Larry Kurtz: Boogie-Woogie Man
Local Hero: Larry Kurtz is the founder of Orangeville’s highly successful Blues and Jazz Festival.
Larry Kurtz: One of our 2009 Local Heroes
The founder of Orangeville’s highly successful Blues and Jazz Festival, Larry Kurtz is also a craftsman, musician, singer and songwriter; a man of many and varied passions. Somehow, he’s good at all of them.
At his day job, Larry is proprietor of Kurtz Millworks in Orangeville, producing Victorian architectural mouldings, gingerbread, doors and cabinetry. Anyone who owns an old house and has tried to match the trim might want to nominate him as a hero just for that.
Larry says he launched the business in 1990 because he had “grown restless” with work as a renovator. “I was always into old houses, and wanted a shop.” It was while he was working on refurbishing the Dufferin County Courthouse in Orangeville that the light went on: “I thought ‘I know. I could replicate hundred-year-old woodwork.’”
With that in mind, he set up a display for one weekend at the Orangeville Mall and “got enough work for the whole summer. I’ve never run out of work since.”
Reproduction Victorian woodwork was hard to come by at the time, and he says, “There were no mentors, no training programs. You just had to figure it out on your own.” These days he’s still doing that, employing new materials and cutting-edge technology that allows him to replicate historic designs more efficiently and cheaply.
Though it seems almost out of character for the quiet craftsman, Larry’s musical showmanship comes with the same “let’s just figure it out” attitude. A childhood member of the church choir at the Salvation Army in Brampton, he was singing a cappella in front of the congregation at age ten. In high school he sang in a band, and at fifteen began learning how to play the harmonica.
However, music soon took a back seat to more practical concerns. Married the first time at age twenty, a homeowner by twenty-one, Larry didn’t return to the harmonica until he was in his mid-thirties. “We started playing out in the shop once in a while, just for fun. Suddenly, we had a band.” Trouble and Strife was born. They’ve come a long way since. Their latest, self-promoted and self-titled blues CD is receiving airplay on 175 radio stations in forty countries. The band is hoping to record a new album this winter.
We can thank Larry’s wife Norma for switching on the light for his next obsession. “My wife said, ‘It’s crazy that we keep driving all this way to these blues festivals,’ and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have one here?’”
Starting small, Larry promoted a blues show in Orangeville. “There was a line-up to get in,” he says and, with that demand in mind, his vision for the Orangeville Blues and Jazz festival took shape. “I just decided this was something I wanted to accomplish in life,” he says. And accomplish it he did. Rapidly growing since its first edition in 2003, the free festival now takes over downtown Orangeville on the first weekend in June, drawing over 21,000 people and a wide range of big name performers.
If you’ve ever had trouble picking a dream to follow, you might take a cue from Larry’s answer to the question, why the blues?
“I didn’t choose the blues, the blues chose me. It’s the only thing that comes easy. It was the same with the harmonica, it just seemed natural. If you love something and keep plugging away, you’ll attract the right energy.