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SPAH 50th Anniversary Convention Celebrates the Harmonica and the Players

by Holley Dey;   Photographs of the 50th anniversary SPAH convention courtesy of and copyright 2013 by Keith Mitchell;   Video courtesy of Hohner USA

The 50th Anniversary SPAH convention (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) is now complete.  For five consecutive August days there was music in the airport, on the stage, in the hotel lobby, down the halls and behind every door.  Ben from England claims to have located the only place you couldn’t hear a harmonica – in the pool and under water!

Nearly 700 enthusiasts from across the United States and abroad came to St. Louis to learn, to teach, to play and to connect.  Seminars covered a broad range of playing styles including Chicago blues, country, bluegrass, Irish and doo-wop/jazz music.  There were sessions for both novice and advanced players.  Multiple classes emphasized technique and live performance at different skill levels.  Two sessions addressed the health consequences of playing the harmonica; not only is harp play relaxing, it can potentially improve athletic performance!  That’s right, lung power.

Impromptu jam sessions connected marquee players and newcomers at all hours of the day and night, and until the last guest departed.  On the scheduled performance roster were master player Joe Filisko and guitarist/vocalist Eric Noden, blues guitarist Paul Rishell & blues harp player Annie Raines, classical musician Robert Bonfiglio, and harp masters Buddy Greene, Charlie McCoy, Jimi Lee, Steve Baker, Todd Parrot and Phil Duncan, among many other outstanding individual and group players.

Harp virtuoso Peter Madcat Ruth and guitarist Shari Kane played a dynamic Friday evening set.  Ruth was also seen and heard during the convention screening of Pocket Full of Soul, the soon-to-be-released harmonica documentary that describes and celebrates the history and culture of the instrument, as well as its players.  The film’s producer and director led a roundtable discussion at SPAH 2013; they also recently initiated and now seek pledges for a Kickstarter campaign that will support the upcoming DVD release of Pocket Full of Soul in November 2013.

For fifty years, SPAH has promoted the instrument and the musicians who play the harmonica through education, communication and community.  This year’s convention was a true reflection of the ongoing success of those efforts with robust attendance and enthusiastic participation by long-term and newer members, and with music of the highest caliber.  The photos and videos that follow offer a glimpse into the celebration that was SPAH 2013.

peo_4284 Youth cameo during the 50th anniversary convention

peo_4032 Another great performance from Jimi Lee and Koei Tanaka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Country/blues guitarist Paul Rishell and blues harmonica ace Annie Raines

peo_4315 Kim Venaas of Harmonica Express and the California Pops Orchestra

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Electric blues harp player Deak Harp with single stringed cigar box plucker

peo_3804 Gateway Harmonica Club, gracious convention hosts

peo_3540 Youth showcase at the Blues Blow-Off; brisk selling SPAH merchandise included T shirts as well


Todd Parrott with a heavenly rendition of “Amazing Grace” at SPAH 2013


Deak Harp with hypnotic electric blues that had hips swaying and feet moving

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Thank you to Keith Mitchell for sharing selected images from his 2013 SPAH gallery. To view all 400+ photographs, click here.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very nicely done, Holley. Love it! The photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I love all the little details!

    September 3, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you, Louise. Keith took some wonderful shots; when you have a chance, be sure to check out his full gallery of photos. The 2014 convention will be held in St. Louis as well…..

      September 3, 2013
      • Hmmmmm……….Never been to St. Louis. 🙂

        September 4, 2013
  2. Great pics and vids – especially enjoyed the Todd Parrott! Thanks!

    September 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thanks for stopping by, Francine! Isn’t that a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace”? Amazingly serene, I think!

      September 4, 2013

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