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HHS students take stage with Otis Taylor

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Photo by Tamie Meck Blues musician Otis Taylor performs Friday during a music class at Hotchkiss High School. Taylor held workshops with the students, who performed with him Friday night at the student art opening at The Creamery, and performed a fundrais

"Everyone has a story about how they got turned on to the blues," says bluesman Otis Taylor, whose dad introduced him to the genre.

For the students of Hotchkiss High School music teacher Jeannette Carey, their story will be about how Taylor turned them on to the blues.

Taylor, who was born in Chicago, raised in Denver and now lives in Boulder, is known for his "trans blues" style. He helps keep the blues alive by visiting classrooms through his "Writing the Blues" arts enrichment program. "If you want to keep the blues alive, you have to pass it around," said Taylor. "If you can get one turned on, or maybe two, that's a good thing."

At the end of his three-day visit, Taylor invited students to step up to the mic and sing the blues.

"It was so cool," said senior Brandi Goddard. She said Taylor encouraged to forget rehearsed words and be spontaneous. The lyrics, "are whatever is in you." While she sang, she thought of her friends and what happens after graduation. "I love them and I'm gonna miss them," she said.

Not knowing what words would come out was intimidating, but Taylor, she said, made her feel comfortable and confident.

While he's performed in Hotchkiss, including last year at the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition Celebrate the Fork event, this is the first time Taylor visited a local classroom. He shared some history of the blues. When he put his guitar down and pulled out his banjo he explained that the traditionally bluegrass instrument actually originated in Africa -- just one of the pieces of black history in American music that he shared.

"It's been awesome just to have them here," said Carey of Taylor and his musicians. "He really gets kids out of their comfort zone," and had them doing exercises they wouldn't normally do in class. She said Taylor and the students talked a lot about the blues and the culture that surrounds it, and practiced in preparation for a performance given Friday night at the annual student art gallery opening at the Creamery.

Senior and multi-instrumentalist Andy Zerr was asked by Taylor to sit in on Friday's session and play the mandolin. "It's pretty much the coolest thing I've done in a long time," said Zerr, who also plays drums, bass, guitar, accordion and the melodica. "Being up there with someone like him was awesome."

Zerr said he wants to be a professional musician, and getting asked to play with Taylor gave him more confidence to pursue that dream.

As principal Paul Rodriguez described the experience, the kids absorbed it all "like sponges."

Gratia Fisher, a vocalist who participated in all-state choir the last two years, was one of the first to step up to the microphone and sing the blues. She said she was very nervous, but wouldn't have missed the chance. "It was the greatest opportunity."

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