John Catt
John Catt
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John Catt, the 68 year old lover of the Blues who did so much for kids with cancer and life threatening disease lost his own battle with brain cancer on Monday, May 15, 2017.  John Wayne Catt, founder of the Grand County Blues Society, passed away in his home in Granby, Colorado after 14 months battling an inoperable brain tumor.

John Catt loved the blues, he loved live music and he loved paying it forward. Known throughout the blues world for his passion, generosity and drive, John led a team of music enthusiasts and volunteers to put Grand County on the societal map of the Blues, with a series of ideas and big dreams.

Catt , visionary founder of GCBS, the Grand County Blues Society, was a local drywaller by trade but his passion was putting on music events and giving back to others. “His attitude was always about putting his best foot forward with whatever he was doing”, according to Art Ferrari, Treasurer and founding member of the board.  When he wasn’t organizing festivals or leading nonprofits, Catt prided himself on being one of the best specialty dry-wallers in the county, said Ferrari. In his spare time John enjoyed playing his guitar and hitting the links.

According to Cheryl Key, co-founder of the organization, “John hounded me, and Art, for over a year asking us to help him start a blues society up here”  I kept telling him I didn’t know “crap” about the blues!  Seriously, exact words…over and over until one day he said, “you know, I want to not only bring National music artists into Grand county, but to treat the artists like Gold, because what they give is worth more than gold” That’s when he hooked me.

I have been married to a professional musician much of my life and as Gary’s manager, “I totally got that!”  Most artists are treated pretty crappy and figured I could help make a change, at least on a local level. That was the birth of The Grand County Blues Society, A 501(c)3 charitable organization, “We have spent over twenty years supporting the blues, educating local kids and inspiring adults and young people to experience the roots of all music” Cheryl Key founding member.

From their very first meetings, volunteer dedication to the love of blues music has been the mission. As they navigated the course of time, an idea to bring an educational component to the society was hatched and the Grand County Blues Society formed, Blues in the Schools (BITS) program.  The program has enriched the lives of kids throughout the Grand County school system. From live performances, to their “Check Out the Music” program, which allows students to take home instruments from local libraries. The program is the gold standard in blues society’s across America.

Maria Chavez, President of GCBS, ten year member of the board and organizing leader of the BITS program, had this to say, “John always said, don’t pat yourself on the back, kick yourself in the pants instead, there is more work to be done.”

One of Marias visions for the GCBS Blues in the Schools program is to get more High School students involved in the organization.  She wants to partner with the new radio station to form a weekly program and let kids be a part of the music, hosting and experiencing the connection you can have with community through radio.

Maria Chavez has a passion for dance. She explained, “we are stepping it up…  if you love music, learn how to dance. It’s a romantic bonding experience. If you let go, it makes your soul move.”  In an emotional moment in our conversation Maria told me a story that brought it all back home, she said, “John was such a good dancer and we were good dance partners. The last time we danced was New Years Eve and John said, Always take a moment to dance because you never know if there will be a next time.”

Chavez wants to bring dance into the school next year through the BITS program and see where it goes. “Evolution and change is a healthy part of our future. Grand County Blues Society 2.0 is coming to life.”

Two years after the formation of the GCBS, in 2007, John Catt met a young man at a benefit concert for children with cancer and life threatening diseases.  Colin Connors , a 17-year-old struggling with inoperable brain tumors, inspired John to give him a musical instrument as a gift and that one act of kidness turned into a movement of music therapy known today as  Blue Star Connection.  Art Ferrari put it like this:  “If John had an idea, I grabbed a pen and a laptop, because it was time to get to work.”  

This idea was bigger than the organization realized. The program was never designed to teach the kids to play, but rather to provide them with what Catt referred to as, “the cure for the cure.” Many of these children spend months, or even years, in hospital environments, battling for their life. Catt’s mission was to give them gifts of hope and pleasure, through musical therapy, and instruments they can call their own.

Spin the clock forward nearly two decades, Blue Star Connection has donated hundreds of instruments, of all types, not only to patients, but to children’s hospital musical therapy programs across the country. Guitars, basses, harmonicas, flutes, violins, keyboards, drum kits, and more have found their way into over 50 hospitals in more than 35 states. Thousands of sick children have benefitted from Catt’s simple gesture of kindness in 2005.

“Most of this happened because John went out there and made it happen,” Ferrari said.  He always started from a vision of what could be, and basically dragged the rest of us along to help fulfill that vision. He added, “we’ve all been grateful to have helped him produce some pretty significant ideas and dreams.”

This is just a glimpse of John Catt’s story. He was not one to sit around and wait for it to happen. He carried a light that few have but many follow. Families from around the nation consider him a man worthy of a musical canonization. Blues artists from around the world consider him a friend and inspiration.

“John empowered people with his ideas.  He  had a way with words and brought the right people together to keep the blues alive” –  Maria Chavez,

“Let’s not forget some of the amazing work he did. Consider this a call to action; we all need to carry  on.” – Kate Moss

“Today the world lost a great man. A man I would consider to be like a father. Someone who changed not only my life but the lives of so many. Thank you for everything you did, I wouldn’t be here if it were not for you.” – Colin Connors

“Thanks John for all the inspiration and love, may we continue to carry on your work.” – JD Optekar (Tweed Funk)

“John was addicted to helping people out. I don’t know a more selfless individual.” -Tim Hubbard

John Catt’s legacy will live on in his four children; Eli, Halley, Ryan, Chinaplus and the new keepers of the mission that he touched through his work.  “Thank you John for opening our hearts and minds to the possibilities of a grassroots movement.”

In response to Catt’s death, Winter Park Mayor Jimmy Lahrman and the Winter Park Town council issued an official proclamation recognizing Catt’s many contributions to Grand County, declaring June 24th to be “John Catt Day”.

“Life isn’t worth living unless it was for honky tonk and stratocasters.”- John Catt

The Grand County Blues Society intends to continue the vision set forth by the founding father of the society and wants to expand the membership, fans and people who believe in the mission.  Maria Chavez said, “The Blues Society is grass roots organization, and, Blues from the Top will always be a grass roots festival.”

The Grand County Blues Society has presented over 150 shows and produced 14 blues festivals in Grand County. One highlight at the Blues from the Top has  been the kids stage and I ask Tim Hubbard, Board member for 11 years, how the “Future of the Blues” stage got started and he said John Catt saw the crowd react to Sadie Moss on stage at 7 years old playing the blues with her Dad, Nick Moss and the crowd went nuts.  John went out and partnered with Joe Bonamassa’s Foundation, Keeping the Blues Alive and a sponsor partnership was born.

Hubbard said, “The Blues Society is not going anywhere, if anything, expect more from GCBS. We want to it bigger and better”.  The new era for the organization may change it up a bit.  We want to work with venues and support their efforts as a funding mechanism and marketing arm.

If you love music and want to be a part of of a local grassroots organization, this may be a good fit.  Membership starts at $75 a year.


resource links:
year of the Catt2017
Blues from the Top Festival. June 24th and 25th in Hideaway Park.

Blue Star Connection

Grand County Blues Society

2017 Blues From the Top Festival