Louisbourg Crossroads
at the Louisbourg Playhouse, Louisbourg, Cape Breton
(10 October 2007)

Of all the venues I have been to throughout the festival, this was the most unique. The Louisbourg Playhouse is a small theater, situated close to a fish cannery by the water. The theater is intimate in that the audience actually sits almost all the way around the stage on two levels: one at stage level and one above, on a balcony that overlooks the stage.

Opening the concert was the amazing David Francey, who was accompanied by the equally amazing Craig Werth. Francey began by explaining to the audience that it would be a difficult concert for him because he only had limited time and he likes to talk a lot. As many people know, every song Francey sings has a wonderful story behind it, and he is so gifted at conveying these stories to the audience. He keeps people interested with every word. It is as much a part of his show as his songs.

Francey did a great job of keeping things balanced. He began with a song called, "A Conversation," which Werth accompanied him on with an Indian instrument called a shruti box. I guess it is sort of the Indian equivalent of a concertina, with a similar sound, but a much different look. This was followed by his song, "Flowers of Saskatchewan," and then "Promise Land," which was a song he wrote for his grandfather.

To close his portion of the show, Francey sang his most famous song to Cape Breton, "The Ballad of Bowser MacRae." The song is about a man from Boularderie who left Cape Breton at a young age to find work and worked his way up to becoming a captain on a barge that travels throughout the Great Lakes. He also has a wonderful family and a farm, which he misses dearly while he's away, but he calls home everyday, sometimes more than once, which is what inspired Francey to write this song. He explained that MacRae is a big, tough-looking man, with a soft side. Francey's performance of this song earned a standing ovation.

The next duo to take the stage was local talents, Kimberley Fraser and Tracey Dares. I noticed volunteers who had been walking around during Francey's performance were now sitting, their eyes glued to the stage. There were "whoops" and "woohoos" during the first set of tunes, which was a typical rousing Cape Breton set: marches to strathspeys to reels. The audience started clapping along with the reels. I could hear toes tapping in the balcony above as well!

After explosive applause, the duo followed with a set of jigs, which were lively and virtuosic. Fraser always likes to pick some of the hardest tunes she can find and make them look easy. These jigs were no different, with shifts up and down the neck of the fiddle, and it all looked effortless. They followed this with an air called "Aberdeen," which Fraser explained was written by a woman from Orkney. She wrote it when she was in the hospital and the tune is based on the letters of the name of the tune. It was beautiful.

To finish their set, Fraser and Dares played another monster set of tunes, which included "Tullochgorm." Both performers looked like they were having a lot of fun while playing this set, bouncing and smiling throughout it. Also included in the medley was the reel "The Mason's Apron," with variations and applause in the middle of it! Like Francey, a standing ovation was well earned.

After intermission, the sensational Prince Edward Island group Vishten took the stage. This was my first time seeing this group play live and I thought they were brilliant. They were lively and fun and really kept the audience engaged. The group includes four multi-talented musicians who perform both songs and tunes. Included in this group is a set of twin sisters, Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc, who both do foot percussion from their chairs and step dance. They also both sing and play piano. Emmanuelle adds bodhran and whistles to the mix, and Pastelle is an excellent accordion player. Also included in the group is a fiddle player, Pascal Mlouse, who can get every sound imaginable out of his instrument. He also plays mandolin, guitar and sings. Lastly, Elmer Deagle fills out the sound with guitar, mandolin and banjo.

The group had a good variety of songs and tunes. They sang one song written by the accordion player in the group, "The Hills of Bounty." Another song started out with what sounded like PEI beat-boxing. At one point, the fiddle player sang a Cajun song. Of course, there were some rousing sets of tunes as well, not to mention some humor from the group. Overall, it was really well balanced and really entertaining. Once again, the audience was on their feet and clapping.

For a finale, all the performers came out to share the stage. Francey kicked it off with the song, "Rattlin' Roarin' Willie," a song the Barra MacNeils sing. Then, all the instrumentalists played some reels that were so good, the audience demanded more with loud applause that wouldn't stop. So, the finale was followed by an encore with a lot of dancing. First, Dares got up and showed her steps, then Fraser (in high heels, no less), then the twins, and then Deagle took a crack at it. This was a wonderful show, which ended with yet another standing ovation.

If you're ever in Cape Breton in the summer or during Celtic Colours, I would highly recommend checking out a show at this venue. There are a lot of great shows here and the theater is really interesting. You'll enjoy it!

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

13 September 2008

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