John Catt doesn’t have time for a slow change-over.
“I gotta see how this band is doing, alright?” John said, walking onto the big, outdoor stage in Winter Park “I want to see if this band is coming on.”
At the 14th annual Blues From the Top Music Festival, John did his best to keep band change-over times down to 15 minutes. Still, he couldn’t avoid the occasional confrontation and negotiation.
“It won’t be 30 [minutes]. It might be 20, but it won’t be 30,” said the singer of Canadian blues band, Monkeyjunk.
“20 I can deal,” John responded with a smile.
John Catt’s job is to keep the music going for everyone. He books the talent for the June blues festival and sits on the board of the Grand County Blues Society. John’s other gig allows him to pack a trunk like he does a music venue.
On a Wednesday in May, John pulled up to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver in his red SUV.
Music therapist Angela Wibben greeted John outside, and couldn’t help but laugh as he opened the trunk and boxes of instruments spilled onto the ground.
“I feel like it’s Christmas!” Angela exclaimed.
Angela helped John unload box after box.
“We just got this.” John said, opening up the case of a brand new bass guitar.
“Oh my gosh,” Angela said. “It’s beautiful!”
Soon, there was a pile of instruments in the parking lot: ukuleles, bongo drums, a dulcimer, a bass guitar, an amplifier and various cables and cords. John helped Angela carry the gifts into the hospital room where Angela works with young patients.
“We have been able to get to over 50 of the different children hospitals in America,” John said.
On top of his duties with the Grand County Blues Society, John is the founder of the non-profit, Blue Star Connection. He works with music therapists like Angela Wibben to connect instruments to kids who need them most.
After John made his delivery, Angela was joined by three kids in medical masks. Two of them had no hair. A third was wearing a full gown and latex gloves. Angela handed out the instruments and got the jam session started, leading the kids through renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Old McDonald.”
“Nice work! We’re going to pull this band together yet!” Angela said with a big grin after the kids finished a song.
Many of the children John helps through Blue Star Connection have cancer or other serious illnesses. John calls the kids, “Blue Stars.” The “connection” refers to the bond the kids make to music and each other.
John feels connected to the kids, too, especially ones like four-year-old Robbie Butler. John made a special delivery to Robbie in the lobby of University of Colorado Hospital.
“So, I have some stuff for you today,” John said, opening a box and revealing a ukulele.
John brought along various instruments, including a guitar for Robbie’s sister. Robbie smiled his infectious smile as John showed off the instruments.
In April of 2014, Robbie was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. He endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Two years later, doctors discovered the cancerous tumors along his spine.
“He’s a special kid,” said Robbie’s mother, Ashley, wiping away tears.
Ashley said her son is “an old soul.” He loves music, particularly the silky voice of Frank Sinatra, who croons from speakers inside the radiation room at University of Colorado Hospital.
John Catt is treated in the same room.
“Glioblastoma brain tumor. Stage four.” John said, standing inside the radiation room.
John was diagnosed in March. He first met Robbie Butler in the hospital waiting room.
“I’m a grown man, and it intimidates me,” John said. “I can’t imagine being a child and having to do this.”
“Blue Stars” like Robbie inspire John and give him strength.
“They’ve shown me courage,” John said. “I’m talking four-year-olds [and] Five-year-olds.”
Parents like Ashley Butler, are thankful for what John does for so many children.
“It’s amazing,” Ashley said. “I think it is wonderful that he’s done this and done it for as long as he has.”
Music therapist Angela Wibben is grateful, too.
“It’s so joyful, and that’s I think what hospitals need is joy,” she said.
John Catt endured six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy before the annual Blues From the Top Music Festival in Winter Park.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished one of my main goals when I got set on this journey was to be here for this,” John said behind the stage.
John doesn’t worry if he’ll be running the festival next year.
“I’m taking this year,” John said. “I only asked for this year, so I don’t want to be greedy.”
As another band started to play, John walked up the stairs at the back of the stage and took a seat in the blue director’s chair bearing his name and decorated with stars.
Who could deny the man who shares the gift of music the best seat in the house?