SPAH - Every Harmonica Player Should Go to This Event
If you’ve never heard of
you’ve just never heard of the
BIGGEST HARMONICA CONVENTION
I’ve dreamt of going since I first learned about it in the early 2000’s. And this year, I decided:
I’m doing it.
I scheduled the time to leave my family and fly 4000 miles to St. Louis to join 400 other harmonica enthusiasts for a week of all things harmonica.
So what’s the deal? Was it worth it?
Should YOU consider going next year?
I had to arrive a couple days late to the event. When I arrived at the hotel, one of the first people I ran into was Skip, a student of my Beginner to Boss course.
Skip told me that this was his first time at SPAH. I told him it was my first time too, that I’d just arrived, and energetically I inquired what his experience of the event had been thus far?
Well, he replied, I’ve discovered this:
people who play the harmonica
are HAPPY people.
I was delighted to hear his response. I could tell he was having a total blast.
Nevertheless, arriving at my room alone, jet-lagged from my long red-eye flight, I found myself feeling resistant to the thought of doing anything except for lying down and going to sleep. I thought to myself, “what am I even doing here?” The answer would soon become clear…
Here’s the 5 things I LOVED about SPAH:
The first events I was there for were a couple of concerts: Joe Filisko and Eric Noden’s “Roots Duo” followed by Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind. Here’s my response:
Both of these performances were incredibly impactful and vastly different from one another.
All the concerts were greatly diverse in styles: Blues, tango, jazz, folk, fusion, soul, rock, experimental, classical - you’d be hard-pressed to think of a genre that wasn’t represented in some way by one of the performing artists.
I had never really seen a harmonica concert before, and I can earnestly say:
My life was forever changed by the concerts I attended.
They inspired me beyond words.
2. VENDOR BOOTHS
One large room in the hotel was dedicated to about a dozen vendors who’d set up booths.
There were all kinds of cool harmonicas and harmonica accessories to get to try.
Meeting actual people from the big companies like Hohner was fun, as was meeting the proprietors of small companies like Lone Wolf BluesCompany and Blows Me Away Productions.
Confession: I left the event with a suitcase full of impulse buys.
(I’ll write more about those in future newsletters. )
Workshops were held all throughout the day from about 8-5. There would typically be 3-4 workshops happening at the same time on a wide variety of topics.
Confession: I missed most of the workshops due to the aforementioned jet-lag which had me waking up at noon.
But the workshops that I DID go to DID NOT DISAPPOINT!
My favorite was one with Jerry Fiero who’d studied with the great blues harmonica player Sonny Terry. Jerry was 18 at the time, and he had the tape recordings from the lessons.
We got to hear highlights of what it was like to learn at the feet of one of the harmonica’s greatest masters of the 20th century. It touched my heart to hear these recordings.
Many people I spoke with were enthusiastic about their experiences of various workshops. I also attended one of Tod Parrot’s classes called “Checkerboard Blues” which was geared toward beginners wanting to be able to make their own blues solos, and I found it to be quite a brilliant approach to thinking about building blues vocabulary.
Workshops were led by top tier harmonica masters like:
… Jason Ricci, Will Wilde and that’s just to name a few. These top harmonica artists were also hosting…
4. JAM SESSIONS
After the concerts would end around 10:30 pm, there were jam sessions scheduled until 1:00 in the morning!
There was one room for country jamming, one for blues, one for gospel… Rank beginners and total pros all getting together, hanging out, having fun, and … jamming.
But the coolest story to tell you is that beside these scheduled events, there were also small, informal, spontaneous jam sessions happening seemingly everywhere in the hotel and on the grounds.
I’m not exaggerating when I say on my way from my room to the concert hall I would easily pass 6 of these small spontaneous jams.
There was nowhere in the hotel you could go without hearing the sound of people playing the harmonica. They were still going strong when I headed to bed around 2:00am!
I never could have imagined anything like it.
5. MEETING COOL PEOPLE
Without a doubt the best part of SPAH for me was meeting new people.
Yes, meeting today’s superstars of harmonica like Madcat, Buddy Greene, Todd Parrott, and Will Wilde was thrilling. But equally thrilling was meeting total beginners and people I’d never heard of but with whom I share a passion for harmonica.
I met harmonica enthusiasts from Hong Kong, Mexico, Australia, Germany, and India.
I was shocked how many of the people with whom I spoke said this was their first time attending the event. I asked EVERYONE I talked to if they were planning on coming back next year, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them responded with a resounding YES. You better believe I’m planning to go again.
Next year is in Tulsa, Oklahoma on August 13th 2024 by the way. You can join SPAH here. I hope to see you there next year!
If you’re jonesing to have an experience like the one I’ve described, and you don’t wanna wait until next year, you could consider a much smaller version of it, Todd Parrott’s Carolina Harp Fest, coming up in Charlotte, NC October 18-21. Will Wilde, Roly Platt and many other top tier players and instructors will be there.
OR if you’re closer to Lousianna, you might wanna check out Blown Away on the Bayou which features several harmonica instructors including the preeminent Joe Filisko.
Every once in a while I like to remind you that we don’t do no paid promotions yo!