My younger brother played in this program years ago, armed with an alto saxophone, back in his high school days

A note of confidence

After 10 years, the City Stages Youth Festival in downtown Charlottetown is going stronger than ever

City Stages

The Guardian

Chris Budhan gets excited when he talks about the first time he performed on Victoria Row.

In 1998, he and some musical friends from Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown formed a seven-piece band called Los Guapachosos, won a Battle of the Bands contest and busked that summer on the popular pedestrian street where people sit at outdoor cafes.

“It was my first experience performing in front of a large audience outside the school system. And I got hooked.

“That summer I became interested in becoming a professional musician. I also became interested in my own artistic development. And I started a summer tradition,” says Budhan, now a doctoral student in music education at the University of Texas.

Everything about that summer seemed to strike a chord with him.

“It was the high of playing in front of a live attentive audience who gave feedback in their comments and their gratuities.

“It was also mentoring with drummer Guillermo Valle from El Salvador who taught us how to play Latin jazz,” he says.

Budhan also made some amazing friends.

“Through the band I met musicians Ian Toms and Ross MacDonald. Later, all of us would go to McGill University to study music together,” says Budhan.

By the time that summer was over, he wanted to share his experience with others.

So in 1999, he founded City Stages Youth Festival, which has been providing student participants with gigs on Victoria Row, as well as instruction and mentorship from professional artists ever since. It’s part of the Always on Stage program, which includes shows a couple of blocks away at the Visitors Information Centre at Founders’ Hall, as well as at nearby Fishbones restaurant.

The festival has also become a summer tradition for drummer Matt MacEachern.

“Each summer I look forward to playing on Victoria Row. This program has inspired me to keep playing and get deeper into jazz music,” says the Colonel Gray graduate who is entering the music program at McGill University this fall.

Last Thursday night, he was playing with artist-in-residence David Restivo.

The jazz legend was thrilled when he heard MacEachern’s news about his education plans.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Matt has been picked up by a major university. When I hear the level that someone like Matt is playing at, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Restivo.

The award-winning jazz pianist has made it a tradition to teach and mentor at this summer festival.

“The way that artistic disciplines perpetuate themselves is through modelling — passing on the information from one generation to the next.

“I can remember being a young musician and seeing people whom were a bit older than me performing at a very high level. The inspiration and the education that provided for me was wonderful.

“Now I’m in a position to give that back. And P.E.I. is a wonderful place to come in the summer to do that,” says the Toronto resident.

Although the City Stages Youth Festival has become a tradition, it is not staid. It’s ever evolving, says Budhan.

“We want to expand the scope of the program to represent multiple musical genres.

“So this summer we invited Stephen Pate to co-ordinate the singer-songwriter series,” says Budhan.

Working with five slots and six musicians, Pate, who is active in the Charlottetown music scene, selected some Island singer-songwriters to be part of the program and then endeavoured to give the artists opportunity to perform.

“It’s a great opportunity for the singer-songwriter because you get to play a lot more of your material than you would at an open mike. And if you have a fair amount of material, you can put it out and see what other people think about it,”?says Pate, who also performed during the series.

“I watch people’s feet and if their feet are moving, tapping to the music, then I’ll assume it’s a successful arrangement. If they’re not, then I’ll rework it over the next week,” says Pate, reflecting on his performances.

He shared the afternoon performance slot with Andrea MacDonald, Another Colour (Josh Kilbride and Evan Ceretti) Jessica Palmer and Ted Simmons this summer.

MacDonald, who is a folk singer, loves her weekly Victoria Row gig.

“For me it’s good practice and a good experience,” she says.

That’s exactly what Budhan was hoping to hear.

“The songwriter series has been a wonderful addition. It’s one of the genres that we want to represent,” he says.

Information: http://www.jazzstudent.