Making lives brighter with the blues
October 6, 2015
Music is powerful; so is compassion.
Those two ideas come together in Blue Star Connection, a Grand County nonprofit that works to provide access and ownership of musical instruments to young cancer patients and young adults facing serious life challenges. John Catt, founder/director of Blue Star Connection, has spent the last decade working to provide hope and healing to the suffering through music.
Blue Star Connection was originally formed by Catt about 10 years ago, a few years after starting the Grand County Blues Society. The "Blue" in Blue Star Connection takes its name from John's beloved music genre, the blues. The organization's website, bluestarconnection.org, outlines how the nonprofit entity was created, through a chance encounter with a young cancer patient following a concert.
Back in 2005 Catt was performing with the Grand County Blues Society for the Shining Stars Foundation, a local group of children fighting cancer. After performing Catt started a conversation about playing guitar with one of the young patients. When Catt asked the young man if he would like an electric guitar to play the boy answered, "Anything to brighten my day." About a week later an electric guitar and amp were donated to the child.
“I have the most incredible pictures of young kids playing electric guitar during bone marrow transplant solitary confinement. They have their amp and guitar while they are in there. These kids really like to rock out.”John CattFounder, Blue Star Connection
A few weeks later Catt received an email from the boy's doctor, who noticed a dramatic change in the young man's outlook on treatment. Within a few months Catt was working to provide musical donations for five more children and Blue Star Connection was born. From there the organization has grown and now works with 45 different Children's Hospitals throughout the nation from Oregon to Florida. Catt estimates BSC has given away 500 electric guitars alone, not counting acoustic guitars and all other types of instruments donated by the organization.
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Blue Star Connection provides all different kinds of musical instruments to hospitals, clinics, teen shelters and Native American reservations throughout the nation; with a special place in their hearts for providing electric guitars.
"I really believe the electric guitar is what kids like," Catt said. "I've been pushing electric guitars on therapists for years. These young kids today aren't listening to Joni Mitchell," he joked. "We give away our share of drums, bass and other instruments but the kids really seem to like guitar. I have the most incredible pictures of young kids playing electric guitar during bone marrow transplant solitary confinement. They have their amp and guitar while they are in there. These kids really like to rock out."
The instruments are primarily used by cancer patients, though BSC does provide instruments to anyone who displays a sincere and serious need for the benefits the instruments provide.
"In 10 years we have not said no to a single request," Catt said. "Everyone is somebody's child."
"It has never been about age either," he continued. "We have helped teenagers and mostly I would say they are under 18 years old, but there are a lot of young adults that have different issues, cancer being one of them. They don't really have much support in the world."
Catt explained that BSC has helped a wide range of people including one young woman who had previously been told she was too old to participate in other programs for cancer patients; she was 25 at the time.
"She told me 'you will never know how important that day was."
Catt said the woman, now 31 years old, lives in Denver where she works as a nurse. Catt also highlighted the story of an elderly gentleman who previously donated a large number of instruments to BSC and recently fell on hard financial times.
"Over the past five years he lost everything. Before he lost everything he had given us a few guitars. Now he has gotten back into a place to live and wanted to play guitar; it really brightens him up," Catt said. "I thought, you know what, 75 ain't that old."
Blue Star Connection's tagline is "Giving the Gift of Music". Their donations of musical instruments to hospitals, music therapy programs and patients throughout the nation are made possible through instrument donations the organization receives, monetary donations and the proceeds from concerts put on by BSC.
Catt and BSC are gearing up for a busy fall schedule. Along with their regular work of delivering instruments to hospitals and patients the organization is preparing for the annual American Music Therapy Association conference, held in Kansas City, Mo., in Nov.
"We will meet up with about 2,000 music therapists," Catt said. "We are going to donate as many electric guitars and amplifiers as we can possibly get donated. We are already up to about 40 guitars and 40 amps."
This coming weekend BSC will be putting on two different concerts in the Front Range area. Friday night BSC presents Jimmy Hall with My Blue Sky and Rachel and the Ruckus performing at the Buffalo Rose in Golden. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday night the performance moves to Longmont and the Dickens Opera House when Jimmy Hall and My Blue Sky will once again headline the show with Paradox, Michaela Rae and Emma Marie also set to perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Catt and BSC were recently recognized by the Boulder based radio program eTown with their annual Echievement Award, recognizing extraordinary community service work. Catt received the award just last week and was thrilled to be recognized by the nationally known program but explained there was plenty more work to do.
"This work changes lives and makes a difference," he said. "When I think about what would have happened if we had not been doing this, it propels you forward."
Catt talked about the cloistered lives of the young cancer patients and the importance of having creative outlets for the kids.
"These kids pretty much spend a year in bed," he said. "I think that is so contrary to their nature. Bringing music into the room is a big deal and makes a big difference."