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Return of Shoreline Festival Celebrates the Dance Hall’s Past

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Forgive me boy, is this the celebration of the Canadian Big Band?

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If you were in Saugeen Shores this weekend, you couldn’t miss it. Friday night, five bands played jazz and blues in three venues.

And on Saturday afternoon, music from the 1940s and 50s, like the famous big band Chattanooga Choo Choo with the line “pardon me boy”, will reverberate in the main room of Unifor, itself designed after the pavilions of Aged’s once-ubiquitous beach.

Two 17-piece big bands will play in the venue this afternoon, with Saugeen District High School doing the first set and then the Canadian Big Band, featuring Sonja Gustafson and Dan Hollin, playing the second.

“We had explosive crowds last night. It was packed,” said 26-year-old festival founder Charlie Bell. Ticket sales indicated there would be around 150 dancers this afternoon and around 200 tonight.

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This is the first big band festival in Saugeen Shores since COVID-19 hit in early 2020.

Festival music began as a celebration of big band music, danced to in the age of dance halls. He was born out of the Stardust Big Band who played the annual Thornbury Canadian Big Band Dance Festival.

Bell was the bandleader of Stardust, who, along with principal trumpeter Wayne McGrath, created the Canadian Big Band Celebration. It recalls the magnitude of the era, from the 1920s when the pavilions were built, to the 1980s when the last of the pavilions closed.

“They would have dances all summer, starting the weekend of May 2-4 and ending around Labor Day. And many, many people – like thousands – 1,500 in Sauble for example were in their dance pavilion on a Saturday night. . . in the 40s and 50s.

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“People really socialized and enjoyed going out and dancing. And they danced to the music of the day, which was more of a 40s big band,” Bell said.

The festival evolved after the first 10 years, adding music from Elvis and other rock ‘n roll, soul and funk from the 70s, and into the 80s, to appeal to a somewhat younger. And so on Friday night, there was jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, and outright blues.

In a nod to the aging group of people who appreciate the music of big bands, the big bands at the festival were moved to the afternoon, to accommodate older people who didn’t want to go out before 11 p.m., Rob said. Brignell, who MC is the big band shows.

Saturday night at the Unifor Hall will feature Lulu’s former house band, from the former Kitchener Concert Hall, The Lulu’s Band, with their horns Men in Black Brassline, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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Saturday at the Port Elgin Legion, the Roberta Hunt Trio will perform at 7 p.m. and electric blues guitarist Jack de Keyzer will play at 9 p.m. A live musical dinner will be presented at Ristorante Rosina from 5 to 8 p.m.

“There’s a real story in the dance and the music, the big bands, on the shore of Lake Huron,” Brignell said. “Dancing on the shores of Lake Huron began in the 1920s.”

The Oliphant Dance Pavilion was the first lakeside community pavilion in the area, Brignell said. It was built in 1921 and its lights were powered by lead acid batteries charged by a gas generator, a Bruce Peninsula news article said. That pavilion remains, serving as a yoga studio, Brignell said.

“But there were lodges at Oliphant, Sauble Beach, Southampton, Port Elgin, Inverhuron, Goderich, Bayfield, all the way to Sarnia. And bands came to play in all these pavilions and people came to dance,” Brignell said.

For more on the Canadian Big Band Celebration, see www.canadianbigband.com.

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