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Since 1979 • February-March 2024 • Circulation 5000

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Steven Johnson: “In life, music makes the storms go away.”

Steven Johnson (left) performing with daughter Stella. Supplied

Steven Johnson was five years old when he started playing guitar. “My parents signed me up for guitar lessons and I played this beat up guitar with rusty strings and my fingers were actually bleeding from that old guitar. I’m surprised I didn’t get tetanus,” he recalls. “Then, on my sixth birthday, I woke up in the morning and I saw a brand new electric guitar. It was way better after getting that guitar. I didn’t put it down for many years after that.”  

Steven wasn’t sure if he actually played the first year of the Heart of the City Festival or if the music lured him over to Giovanni Caboto Park to listen. He said that he’s pretty sure he had to apply to play and that he played the next 10 years consecutively.

“When the sun was out, [Heart of the City] was beautiful and busy. When it rained, the crew still did their jobs and the performers would play to no one,” Steven says, also noting that back then performers volunteered their time.

Speaking of volunteers, Steven adds: “A bunch of volunteers came out every year diligently. I saw the same people every year. The new faces on the team were ambitious and forthright and made sure [the festival] grew and it’s still going strong.”

Those of you who know Steven can’t help but remember watching his daughter Stella grow up alongside him at Heart of the City, starting from when she was a baby. As time went by, Stella began performing with her dad but later became a solo performer. “I got her playing harmonica initially and then she got over her stage fright doing that. She decided to sing, and she decided she was going to teach herself to play guitar and write her own songs. She started with the ukulele and wrote some wonderful songs. She began playing at the Heart of the City on her own.”

When I asked Steven what keeps him playing, he replied, “I sometimes have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea why a guy works so hard. Well, it’s those times that you can make the sun come out, make the storm go away, if you play properly. In life, music makes the storms go away.”

Steven, who lives in McCauley, started teaching guitar lessons at the Boys and Girls Club 22 years ago after Dan Glugosh told him he needed to be teaching. Dan arranged for the McCauley Community League to sponsor the lessons. “There were some wonderful people that I met and the music changed their lives I believe,” he said. “It’s funny watching people get a guitar and a few weeks later, a month later, they start making headway and then they show up [with] a black leather jacket on and a different attitude.”

Steven is still doing the singer-songwriter thing and has a “psychedelic” solo project. As well, he has been playing with a band called Circle the Wolves for the last two years. The band’s music is on Spotify and Bandcamp. He continues to teach guitar lessons with the support of the McCauley Community League at 8 p.m. every Tuesday at the Boys and Girls Club here in McCauley. The lessons are free, open to anyone, and offered on a drop-in basis. 

Corine Demas lives in McCauley where she is the President of the McCauley Community League and a board member with Heart of the City.

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