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Local 128 makes sure kids get the blues

The Paisley Blues Festival team shows its gratitude to L-128 for stepping up to support a modified youth program, Guitar Lending Program for Youth, after COVID-19 forced the annual festival to cancel.

MOST PEOPLE ARE trying their best to chase the blues away amid the cancellations, distancing and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Local 128 (Toronto) wanted to be sure kids got the blues after a popular festival announced the show would not go on in 2020.

The Paisley Blues Festival is an annual event in Ontario that brings people of all ages together to celebrate the soulful music genre. The festival prides itself in being a family-friendly event, offering free admission for kids, inexpensive food and a Blues for Youth program. The idea, says festival president Max Johnston, is to make it as easy as possible for families to attend. That’s especially important, because the event’s youth program—which includes workshops and interaction with musicians—feeds into the local schools’ music programming.

L-128 has sponsored the festival for the past few years, making it possible to keep it affordable for families to attend. It’s an investment in the community.

 “We have a large presence in that part of the province,” says L-128 business rep Stirling Munn, noting that the Bruce Power Nuclear Generating Station is in the area. “There are a lot of Boilermakers within the community or who have moved into the community, so contributing to the program is literally getting to the roots of where we come from.”

The annual $1,500 sponsorship is one of many contributions the local makes in programs within communities throughout Ontario. Connecting and investing in the community has been, Munn says, probably even more important during the global pandemic.

 “When the Paisley Blues Festival 2020 had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, our organization still wanted to make a positive impact in our community and region, so our Guitar Lending Program for Youth was created, and our generous sponsors, including Boilermakers 128 make it possible,” says Johnston.

Through the Guitar Lending program, youth participants can sign out an electric guitar and amp for three months—free of charge. They also get free access to Fender Play, an online learning program. Since the kids couldn’t go to the festival this year, the festival’s youth program is literally being delivered right to the kids.

“The program utilizes electric guitars, as they are much easier for kids to learn on, requiring far less finger pressure to create sound than do larger acoustic guitars,” Johnston says. “Having free access to Fender Play lets kids learn in the comfort and safety of their own home. Quality, appropriately-sized equipment combined with a fantastic learning program will help youth fall in love with music.”

Munn says the program has “really struck a chord with members and the community—especially considering the pandemic environment.

“It’s a fantastic use of our donation. [The Paisley Music Festival] did a great job with it reaching the community.”

The Guitar Lending Program for Youth currently has a “fleet” of 25 electric guitars, amps and Fender Play accounts, allowing 100 youth to participate in the program throughout a year. Johnston says all the guitars were signed out within the first two days of announcing the new program.

 “Learning to play an instrument lets kids express themselves, teaches them self-discipline and achievement, increases their coordination, strengthens memory, concentration and attention, and improves social skills (when they join a class or band, and make music with others),” he says.