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a few reviews
WonderRoad artist Sadie Johnson goes beyond blues to expand her sound
June 1, 2023 | Dave Lindquist
Indianapolis Business Journal
Nearly a decade ago, Sadie Johnson made waves in the Indianapolis music community as the adolescent vocalist-guitarist in a band known as the Sad Sam Blues Jam. Johnson, now 26, eventually left the scene to attend college in Ohio. But she’s back in town and building a career as a solo artist. Blues remains an important part of her work, but Johnson’s sound is evolving. “A lot of people know me as a blues guitarist and that’s what I grew up playing with my sister,” said Johnson, who founded the Sad Sam Blues Jam with older sibling Samantha Johnson. “I started realizing the plethora of music that’s out there that is very blues-influenced but not blues.” On June 18, Johnson will play the WonderRoad festival at Garfield Park, opening a day of music that closes out with performances by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Marcus King and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Story Continues Below She describes what she’s putting together as a blend of funk, Americana, pop and jazz. On deck this summer is the release of her solo debut album, “Natural Distractions.” Johnson recorded the project with an all-star cast of Indianapolis musicians, including keyboard player Kevin Anker, drummer Brian Yarde and saxophone players Rob Dixon and Jared Thompson. Anker, Yarde and Dixon are scheduled to accompany Johnson at WonderRoad. “People should expect the tunes from the album,” Johnson said. “These are the guys who put them down in the studio. The more we’ve been playing the songs, they’re taking on their own formation and energy. It’s a lot of funkiness and a good amount of saxophone. A little bit of guitar shredding, because you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” In 2014, Johnson was featured as a “Tomorrow’s Guitar Hero” in a Guitar Center Buyer’s Guide. A year later, she traveled to Europe as part of a “Girls with Guitars” tour presented by German label Ruf Records. Today, she’s a guitar professor at two local colleges: Marian University and the University of Indianapolis. Johnson also is giving private guitar lessons to a long-distance student who lives in Los Angeles: her grandmother. “She’s 80,” Johnson said. “After 60 years of her not playing guitar, she’s getting back into it. It’s been the most amazing experience.” Johnson said her Sad Sam sibling band mate, Samantha, is now “a full-time mom” living in Anderson. The Johnson family moved from Virginia to Bloomington when Sadie was 8. The Bloomington High School North album studied music therapy at Marietta College in Ohio. Reconnecting with the Indianapolis music scene after graduating wasn’t an insurmountable challenge, Johnson said. “I was in Ohio for six years and I didn’t play much in Indiana,” she said.”So it was a little tough creating a fan base again. But in terms of gigs, my sister and I made enough of an impact in the Indy music scene that I still had a little bit of clout.” Johnson’s performance at the 2022 edition of Tonic Ball, where she paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix at Fountain Square venue Radio Radio, caught the attention of one of WonderRoad’s organizers, Dan Kemer. After an exchange of Facebook messages, Johnson was hired to play the two-day festival that debuted in 2022. This year’s lineup includes fellow Indiana artists Stay Outside, Audiodacity, Dizgo and Ovrslept. “I still have a fan base that’s fairly older in age,” Johnson said. “I’m also creating a new, younger group that’s in their 20s and 30s. I’m dialing into that group, which I never had before.”
Getting rocked at the Tonic Ball
Jeff Napier Nov 21, 2022 | NUVO
...Sadie Johnson. She wasn’t on my radar. At all. The only reason I stuck around was I still had half a drink to finish. Holy fuck-balls am I glad I stuck around. It took all of 20 seconds of “If 6 Was 9” to realize I was watching something special. Sadie is a fiery mop-topped sex bomb, sure, but how she slayed with her guitar and the soul-deep ease that handled the vocals forced you to look past the superficial and behold a special magic power. Sadie Johnson Sadie Johnsn Jeff Napier She then slides into “May This Be Love,” one of Hendrix’s early songs and a favorite highlight from the Singles soundtrack that I’d hoped to hear. Sadie was completely doing it justice. Then, just when you think the song is almost over, she starts scatting a very familiar tune, and before you know it, the band is seamlessly rocking out Van Hagar’s “Why Can’t This Be Love.” My jaw was on the floor. Not only did Sadie Johnson handle Hendrix’s guitar playing like a boss, but she also added in some Eddie Van Halen and made it all sound flawless. Apparently, she’s working on a release. Watch out; if this display were any indication, it would be among the best Indianapolis albums of the year.
It was a call Sadie Johnson ’19 will never forget. Over the winter break, Sadie was at her home near Indianapolis when Don Ritter ’81 — a fellow musician she met during her freshman year of high school — called to give her news she had been waiting to hear for many years. “Don calls and says, ‘Alright (Don and his wife, Leslie Straub Ritter ’85) just donated a million dollars to Marietta College for a music therapy program. Merry Christmas.’ I was a sobbing mess,” she says. “My entire life, I have never done anything by the book. I’m a female blues guitar player. The thought of being here as the music therapy program is developed is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” Don, who works in the oil and gas industry, and Leslie, who is a principal for a consulting firm that specializes in executive coaching, merger integration and execution of human resource strategy, committed $1 million to the College to support the creation, staffing and facilities for a Music Therapy major. The College is in the final stages of hiring a faculty member, who will teach one course in the fall and also design the academic program. The College will enhance the McKinney building this summer to add a fully equipped recording studio and transform the radio station to include Music Therapy observation studios. Don says the College will also be able to incorporate the television studio into the program, as the Ryan Seacrest Foundation has established several radio and television studios in hospitals around the country in support of music therapy. These facilities could provide Marietta an advantage in the world of music therapy education. The studio and practice space will be open to non-music majors to help promote a “live music” culture. The Ritters also initiated a $500,000 matching gift challenge to support the department over the next five years. “We have to go through the accreditation process with the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the Ohio Music Therapy Association and the American Music Therapy Association,” says Marshall Kimball, Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Department. “What the College will apply to offer is a Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy, which would be accredited through three different organizations. It could eventually lead to a master’s program as well.” Marshall says the Ritters have already provided a great deal of support to the music department by donating dozens of high-quality instruments and equipment. “This gift is transforming the arts at Marietta College,” says Dr. Janet Bland, Provost and Dean of the Faculty. Music therapists have to be proficient in guitar, singing, acting, voice, piano, percussion and a principal instrument, Marshall says. “Plus, the major also has a strong psychology component, so that department will also be involved,” Marshall says. “This is an unbelievable gift and I can’t thank Don and Leslie enough for their generosity. This is going to help so many people.” The Ritters knew the program would be successful after a feasibility study was completed for Marietta College by Ohio University’s music therapy program. “OU’s program is full,” Don says. “I really think that, with the right amount of promotion and a quality faculty member leading the program and the right facilities, there should not be a reason why this program couldn’t grow.” Don says. “Ninety percent of the music therapists are female. This campus needs help with that layer of diversity. This is a growing field and a perfect platform to further distinguish Marietta as an institution providing the graduates needed in the coming years.” “But he persisted and told me about Marietta, where he went. He said, ‘I want to start a music therapy program there and I want you to be the first to graduate from it.’ That’s a lot of blind faith in me. Of course, my dad was standing there and said, ‘Yes, sign her up.’ I fought it until my first visit here.” - Sadie Johnson '19 Marshall says his phone began ringing as soon as the announcement was made about Don and Leslie Ritter’s donation. “The music world is pretty connected,” Marshall says. “The first calls I got were from people interested in filling the position. I started getting calls from high school students wanting to know more about the proposed major. And then the hospitals, hospice and nursing homes started calling. Forty percent of OU’s music department are music therapy majors. But none of them stay in this region once they graduate.” For Don, the idea to establish a music therapy program at Marietta developed organically. Having had a successful career in the oil and gas industry, Don also maintained his love of music. About 12 years ago, while looking to purchase a custom amplifier for an electric guitar, he met a fellow musician who also built amps on the side. “A year later, we started a company called Category 5,” Don says. “We’d decided that we’d give the money we’d probably never make to charity. Lo and behold, we started doing that and, interestingly enough, some pretty good guitar players started to play them.” That top talent includes Joe Bonamassa, Gavin DeGraw, Chris Rodriguez, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift Band, Brad Paisley, The Allman Brothers, The Kenny Chesney Band and numerous other respected musicians in the industry. During Category 5’s early days, Don became involved in Blue Star Connection, a charity that provides instruments to seriously ill children and young adults, hospitals and music therapy programs. “We’ve donated instruments to 54 music therapy programs and I have personally delivered instruments to about 30 of them,” Don says. “I have interacted with music therapists, watched what they do, talked with the doctors and got real insight to how having access to instruments affects the kids.” About the same time Category 5 was taking off, Don met Sadie while she was performing with her sisters at a music festival. “I had seen her over the years at this festival and I started to get to know her,” he says. “I talked to her about what she wanted to do and she said she was going to skip college and tour. She was already doing that — she was touring Europe as a guitar player. But knowing a lot of musicians from my other business, I told her that she really needed a Plan B if she was going to be a lifelong musician, and one that could transcend the performance-only world. And while she was an accomplished guitar player already, Marietta has also transformed her singing.” Sadie recalls that conversation and how Marietta College was brought into it. “Don asked me, ‘Have you thought about college?’ and my reply to him was, ‘No way, I’m going to be a rock star,’ ” she says. “But he persisted and told me about Marietta, where he went. He said, ‘I want to start a music therapy program there and I want you to be the first to graduate from it.’ That’s a lot of blind faith in me. Of course, my dad was standing there and said, ‘Yes, sign her up.’ I fought it until my first visit here.” Her volunteer work over the years with Blue Star Connection has solidified her decision to take her musical talents to a different level. She has worked with new music therapists to show them how electric guitars can benefit their therapies because they are lighter, easier on the fingers and are easier to make neat noises with than acoustic guitars. “To think how many people we’re going to impact — students, patients and the community — this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” Sadie says.
The Healing Gift of Music
Alumni couple’s donation inspires music therapy program at Marietta
Teens of Sad Sam Blues Jam grow into music spotlight David Lindquistdavid.firstname.lastname@example.org For the Sad Sam Blues Jam, an Indiana band featuring three female members younger than 20, it's still fairly common to play in front of skeptical crowds. And winning over doubters hasn't lost its thrill. "You'll come out with a killer song, and people can't even dance," vocalist-guitarist Sadie Johnson said. "They're just sitting there, like, 'What is this?' " Fellow vocalist-guitarist Krista Hess said the "What is this?" sensation can arrive before a show even begins. "People see a bunch of teenage girls setting up," Hess said. "They're expecting something frivolous or shallow. I feel like we have to prove ourselves every time we play a new venue. We have to move them and show them." A new venue awaits on Friday. Sadie turns 18 this week, so the Slippery Noodle Inn — the blues palace of Indiana — has booked the Sad Sam Blues Jam for the first time. The band has credentials to warrant a Noodle spotlight. Fans in cities throughout Texas come out to shows, and Sadie was featured as a "Tomorrow's Guitar Hero" in the July 2014 Guitar Center Buyer's Guide. In 2015, Sadie will be a solo attraction as part of the "Girls with Guitars" European tourpresented by German label Ruf Records. She said one of her compositions, "This Crazy Train," addresses the increasing buzz surrounding the Sad Sam Blues Jam. "Everything is drastically changing," she said. "In five months, it will be the crazy opposite. This train is not stopping. We're telling our audience, 'Get on now before we leave the station.' " Sadie and her sister, 19-year-old bass player Samantha Johnson, gave the band its name: "Sad" for Sadie and "Sam" for Samantha. The sisters don't want "Sad" to be misinterpreted as sorrow, and they underscore that sentiment in a motto printed on T-shirts: "Girls. Guitars. Blues. Nothing Sad About It." The daughters of Don and Caroline Johnson moved with their family from Virginia to Bloomington when Sam was 9 and Sadie was 8. Caroline said the previous musician in the family was her father, Robert Hunter, who played piano as an accompanist for George Burns and Carol Channing. Pre-teen Sam had received a small acoustic guitar as a Christmas present, but she yielded it to Sadie when she showed interest. "I took four lessons, and it was, 'Ah, my fingers hurt,' " Sam said. "When Sadie took the guitar, I was at the point of, 'Eh, whatever, sure, have fun, knock yourself out.' " Later, roles would reverse. "I picked up bass in band seventh-grade year," Sadie said. "That did not go well, so Sam took it." During performances, Sam is an energetic focus of attention. As much as she plays her bass, she dances with the instrument and whips her hair forward and back. It's a persona that doesn't necessarily match off-stage life for the sophomore creative writing/literature major at the University of Evansville. "I am such an introvert," Sam said. "I would rather sit in my room and read. No one believes it. But outside of this, I don't want to talk to y'all. I'm very boring. I have shelves and shelves of books." Hess studies commercial guitar performance at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where she is one of two women in the program. Sadie will graduate from Bloomington High School North in December. Playing music influenced by B.B. King and Robert Johnson isn't an obvious route to popularity in the 21st century. The blues genre accounted for less than 1 percent of sales of digital tracks in 2013, according to Nielsen Entertainment statistics. Sadie said she's not aiming for fame and fortune. In 2016, she plans to enroll at Ohio's Marietta College and study music therapy. "I know what I want to do with my life," she said. "I want to be helping kids, and I want to be playing music." Matthew Socey, host of "The Blues House Party" on radio station WFYI-FM (90.1), said the Sad Sam Blues Jam has potential for greatness. "What I love about young musicians, of any genre, is that they're like a skillet," Socey said. "As time goes on, it's going to get more seasoning and flavor. It's just going to taste better when you cook with that skillet. If you like hearing Sadie and the rest of the girls now, I can't wait to hear them when they're 30 or 40. In blues and jazz terms, that's still an embryo." Despite the T-shirt motto of girls and guitars, the Sad Sam Blues Jam includes male drummer Matt McCarthy. A 23-year-old graduate of Indiana University, McCarthy said he doesn't expect to reap a wealth of attention. "People tend to see the girls more, which is fine," said McCarthy, who started playing with the Johnson sisters in October 2012. "That's part of the hook of the band." Sadie and Sam refer to McCarthy as a "sister whisperer," a comment related to his ability to keep things calm when sibling tensions rise. Hess, who grew up in Fishers, joined the band in August 2013 after meeting Sadie and Sam at an informal gathering of adolescent musicians in Indianapolis. In addition to citing guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy as musical favorites, Hess said the singing of Aretha Franklin influences her guitar solos. Sadie, a fan of guitarists Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II, said the trumpet playing of Louis Armstrong influences her work. It's more important to connect with listeners through emotive playing, Sadie said, than dazzle thanks to rapid-fire runs. "If you're playing something really fast just to show everyone up, it's like, 'But what were you getting out of that?' " Sadie said. On the upcoming "Girls with Guitars" European tour, Sadie will share the bill with Italian musician Eliana Cargnelutti and Arkansas-based musician Heather Crosse. In August, the trio made an album in Tennessee with producer Jim Gaines, whose credits include recordings by Vaughan, Albert Collins and Luther Allison. Sad Sam Blues Jam performances frequently include nods to blues history, heard in covers of songs identified with late icons such as Jimmy Reed and Freddie King. "To some extent, it is dying," Sadie said of the style. "Why not share it as much as I can? If they weren't here, we wouldn't be here." Sometimes, playing an unlikely oldie is the way to turn skeptical listeners into fans. "I want to be a storyteller someday," Sadie said. "When you tell a story that's more obscure, that everyone hasn't heard, it makes the crowd smile a little bit more. And they start laughing, and then you know you've got 'em. It feels like you're just sitting on a couch talking to someone next to you." Call Star reporter David Lindquist at (317) 444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.
Teen phenom Sadie Johnson plays guitar like a pro Taylor Smith Special to the H-TThe Herald Times March 24, 2013 Sixteen-year-old Sadie Johnson stood by the edge of the stage at Rhino’s All-Ages Music Club, peeling the foil off a handful of Hershey’s Kisses. She had left her home music studio to come play for a group of kids. All she wanted to do was eat some chocolate, perform and go home. But give her a guitar and she’s in her own world. When she closes her eyes and plays that first note, all she’s thinking about is the music. As she presses the guitar into her side, the sounds spill out a downpour of emotions, matching the intensity of her tightly closed eyelids and the trembling in her slightly rosy cheeks. She could be in front of a group of three professors or a music club full of rowdy 20-somethings, but her performances remain consistent. When she sinks into the rhythm, she plays like she’s praising God. She’s not interested in being part of the “cool” crowd at school. She’s comfortable by herself, rocking out on her Stratocaster guitar or listening to music idol Eric Clapton on her iPod. Better still would be jamming with some 65-year-old jazz musicians at Players’ Pub, a live music club where she performs on Tuesday Jam Nights. For her, music isn’t about the hypnotic beats, hip-thrusting rhythms or Top 40 hits. Music helps her breathe. Music gives her focus. Music is her family and friends. When she picks up her guitar, plugs into her amp and strums over the strings with her pick, she’s a musician, a rock star in the making. Get the Afternoon Update newsletter in your inbox. Catch up with the day's latest headlines Delivery: Weekdays Your Email A young start Sadie is a high school sophomore who plays guitar like she was living in the days of jazz legend Count Basie or blues phenomenon Muddy Waters. When people watch her perform, they know she’s bound for a music career that stretches way beyond the bar scene in Bloomington. When Sadie started high school last year, Janis Stockhouse, a band director at Bloomington High School North, asked Sadie to be in her advanced jazz band class. Very few underclassmen are invited to be in this select group that specializes in jazz performance. “She performs with the intensity and professionalism of a musician who is eight years her senior,” Stockhouse said. Sadie was 6 when she took her first guitar lesson, introducing her to an activity that has grown into her self-definition: guitarist. When Sadie was in eighth grade, Sadie’s father Don paid Joe Lisinicchia, Sadie’s principle guitar teacher at the time, to be her “musical nanny,” coming over to the house four times a week for private guitar lessons. During those hours, Lisinicchia spent less time teaching Sadie technique and focused more on the importance of playing because it makes her feel good. “There’s a big percentage that she could be famous someday soon,” he said. “But I want to prepare her for the difficulties and temptations that come with music. If music takes a turn where it’s not fun, what’s the point?” Sadie and her older sister Sam have created their own band called the Sad Sam Blues Jam. They perform roughly twice a month at various restaurants, jazz clubs and pubs in Bloomington. It’s not just the average pub-goers who are impressed by Sadie’s musical skills. Even Dominic Spera, a professional trumpeter and professor emeritus of the IU Jacobs School of Music, is struck by her talent. During one of Sadie’s performances, Spera leaned over to Stockhouse and whispered, “That young lady is special.” Sisterly love Most days after school, Sadie practices with the other Sad Sam band members, but the real magic happens when she jams with her sister Sam, playing songs they have written themselves, just the two of them. Sam stands beside Sadie with her upright bass, which is about a foot taller than she is. She plunks the strings and they vibrate against the dark colored wood. Sadie sits in her chair with her eyes closed so tight it looks like she’s holding back tears. Her fingers fly across the strings, her head bobbing in time with Sam’s bass. When they play together, it’s like they’re having a conversation, a secret made-up language between sisters that only they know. Sam switches to playing the electric bass and falls off rhythm from what Sadie’s playing. “Ugh! Fail!” Sadie opens her eyes and laughs. “You’re going to do it Sam, even if you think you don’t know how!” Their mom comes in and watches for a few minutes before she tells Sadie that it’s time to get dressed for her gig. But the girls don’t stop playing. After their mom reminds Sadie for the third time, Sadie pops out of her chair and asks Sam to get her guitar and amp ready. She runs down the stairs shouting, “Thank you! Love you!” Sam starts winding up the cord for Sadie’s amp. She smiles as she grabs the guitar case and walks down the stairs. “Anything to help Sadie get to where she needs to be,” she says. Playing at the pub Past the stage, a wooden bar lined with mugs of frothy beer and tables of men who hold drum sticks and guitar picks, Sadie sits with her Latin textbook in the minors’ section of Players’ Pub. With a Mason jar full of Diet Coke, she taps her pencil on her book, trying to learn present tense verb conjugations before the clock strikes 9 p.m. when she can play with the other musicians who’ve come to the open jam session. Sadie’s name is at the top of a list with a dozen signatures of musicians wanting to jam tonight. Most of them are guys who play here each week, with the occasional player stopping in from out of town. All of them are men, mostly in their 60s. Regulars call Players’ a “gray hair bar.” But this is Sadie’s favorite place to play. It’s where she got her start playing blues. The old guys at Players’ know her. She calls them her family. They tell her stories of their glory days when they played with big name blues players and give her advice on how to play like B.B. King. When she jams with them, she doesn’t call the shots. “This is their bar,” Sadie said. “I’m still a kid. I’m just learning, compared to these guys.” “First group, Sadie Johnson, you’re up!” pianist Mike “Spanky” McCallister calls. Sadie pulls out her Stratocaster and cleans its blood red surface with an old cloth. She puts her pink and white pick in the pocket of her Bloomington High School North sweatshirt and throws the guitar’s strap over her shoulder. Her mom sits at the table closest to the stage, holding a video camera in one hand as she zooms the lens on her daughter. She has taped all of Sadie’s performances. “You never know which show is the one you’ll want to send to Eric Clapton,” Caroline said. Soon, the bass starts pulsing and the drummer hits up a steady beat. The saxophonist pulses his shoulders with the rhythm as he plays his first notes of the night. The mood is set. Then it’s time for Sadie’s solo. She closes her eyes and dips her guitar, fingers dancing around the strings like a storm of raindrops hitting the water’s calm surface. Her shoulders reel back and she parts her lips, flashing her newly tightened braces. She looks as if she’s in pain, like she is feeling the emotion of every flat and sharp that she plays. The men and women at the tables stop eating their sweet potato fries and hamburgers. They don’t talk. Their eyes are locked on Sadie. Her tongue pushes against the side of her cheek and she rolls her head, her hair falling down the side of her face. After two minutes of letting the music flow from her fingertips, she strums her hand down on the last cord and opens her eyes. That’s the kind of soloing Sadie lives for. After three numbers, the crowd’s applause, shouting and whistling cause Sadie to blush and shrug her shoulders when she walks off the stage toward her mom. The two laugh and make their way back to the minors’ section. Every five feet someone taps her on the elbow and tells her she did a great job. “On that last one, I didn’t even know what I was doing, Mom! The bassist picked a tune that I had no clue how to follow.” But to the audience, Sadie’s performance seems flawless. After leaving the stage, several people murmur how they can’t believe a 16-year-old can play with such passion. As she puts her guitar back in its case, she looks at the time. It’s around 10 p.m., which is way past her usual weekday bedtime of 8:30, but on jam nights, her parents make an exception. Someday, Sadie won’t have to worry about a bedtime. She has dreams of playing in Chicago and traveling to Germany, playing her guitar until people begin to notice her. But tonight she enjoys the extra two hours of musical freedom. Her mom watches Sadie put her homework into her American flag backpack, her guitar case laying right next to her feet. “I know she’d like to go to Nashville or Memphis to play, but I’m worried about things getting ‘too big,’ with all the agents there. One would probably swoop down and get her. She’s just a kid and I want to keep it that way for just a while longer, if I can.”
Sadie Johnson: Bringing brightness with the blues Andy Graham November 5, 2013 Even a silent film of Sadie Johnson playing guitar would evoke emotion. Her expressive face, her mannerisms while playing, convey deeply-held feelings. But it’s her playing, once heard, that really brings the love. Love of blues. Love of jazz. Love of music. Love of fellow musicians. Love of fellow human beings. All there during an authoritative acoustic reading of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind.” There while belting out Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” with The Sad Sam Blues Jam. There when gracing one of Bloomington High School North’s vaunted jazz combos. And most certainly there when presenting a musical instrument to a sick child. North music department chair Janis Stockhouse knew she had something special when Johnson auditioned as an eighth-grader. Stockhouse let Johnson take an Advanced Placement music theory exam alongside the older students. Johnson got the top score. Then Stockhouse had Johnson play “Satin Doll” with North’s top big band, the Advanced Jazz ensemble. The upshot was Stockhouse telling Johnson she could play with any North band she wished. Right away. Johnson, technically a middle-schooler at that point, was being home-schooled at the time due to what she refers to as “bullying reasons.” She found music especially therapeutic then, with time to take four or five lessons a week. And she wants to help make it therapeutic for kids in need now. She started figuring out a way to do that a couple of summers ago while playing the “Blues from the Top” festival in Colorado. The festival’s net proceeds went to Blue Star Connection, a non-profit that provides musical instruments to kids with cancer or other life-challenging conditions. Get the Afternoon Update newsletter in your inbox. Catch up with the day's latest headlines Delivery: Weekdays Your Email “Music is my passion, and I’ve wanted to go into musical-therapy for a while now, so I heard about this and thought, ‘Wow! Cool!’ “ Johnson said. So Johnson talked with Blue Star Connection founder John Catt about setting up a branch of the multi-state organization in Indiana. “It’s grown quickly from there,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve helped 15 of 16 “Blue Stars” — an individual kid provided with an individual instrument — just in the couple of years since those first conversations (to patients at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and Lutheran Children’s Hospital in Fort Wayne.)” After helping Indiana kids with donations directly from Blue Star Connection, Johnson wanted to give back. So Aug. 10 saw the inaugural “Blues and Brews Festival” in Bedford that produced about $8,000 in net proceeds for Blue Star Connection. “My mom texted me in math class — I’d been waiting all day for the figures,” Johnson said. “And she texted it was like $14,000 or something and I was freaking out! I knew we’d have a good bit of money, after expenses, to send to Blue Star.” Johnson played that gig with The Sad Sam Blues Jam, featuring fellow guitarist and vocalist Krista Hess and bassist Samantha Johnson, Sadie’s sister. None are over 18 years old, but their affinity for the material they play is extraordinary. That doesn’t surprise Stockhouse a bit. She knows what Sadie brings to any project. “Absolutely first-rate, in every way,” Stockhouse says of Johnson. “She’s a giver. “She brightens the day for everybody in the jazz ensemble every time we meet. Sadie comes into the room with that sort of personal energy. And it’s really never about her. It’s always about the group. But she knows how to perform. She’s a show-stopper.” “I’m just grateful and thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given,” Johnson said. “People have bent over backwards for me, saying, ‘You’ve got something there.’ “But I play music not for the money, not for myself, not to be recognized. I do it because when I’m up on stage, there’s that one guy in the back corner who’s having a bad day ... and he starts watching. And you entertain everybody, but you keep your eye on that guy the whole show. And by the end he’s having a great time.” BHSN student Sadie Johnson has been chosen as an All-State Jazz member. Favorite guitar: Fender Stratocaster. Favorite album: “That changes every week, but I’m a huge Louis Armstrong fan. He’s the guy who got me loving jazz, around my eighth-grade year. I’ll go with “Ella and Louis” Favorite films: “Singing in the Rain,” “The Sting” Favorite book: “Clapton: The Autobiography.” Favorite TV show: “Top Gear” (the British version) Favorite car: 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback