Legendary Celts
at Whycocomagh Education Centre, Whycocomagh, Cape Breton
(12 October 2008)

Legendary Celts (known in previous years as the Whycocomagh Gathering) was a show that featured just that. Many of the Celtic Colours shows feature the younger generation of musicians, but this one gave the older generation its time to shine. It was a sold-out venue, which shows how respected these musicians are.

The emcee du jour was Burton MacIntyre. He began the show by doing what he does best: step dancing. He then asked, "How many of you were here when I lost my kilt?" At least half of the audience clapped and raised their hands! Burton also gave some amazing statistics about the festival and the show, stating that there were 8,000 people at the Whycocomagh Gathering over the last 12 years -- pretty amazing, considering that the population of Whycocomagh itself is probably only one-tenth of that.

Unfortunately, fiddle master Buddy MacMaster was supposed to be part of the lineup for the night, but was too ill to perform. This was sad to hear, but I knew the show would still be great, with all the legends that were going to take the stage.

First up was fiddler Theresa MacLellan, with Joey Beaton on piano, both of Cape Breton. Theresa shuffled onto stage, with a grin from ear to ear and a big white bow on top of her head. One could see she was really happy to be part of this performance. The duo, appropriately, started with a tune called "Let's Have a Ceilidh," playing it with much spunk and zing. It must have been hot on the stage, because Theresa told Joey to take his jacket off and then proclaimed, "I give the orders around here." After a good laugh from the audience, she did a traditional Cape Breton set of tunes, with marches and strathspeys, and when she played "St. Anne's" reel, the audience clapped along in time with her steady beat. She then played a ragtime/Tennessee-style tune and looked like she was having fun, with a smile on her face and toes tapping. Then, after she played some lively jigs, which she thought was her last set, she was asked to stay and play one more dance set for Allie MacKinnon. Theresa's eyes lit up and she said, "I'd love to play some dance tunes!" She did, too! As they say in Cape Breton, she just "gave 'er." It was a great way to end her performance and the dancer had so much stamina. It was a wonderful act- one that would be hard to follow.

Gaelic singer Mairi Smith of the Isle of Lewis did, though, and she followed it well. She got up to the mic and said, "I've never been to this particular town before and I can't pronounce it," with a chuckle, "I'll just leave it at that." Her first song was a funny lullaby, whose theme was "the deer jumped over you." She followed it with a lament about a woman who was a maid, a bride and a widow all in one day! Then, she ended with a lullaby from Barra. Most lullabies are quiet and soothing, but this one was really upbeat and sounded like it may have even had some puirt-a-beul. It definitely left the audience ready for more lively music.

Lucky for us, Doug MacPhee was next. Recently given the prestigious Order of Canada, he is a fantastic Cape Breton pianist. In fact, he's so good there was applause in the middle of the set he played. This guy can really tickle the ivories!

Aongus Grant, of Scotland, then joined Doug on the stage. He is a fiddle player (a left-handed one, in case you want a bit of trivia), Gaelic speaker and storyteller. He, too, was given recognition for his music in the Hall of Fame in Scotland. Aongus's performance was really interesting to me because of the difference between his style and Cape Breton's. He began with a set of marches, strathspeys and reels, but unlike the Cape Breton style, he switched keys for every tune. It was really a different, but enjoyable sound and his accompanist could definitely handle it. This was followed by a set of hornpipes and then by the tune of a Gaelic love song. Aongus explained, "It's as sad as it can possibly be. Nobody ever get married." This brought a roar of laughter from the audience. After playing the slow lament, he sped things up again and finished with a set of light jigs, one of which was a tune he wrote called "Joch's Fiddle."

After an intermission, Burton MacIntyre stepped up to the mic again. He told the audience about all of the different events on the island, including the dance at Glencoe. He explained, "When you go there, and you're lost, you're there." This is very true! If you think you're lost on your way there, just drive five more minutes and you'll find it. Then, Burton did a survey of the audience to see where everyone was from. There were people that came all the way from Australia! This says a lot about how great Celtic Colours is.

Scottish folk singer/songwriter Archie Fisher kicked off the second half of the show. I first heard Archie at this festival a couple of years ago and was really impressed, so I was excited to hear him again. He has a very soothing and clean-sounding voice. He started with a song called "Paul MacKenzie," from Newfoundland. He said, "Like all traditional folk songs, there are people dying like crazy," which got a laugh. Then, he performed a new song, which I didn't catch the name of, but wish I had because it was wonderful! He had the audience sing it, in a call-and-response manner. The song had a very beautiful melody and I like the chords Archie accompanied it with on the guitar. Archie finished with "Fiddle Farewell," a song to a familiar waltz that is about getting older and giving up on music because of being intimidated by the younger musicians and not being able to play like you could in the past. It was another really beautiful song.

Joey Beaton then came back to the stage, this time as a soloist. He played a waltz into some lively jigs to get the crowd going again. It amazes me how long Cape Breton piano players can play for before their wrists get tired from all those octaves!

Following the lively set was Mairi Smith, again. First, she sang a sad immigration song that was about a lady that was so homesick, she cried so much that she went blind. Then, Mairi livened the show up again with an upbeat milling song. It had a different rhythm than Cape Breton milling songs because "they worked the wool with their feet, rather than their hands," she said.

The last act I saw was Theresa MacLellan and Joey Beaton. They came up to do another Tennessee-style tune. Of all the performers Theresa was definitely the most lively! Her act was definitely a good end to this show for me.

These musicians were really inspiring to me. I hope that when I'm considered "the older generation," that I can still play with as much vigor as they do!

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

15 November 2008

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