Mawita'mk: Getting Together
at the Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Center,
Wagmatcook, Cape Breton
(6 October 2007)

It's a sad truth that long journeys often go not exactly as planned. If it were a trip to view the world's largest ball of yarn or a really big hole in the ground, I might not mind so much. But my wife and I were bound for Celtic Colours, so every bump and hitch along the way was like a poke in the eye.

Frankly, I'd never seen such traffic on the Mass Pike before, and I-495 around Boston was lethargic at best -- at a complete standstill far too many times to count.

So I had good reason for walking late into "Mawita'mk: Getting Together," Saturday's feature presentation at the Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Center -- and I had the high blood pressure to prove it.

Here's the rest of the bad news. I'd missed Metis fiddler Sierra Noble entirely, but I consoled myself with the knowledge I'd be able to catch her later in the week. J.P Cormier was well into his portion of the show, and with almost no sleep to work with, I wasn't too sure I'd make it through Shooglenifty.

But the good news is, I was there for J.P. I got there just in time to hear his recollections of his sainted late mother's dirty songs.

J.P. Cormier is an imposing presence on stage, eyes lost beneath the brim of a broad-brimmed black hat, but with a delicate touch on the guitar, mandolin or banjo, all sweet and clear in tone, and a strong, folksy voice. With his wife, Hilda, providing the piano, a delicate vocal harmony and loving banter, J.P. filled the room with stories spoken and sung.

No wonder the room was packed to standing-room-only capacity.

J.P.'s performance closed with an emotionally moving war ballad about his visit earlier this year to perform for the troops in Afghanistan. And with that, regretfully, my wife and I slipped out the side door and drove to Baddeck to secure our room and get some much needed sleep.

When J.P. reprised much of that performance two nights later at the Festival Club, he was once again in a mood to tell stories, both by singing them and by chatting amiably with the audience between numbers. If no one poked him off the stage, he said, he'd probably sit and play all night.

I doubt anyone would have complained if he had.

Thing is, J.P. is a machine on the guitar, summoning phenomenal sounds with an exceptional technique and a digital dexterity that suggests extra finger joints, and maybe an additional hand as well. All you can do is stand and watch in amazement as he weaves intricate, possibly arcane patterns on the strings, and rejoice that you're there to hear it.

review by
Tom Knapp

24 November 2007

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