The Spark of Sandra Day
by Susan Marquez
Any musician who has spent time on the road knows what a treat a home-cooked meal can be. Sometimes, it is just nice to see a familiar face and get a heartfelt hug. Musicians on the bluegrass circuit from Canada and along the eastern seaboard of the United States, all the way down to Florida have come to know “Sparky” Sandra Day. She is a superfan in a motor home who loves nothing more than to go to music festivals. “Everyone who knows me knows I have an open-door policy,” she says. “Even if I’m not at the R.V., folks can go on in and rest, or help themselves to something to eat.”
Sandra is like the sweet grandma you can’t wait to see again. “My whole life, I would never allow anyone to call me by a nickname,” she laughs. “Not even ‘Sandy.’ But after time on the Radio Jamboree, someone called me ‘Sparky’ and that name stuck. I decided I can’t fight it, so I embraced it! A lot of the kids also call me ‘Mama Bear,’ a name I love.” Sandra laughs a lot. She tells stories about herself, on herself, and she cracks herself up. “I have had a heck of a life!”
A native of Ottawa, Sandra says that when she was in
high school, the Canadian government came into the schools and gave assessment tests. “I graduated high school on June 26 and on July 9 I started a job with Canada Border Services Agency as a customs inspector on the Canadian-United States border. I did that for thirty years.”
Sandra says her father had a guitar, but he never played it. “He loved music and he loved dancing, so he took my sister and me to hear music and dance when I was growing up.” As a teenager, Sandra spent ten years in a music conservatory, then another five years studying music theory.
“I studied piano, but who wants to lug a 500-pound piano around? I could have been a music teacher, but that did not interest me. I finally started to play the keyboard, which was smaller and more accessible. I played classical music at first, but then learned some country music.”
Her second husband shared her love for music, and the couple enjoyed camping and going to festivals. They followed country music artists until they discovered bluegrass. “Bluegrass people are so nice.” Sandra explains that until about twenty to twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t much bluegrass music in Canada. “I began to connect with a few bands, and we would feed them at the festivals. We adopted some of the younger bands and became like grandparents to them.”
When Sandra’s husband passed away eleven years ago, she had to do some soul searching to decide if she went to the festivals because of her husband, or if it was something she would enjoy doing on her own. “I took a leap of faith and got in the motor home,” she says. “I headed east and traveled to New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and other eastern states along the east coast. She has been traveling on her own ever since, driving down to Florida, and other areas of the United States and Canada. “I once attended three different festivals in one day!” A self-proclaimed vagabond, Sandra says that Covid has been difficult for her.
“I’m a social butterfly,” she exclaims. “I can’t wait to get back on the road and go to some festivals. I need to be with my people.” She attended 17 festivals from January to March 2020. “In 2019, I stopped counting at 130 events!”
Sitting in the house for so long has made Sandra ready to gas up the motor home and hit the road as soon as it is safe to do so.
Sandra has become an accomplished photographer, and over the years she has taken many photos of musicians while on the road.
“I don’t even call it photography,” she says. “I call it ‘fun-tography.’ I do it for free, and the bands love it. I admit I’m spoiled. I get a lot of wonderful VIP treatment because of my photography.”
Some people are just born lucky, and Sandra may well be one of them. She has won six or seven Martin guitars, including one she won at a plowing match in Nashville. Except for a couple that are autographed, she has given them all away to budding musicians. “It’s an awesome feeling to provide kids with new instruments.” Her latest win was a LOAR mandolin she won during a radio station giveaway. The mandolin was donated by Pinecastle Records to commemorate Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road having a number one hit for one year running. Sandra gave the mandolin to a 12-year-old girl who wanted to learn how to play.