with a YouTube channel. I want to be out there playing shows.”
The mission of YoMomma, with the help of the Music Mile, is to create an audience and a future by getting the underagers inspired and on stage. Music Mile is a non-government initiative grown from the streets of residential Inglewood, and for them it was only natural to make room for the kids.
“Music Mile didn’t create music in this stretch, we simply just but an amp on it,” explains Bob Charitier, the unofficial ‘Mayor’ of Music Mile.
“Music Mile is to say ‘live music is the king’ and making it accessible to kids and growing audiences.”
Blues’cool is the first youth inclusive initiative grown from Music Mile. Hoping to excite kids and get them playing, and having learned what it’s like to play as a serious musician from an early age, Stevens is also hoping to inspire adults. While it may seem “irresponsible” to let kids play at a bar somewhere downtown, Stevens and her self-described “mom-ager,” Lisa Phernambucq assure parents it’s completely safe. Getting kids doing what they love, and supporting them, is one of the initiative’s main goals.
The process of the jam is simple and has already proved to be a welcoming training ground for young musicians. Though Blues’cool has only been happening since September, musicians as young as 10 have continued to come out and surprise not only family, but audiences too, with their confidence and skill.
“Kids can come prepared, or hop on stage whenever they feel inspired,” Stevens attests. “It’s incredible to watch what these kids are capable of.”
With a regular crew of 10 kids of varying ages who routinely come out to jam with each other, the possibilities are increasing commensurately with the amount of jammers.
Despite the title of “Blues’cool,” the jam is not purely exclusive to those looking to excel in roots and blues. With musical talents ranging across genres, the aim of getting youth onstage is to let them experiment with their craft and find a unique sound they can call theirs. By having a judgment free zone for youth to play, comfortable and astonishing collaborations happen all the time, including an improvised swing version of The White Stripes Seven Nation Army.
With a continually growing audience courtesy of word-of-mouth and social media outreach through Music Mile, the jam has progressively brought in new faces, new sounds, and new styles. But this is just the start! Kate hopes to not only extend the jam to twice a month, but also move out into other communities and other stages.
“It’s hard to be a musician and a kid. We’re not allowed in bars, so where exactly are we supposed to play?” Stevens opines.
Although the initiative has already caught some attention, YoMomma isn’t yet close to where they want to be. They are currently seeking skilled volunteers, such as sound technicians and musicians, to help teach and inspire. More than anything, the organization is looking for open-minded venues.
The if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality is far from dead. With initiatives such as YoMomma, the potential to build a musically rich city that accommodates all ages is closer than we think.
Buy your kid that drum set or that Ableton live set-up, your new favourite musician could be the one you made yourself.
Blues’cool takes place monthly at the Blues Can (Calgary), the next edition is on May 15th.