Walla Walla Blues Society — 20 years and the beat goes on


WALLA WALLA — There may not be a cake, but the Walla Walla Blues Society’s 20th Birthday Bash promises to be a sweet treat for local blues lovers.

After two decades of playing blues, bringing in bands and promoting music in local schools, the Blues Society has booked Boston band The Love Dogs to headline the Friday shindig at the Elks Lodge.

The anniversary of the Blues Society has given its members a chance to reflect on all the group has accomplished.

Founded in the early 1990s, the group initially came together after someone burst in the door of The Green Lantern and announced that a blues band was playing down the street.

After enjoying the concert, current Blues Society President Patty Keyes asked the organizers when the next band would be coming into town.

Hearing that there were no future plans to do so, she got together with a group and formed the Blues Society.

The group received nonprofit status in May 1995, with the simple goal of spreading the joy of blues music to Walla Walla through education and by booking more bands to play here.

“I didn’t think it would last this long,” said Keyes, who has served as the president, vice-president and secretary of the group at various times. “We all put $50 in the pot and got it started, and every once in a while we’d have to put another $50 in to keep it going.”

She recalled that once during her time volunteering for the society, a visiting band ended up sleeping in her living room because they’d had a few gigs canceled and couldn’t afford a hotel.

Since those shoestring beginnings, the organization has grown substantially, though Keyes said The Love Dogs still stay with her when they’re in town.

While booking concerts remains a significant goal, the society now devotes much of its time and energy to promoting music in local schools.

Their Blues in the Schools program brings live music into the classroom to expose students to it early in life, while their Instruments for Kids program provides opportunities for students who want to play music but can’t afford an instrument.

Unlike other programs that simply loan instruments, the Blues Society allows students to keep theirs provided they continue the study of music. J.W. “Torch!” Davis, who ran the program for nearly 10 years, said providing instruments allows all students equal access to the benefits of music.

“It’s well-documented, it’s scientifically researched, that if kids have musical training they’ll do better in every aspect (of school),” he said.

As the program’s coordinator, Davis said much of his time was spent convincing people to part with old instruments from high school that were sitting around gathering dust.

“Kids light up when they actually see the instrument they’re going to get,” Davis said. “To see what happens to their faces ... that’s what makes it all worth it for me.”

Mike Hammond, who currently runs the Instruments for Kids program, said he’s seen students who have gone on to play in successful bands in town.

“Some of these kids we’ve provided instruments to, I’m now booking,” said Hammond. “That’s the kind of thing that gives you goosebumps.”

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.


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