Local High School Student, Colin Harden, Wins Coveted Spot at Springing the Blues Festival in Jacksonville Beach

Colin Harden & Sam Veal

Chris Harden with the Henry D. Jones Band

Growing up, multi-instrumentalist Colin Harden showed an early aptitude for music. The 16 year old started by plinking around on his grandmother’s basement piano and evolved into a classically trained pianist before he was of legal age to drive.

“She figured for my seventh birthday she’d get me my first piano lesson,” he says. “Since then, I’ve just been playing music my entire life.”

Harden now counts–literally he has to pause to tally the number–the piano, guitar, mandolin, drums, bass and ukulele among the instruments he plays. The Orange Park teen will showcase his guitar skills on the Springing the Blues stage as the winner of the festival’s Best High School Blues Band contest. He performs Sunday, April 7th, on the Westside ‘Mo Blues Stage at the SeaWalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach.

“This is my first really big performance,” says Harden. “I’ve previously done stuff at the Orange Park Farmers Market and the Riverside Arts Market, but never something of this scale.”

His mom learned of the contest, which was posted on the Springing the Blues website, from a member of The Snacks Blues Band, who is also included in the festival lineup. She shared it with her son, and, in just two weeks, he wrote the song, laid down the tracks, recorded himself playing every instrument and sent it off.

“I told him about it, and he said, ‘Sure, why not?’ which is pretty much the epitome of everything music and musical theatre in Colin’s life. He went into his bedroom, and I didn’t really see him for about a week,” says the proud mom. “His girlfriend’s father is the lead singer for the local rock band Blistur, and he asked Chris Kellam if he would help him by recording the tracks. They sequestered themselves for about a week, and did all of the audio and video recording. I thought it was really amazing, but I’m a lot biased.”

Tina Harden says she’s “in awe” of her talented son and thrilled to watch his winning performance. She enlisted the help of family and friends to vote for Colin as part of the social media campaign on the STB site to decide the winner. It was a tough race between Colin and another contestant whom she says ‘had an amazing song as well.’

The winner of the contest was announced during the recent opening of the Sand, Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll History of Music at the Beaches exhibit at the Beaches History Museum. When they were invited to attend the reception, they had no idea whether or not he’d won.

“It was literally neck and neck [so] when they called to ask us to come to the museum, we just thought Colin was one of the finalists. I kept looking around for another young man,” says Harden, “But then Mr. Veal came up and explained that Colin had won and congratulations.”

Up until he was named the winner, Harden wasn’t sure if he’d get the opportunity to share his original song. Veal kept the winner under wraps until the moment of the announcement. “I was told to attend the ceremony for the announcement itself, to support Springing the Blues, and to see who won the contest. I was hopeful,” says Harden, who admits he noticed he was the only person in attendance who just happened to be carrying a guitar. When he heard his name, he was “elated.”

Veal says he heard something in Harden’s performance that struck a chord. After weighing his video against the other submissions and tabulating the online vote, he says it was clear that he “came out on top.”

“[Colin] presented in a way that more lined up with the musical philosophy of Springing the Blues. You can tell talking to him that he has a great command of the language of music, obviously if he’s an accomplished classical pianist,” remarks Veal. “It’s kind of hard to, at [this] age, tap into the emotions and the feelings, notwithstanding the Jonny Langs and Kenny Wayne Sheperds of the world, who are technically very advanced, but he connects with that form of music in a way that I have not seen in a long time.”

While his musical taste runs the gamut from classical to rock ’n’ roll, the blues was not always on his radar. Harden says he was familiar with his mom’s favorite blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and did his homework before composing, arranging, and recording his winning composition.

“The first thing I did was listen to a lot of old music. I normally specialize in classical and rock, things like Beethoven and piano concertos, things like that. From a classical sense, most things are derived from those same principles. All the scales and everything else. There’s a similar concept with feeling, which I actually learned more about in rock music,” he says.

“When I first started playing rock, I played like a robot. I wanted sheet music, and I didn’t know how to improvise. When I started play it more, I realized it wasn’t as much about the written element. It was more about the feeling that went into it, so I took those principles and used traditional blues scales to make that song, to make something a little unique.”

Harden said he plans to close out his performance with his winning song, backed by a supportive band of friends and former bandmates. “I’m doing a lot of practicing and trying to better my guitar skills, and I will have a band onstage performing with me. A lot of my friends also play, so I’ve recruited them to come up and help me on stage, hopefully. That’s the plan.”

Once he has his STB performance under his belt, Harden says he plans to release more original music on streaming services that incorporate all the different notes in his repertoire. “When I do start releasing more music, it’s not going to be just blues-centered,” he says. “My music is not specific to any one genre. It will be well-rounded.”

About Liza Mitchell