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The Holiday Inn Westport hosts the sixth annual convention of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica


The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH, for short), will be holding its sixth annual convention at the Holiday Inn Westport Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 18-22.

But don't let that "Society" and "Preservation" and "Advancement" lingo throw you off. This is no buttoned-down, bone-dry, scholarly take on the place of the harmonica in the platonic world order. As anyone who attended the SPAH convention when it last hit St. Louis in 1996 can tell you, this event is about folks of all ages — and musical persuasions — getting together to learn more about their favorite instrument, hear some of the finest harmonica players in the world and blow the heck out of their own harmonicas in impromptu jam sessions throughout the rooms, lobby and even the acoustically excellent tile bathrooms of the Holiday Inn Westport.

The SPAH convention usually attracts about 500 attendees from across the United States, Japan, Brazil, Europe, England and Australia. For those seriously into harmonica, it might be a wise investment to pay for a complete convention pass and gain admission to wide-ranging seminars about such subjects as the development of blues-harp legend Paul Butterfield's style, accompanying singers with the harmonica, harmonica repair and playing klezmer-style on the diatonic harmonica. (By the way, the last seminar is being presented by one of the St. Louis area's most talented harmonica players, Sandy Weltman.)

But for those just wanting to catch some of the SPAH convention concerts at the Holiday Inn Westport ballroom, here's a list of whom you can see and what it's going to cost:

On Thursday, Aug. 19, Curtis Salgado will perform a midnight show that will lead into a lengthy electric-blues jam session. In case the name's not familiar, Salgado has worked with Robert Cray and Roomful of Blues, has four solo albums to his credit, and is touring this summer as the opening act for Steve Miller. Tickets are just $5.

Friday night promises to be treat for jazz fans, with a lineup that features opening act Sandy Weltman in his "New World Harmonica Jazz" mode with the CarolBeth True Trio, followed by Toots Thielemans. Thielemans, who is noted for his bop improvisational approach on the chromatic harmonica, has worked with greats such as Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt and Dizzy Gillespie, and he'll be accompanied by noted pianist Kenny Werner for this concert. Admission is $20.

Saturday night's concert features Corky Siegel, performing with members of the Siegel-Schwall Band, plus a tribute to the great blues drummer Sam Lay with special guest Keith Doder, one of our area's best blues harmonica players. Tickets are $15.

A final banquet and show on Sunday evening wraps up the convention, but it's a fairly pricey event: If you're not a member of SPAH, admission is $90.

For more information about concert tickets or other SPAH convention events, call 854-8443.

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