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Popular jazz and blues festival helping boost organ donor rate

Tara Jeffrey Organizers of Sarnia’s premiere jazz and blues event say it’s come a long way in 15 years.
Award-winning blues artist and fan favourite Spencer Mackenzie, 18, is returning to Jazz and Blues in the Village. Photo courtesy, Lou Sprenger

Tara Jeffrey

Organizers of Sarnia’s premiere jazz and blues event say it’s come a long way in 15 years.

“Who would have thought at that first festival in a parking lot in Mitton Village that we’d be where we are today,” said Connie Ellis, of the 15th annual Jazz and Blues in the Village, Sept. 14-15 at McGibbon Park.

“We haven’t been without our struggles… but the people who have supported us keep coming back. They know they’re getting good entertainment, and it’s always a good time.”

The event, a flagship fundraiser for the Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness Group (SODA), features two days of popular jazz and blues acts, from up-and-coming artists to veteran favourites.

This year’s lineup is highlighted by Saturday’s headlining act, The Official Blues Brothers Revue.

“That’s what we’re most excited about,” Ellis said of performers Wayne Catania and Kieron Lafferty, who will don the famous hat and sunglasses to channel the spirit of the legendary Jake and Elwood Blues.

“They’re the only Blues Brothers act in North America that’s actually sanctioned by Dan Aykroyd and Judith Belushi, so it should be great entertainment.”

Other weekend acts include the Moondog Howlers, The Bettys, Riverview Jazz Quarter, Stevie T Band with Chuckee Zehr, and Spencer Mackenzie — the returning fan-favourite 18-year-old who recently won the Maples Blues Awards’ New Artist of the Year.

“That’s pretty exciting to have a young, up and coming star in our midst,” Ellis said.

Food and drink vendors include ReRuns and Hari’s Famous Spring Rolls, Maya’s Village Bakery, along with a wine bar, beer tent and the event’s signature Hurricane Hut.

Over the years, the event has raised upwards of $50,000, Ellis noted. The money is used by SODA to help local transplant recipients or people waiting for transplants with their bills, living expenses away from home, and transportation.

Potential organ recipients are often required to live within an hour of the hospital and must pay for two residences. SODA sometimes helps with mortgage payments and utilities so they don’t lose their home.

“Last year, we helped five patients from Sarnia-Lambton, all lung transplants. And it’s not just financial support — it’s emotional support,” Ellis said, pointing to SODA’s transplant patient coordinator Sue Morrison-Weir who acts as a liaison for the group.

Before the inaugural event 15 years ago, only 28% of eligible Sarnia residents were registered as organ and tissue donors.

This summer, the city officially reached the 50% mark, ranking 25th among 170 Ontario communities. Lambton County ranks 14th at 52%.

“I think the jazz festival, along with more community awareness, has really helped drive those numbers,” said Ellis. “We’re just so thankful to this community for supporting us for the past 15 years — we never imagined we’d come this far.”


WHAT: The 15th Annual Jazz & Blues in the Village

WHEN: Sept. 14, 15

WHERE: McGibbon Park, Sarnia

DETAILS: More info and tickets at

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