Blue Note Cafe showcases Washougal High School talent

This information was provided by the city of Washougal.

WASHOUGAL — Washougal High School performing and fine arts’ students get into the act with the Blue Note Café (BNC) concert series.

BNC got its start in 2003 featuring acoustic folk, blues, jazz and rock music.

“There was a group of students that year who were really into acoustic performance and wanted a concert venue to perform,” said Jen Mahorney, Washougal High School choir teacher. “It took off with them, and they inspired other students to perform as well. Blue Note provides a great opportunity for students who practiced at home or with a band to perform in front of an audience.”

When the curtain rises on every BNC you see a stage transformed into a darkened nightclub, with two or three dozen student performers seated around candlelit tables. They take turns stepping up to the microphones and into the spotlight — soloists, duets, trios or more, student-led and self-motivated performers with something to say, often in the form of original compositions. The audience and waiting performers participate with shouts of encouragement and each act receiving thunderous applause at the end in a show of support.

Washougal Blue Note Cafe
Washougal High School students Paris Mitchell and Holly Ericksen perform during one of the several shows put on through the Blue Note Cafe concert series. Photo courtesy of Rene Carroll

According to Mahorney, today’s student performers watch TV talent shows that judge performers on a strict pass/no pass result. BNC requires students to be concert ready, while giving them a safe and supportive environment to spread their wings and grow their voices.

Last year, the concert series took a major step and became entirely student run.  

“It is an ASB Club, and I remain as the adviser,” Mahorney said. “Junior Jessie Larsen is BNC Club President and runs auditions and the backstage concert crew.”  

Larsen works with club members to hear auditions and decide the concert line up.

Each show is a combination of Blue Note “regulars” and Blue Note first timers, including students, staff and the community.  

“This is important because the regulars often accompany new students and help make their performance experience fun and successful,” Mahorney said.  “Some alumni who were part of our first Blue Notes have gone on to play professionally, notably, David Hutchins who fronts a country/blues band called Hutch and Gentry, who tour all over our region.”  

Other BNC alumni working in the music industry include Jon Hecox, Jeremy Tuell, Liam Tully, T Walker Anderson (now selling his new CD) and Leah Wilson, to name a few.

“We continue to have community members, parents and WHS staff members perform, and a loyal crowd of audience members who always come to support Blue Note,” Mahorney said.

Washougal Blue Note Cafe
Washougal High School students Valerie Angell and Matt Quist perform during a show of the Blue Note Cafe concert series. Photo courtesy of Rene Carroll

They also invite featured guest artists, including pianists Steve Christofferson and Michael Allen Harrison.

“Jen Mahorney has recognized there’s a deep pool of talent in this community and over the years now has given hundreds of performers the opportunity to hone skills that can only be learned in front of a live audience,” Christofferson said. “They learn how to engage a crowd, work with a sound engineer, deal with adrenaline and excitement. It’s a great experience from either side of the curtain, and unlike any other school program I know of.”

A new element of BNC is the display of fine art works by WHS and Jemtegaard Middle School art students.

“Last year I was looking for some opportunities to get student work beyond the display case,” said Evan Rumble, WHS art teacher. “At a Professional Learning Community meeting at WHS, Jen offered to let me display work in the foyer during Blue Note Café concerts. We thought it was somewhat ‘cafe-esque’ to have artwork on display during the activity.”

The first couple Blue Notes featured about 15 works from high school students, mounted on mat board with title cards set on music stands. It quickly expanded to include Dani Allen’s student work from JMS and now just less than 30 works are involved.  

“We have since upgraded our display walls from music stands to new gridwall panels that we will use for the first time at an upcoming Blue Note,” Rumble said. “Students are ecstatic to see their work getting in front of some fresh eyes and some viewers have even asked about buying the works. Sales is something we are looking into for future Blue Note Cafes.”  

Upcoming shows are on Dec. 16, Jan. 27, March 24, April 28 and the alumni show on June 14.

Since its start, BNC has featured performances by alumni and community members. Interested performers are welcome to audition a week before each show. Contact Mahorney at jen.mahorney@washougalsd.org or Larson at jessie.larson@washougalsd.org for details.

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