‘Modern-day Mister Rogers with a twist of cool’ headlines Advocates for Children fundraiser

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Also performing will be Auburn’s Tinpanic Steel Band and Bonnie Edwards and the Practical Cats

 AUBURN — There aren’t too many days when you can find rhythm and blues, yo-yoing and the sounds of the Caribbean all in one place. But on Saturday, June 5, that will, in fact, be the case as Advocates for Children hosts its first Family Fun Fest at Festival Plaza.

Headlining the Advocates fundraiser will be professional yo-yo master Brett Outchcunis, who has been dancing for about 21 years, specializing in step and yo-yo dancing. A life coach for kids, he laughingly refers to himself as a “modern-day Mister Rogers with a twist of cool.”

Also performing will be the Tinpanic Steel Band, a 12-piece steel drum orchestra based in Auburn; and Bonnie Edwards and the Practical Cats, a Maine-based rhythm and blues horn band that has been performing since the late 1970s.

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“Ooch,” as kids affectionately call him, focuses on helping elementary and middle-school students make positive life choices. Woven into his yo-yoing, music, dance, storytelling and comedy are suggestions on how to embrace one’s uniqueness and deal with making tough choices.

“I always have something fun up my sleeve,” Outchcunis said when asked if he would debut any new tricks at the June 5 show.

“The audience will determine what show I do,” he said. Most likely, it will be a combination of yo-yos, music, dance and possibly a preview of his new show, “Ooch’s Family Experience.” 

“It takes family entertainment and brings it to the next level,” the entertainer said.

Outchcunis danced his way through high school, competing in major contests around the country. He graduated from UMass, Amherst, with a degree in communication in 1998. Soon after, he was picked up by Yomega Corp., a yo-yo company based out of Fall River, Mass., and became a touring yo-yo professional.

“I just recently came back to the United States from Australia, where I was promoting the sport of yo-yoing. Prior to that, I was in Canada and England filming yo-yo commercials that the U.S. should see in the fall,” he said.

After five years of touring with Yomega Corp., Outchcunis started up his own company called Ninepoints Entertainment. He now spends the academic year performing at schools throughout New England. He also visits corporations, where he stresses the importance of having fun in the workplace and recapturing the wonders of imagination.

Bonnie Edwards and the Practical Cats have performed at Epcott Center in Florida and opened shows for national acts such as Dr. John, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, Jimmy Rogers and Savoy Brown.

The Practical Cats is an eclectic group of musicians who “know how to lay down a groove,” said Edwards, who is known for her gutsy blues vocal style and dynamic stage presence. The band plays a blend of blues, jump, swing, jazz and vintage R & B along with original music.

Made up of a dozen local musicians who have been playing together for nine years, the Tinpanic Steel Band performs high-energy calypso rhythms and big band sounds. Its repertoire includes swing and pop favorites, along with the island party music associated with the steel pan.

The group “started on the whim of a few of our members who heard some steel drum music in the Blue Hill area and thought, simply, ‘We can do that,’” said drummer Diane Mawhinney.

She said they hired one of the Blue Hill directors for weekly lessons, rented some camp drums “and away we went.” Within a year, they purchased an orchestra of steel drum instruments, named themselves Tinpanic, built up a repertoire, hired a director and started playing for community and charitable events. 

“It’s such a happy sound and folks of all ages and generations turn out for our gigs,” Mawhinney said.

Admission to the Family Fun Fest is free, with donations accepted. Food items will be sold during the event. Proceeds will be used to support Advocates for Children’s programs in Androscoggin County. For more information, call 783-3990.

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