From Coast to Coast
at Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre, Wagmatcook, Cape Breton
(10 October 2009)

The Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre is a nice little venue, right on the Trans Canada Highway in Wagmatcook. Before the show, I took a little time to look around the room as people took their seats. There is a beautiful mural of a tree on the back wall, which portrayed the beliefs of the native people of this area, and in one of the front corners of the room, near the stage, there was a group of these very people who were performing their native songs and drumming. The pre-concert music was a really nice touch, and the audience was appreciative.

Emceeing the show was Wendy Bergfelt, who did a wonderful job. She introduced the first act, Qristina and Quinn Bachand, as a very young talented sibling duo who were just nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for their CD, Relative Minors. After a little research, I found that this fiddle-and-guitar duo, from British Columbia, are only 18 and 13 years old! People would never know by listening to them; they would think they're much older. They began with a slow reel called "Catherine's Castle" by Daniel Lapp, then kicked it into high gear with Liz Carroll's tune, "Lost in the Loop." They continued with an Irish theme, as Qristina explained that their next tunes were going to be some jigs they played at the All Irelands this year. On top of the many Irish tunes they performed throughout their set, they also threw in a nice piece that Qristina composed. I was really amazed by these two -- especially Quinn, since he is only 13 years of age. If I closed my eyes, I seriously would have thought he was John Doyle! The duo's stage presence is still a bit awkward, which added an element of humor to their show, but I'm sure this will come with time, as they are definitely well on their way in music. They received the first standing ovation of the evening.

Next to blow the audience away was Sierra Noble. Also still in her youth, this Winnipeg fiddler has grown a lot, as a performer, since the last time I saw her. She was very confident and poised and she really engaged the audience this time. What I was struck by the most was the variety in her performance. She had a wonderful mix of tune styles: Irish, old-time, Matee tunes and more. One of these tunes was called "The Duck Dance," which, Noble explained, "is a dance that represents pride and celebration and the weaving of the Matee sash." It began with only fiddle and feet, and then was joined by her accompanists, Brian and Scott, on guitar and percussion. To add to the variety, she recently added the element of song to her shows. For this performance, she shared two songs she wrote. The first was called "Possibility," which she accompanied herself with on guitar. It was really beautiful. On the second song, she got the audience to sing the chorus with her. To end, she shredded her bow hair on "The Orange Blossom Special," and at this rate, she won't have any hair left by the end of the festival! The audience was instantly brought to their feet in applause.

The third group to take the stage was the trio, Fidil. Fastly becoming one of the most popular Donegal performers, this group is dynamite. The group includes fiddlers Aidan O'Donnell, Ciaran O Maonaigh and Damien McGeehan. They use their instruments both for melody and accompaniment, which makes them really unique. Sometimes, they play the fiddle like one would play a mandolin. Most, if not all, of their tunes come from Donegal tradition. My favorite for this performance was one called "The Hunt of the Hound & the Hare." It was a descriptive piece, so one could hear the hunt in the music, including the call of the bugles, the hound getting the scent of the hare, the catching of the hare and the victory march after the hunt. I have never heard any group do a piece like this at Celtic Colours before, so I enjoyed it immensely. The trio also did some barn dances, which were learned from James Burn. They told a story of their first gig as Fidil, when one of their neighbors told them how sweet the barn dances were and how she closed her eyes and pictured herself in a meadow of flowers, with rain that was all the colors of the rainbow. "So we want all of you to close your eyes," Aidan said, "and we've arranged for the sprinklers to come on during these tunes." The set was really as beautiful as the lady described. The group ended with some driving reels, as they pounded their feet into the stage. Again, the audience was instantly applauding them in a standing ovation.

After intermission, Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac wowed the crowd. He came out on the stage and asked the audience to give him a slow air to begin. After someone shouted one out, he said, "Can you hum a bit of that? I'm taking requests, but I don't know any titles. You'll have to hum a few bars." After a good laugh from the audience, he chose the lilting, "Hector the Hero" to start his set. This lead into a march and the virtuosic strathspey, "Proud Mary," and then into even more virtuosic reels, which was all only accompanied by the stomping of his foot. Following that, Quinn Bachand joined him on stage. Bachand kicked a set of jigs off with a driving rhythm. They played a couple Irish jigs and a Jerry Holland one, with flawless transitions between them, even though Bachand does not play with MacIsaac regularly. They continued on with a reel that was a request from someone in the audience. During the introduction of the tune, people were already clapping for it! The tune led into old-time hornpipes. The extremely versatile Bachand was able to change styles to follow MacIsaac, as if it were a reflex, where no thought is needed to do so. Then, the percussionist from Noble's band joined the duo and they played some tunes with a rock style. Following this, MacIsaac played a sweet, slow tune that he wrote with Gordie Sampson and then ended with a rousing set, including the infamous "Tullochgorum." Of course, this performance received the fourth standing ovation of the evening.

On a humorous note, before MacIsaac's performance, the emcee announced the license plate of someone's car in the parking lot and said, "If this car belongs to you, we think we have your cat. We think it rode underneath someone's car, and we found it in the parking lot. Ashley thinks we should have the first ever Celtic Colours draw for a cat, if no one claims it!" The audience was roaring.

For a grand finale, all of the performers gathered on the small stage for some lively reels for, yet, another standing ovation. This was truly a wonderful show! It had great variety and stellar performers. I could not ask for more.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

7 November 2009

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