Tunes for the Mira
at Marion Bridge Recreation Centre, Marion Bridge, Cape Breton
(11 October 2009)

It was a beautiful day in Cape Breton, and after taking a nice drive to shoot photos of some of the breathtaking scenery, I made my way to Marion Bridge for "Tunes for the Mira." This was my second time attending a show at this particular venue, and I remembered enjoying the last one, so I was really looking forward to this one, too.

The show began with a very long introduction by the emcee. In fact, my only negative comment for this entire review is that the introductions were way too long. People do not come to shows to hear the artists' lifelong lists of accomplishments; they come to hear the music, and the talent at this concert was stellar, so I was anxious to get to it.

Opening the show was a group of very talented ladies: Abby Newton (cello), Mairi Campbell (fiddle), Kim Robertson (harp) and Sabra MacGillivray (bodhran and dance). Their music was really beautiful and calming. They began with Newton taking the lead on a classic set that included "The New Rigged Ship" and "The Full Rigged Ship." However, she put a creative spin on the rhythm of the first tune, rather than playing it as a straight jig as most do. In fact, this group had really nice arrangements of all of their sets. I was struck the most by how well the melodies were transferred from instrument to instrument with grace and ease. There was much creativity in how the dance was presented, as well.

For the Highland dance portion of their show, MacGillivray walked down the center aisle with a lantern and danced gracefully in front of the stage. It was beautiful. Campbell gave a beautiful rendition of the Robert Burns song, "Ye Banks & Braes o' Bonnie Doon," which added a nice element of variety to this group's performance. My favorite set was their last one, where Robertson provided some nice vamping on the harp and MacGillivray showed her steps on a strathspey and reels. This group got the show off to a great start.

Another performance that had wonderful variety was from the Donegal duo Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Manus Lunny. Lunny began with a bit of humor. He was tuning his instrument and, to fill the time, he said to the audience, "You have a lot of trees. We don't." He went on to explain that it had nothing to do with the Ice Age and that they cut them all down in Ireland so they could see everyone better. After a nice laugh from the audience, the duo played a lovely, haunting slow tune that led into some toe-tapping reels. Then Lunny had to tune, again, to which he said, "I blame Air Canada." Ni Mhaonaigh explained that the airline left Lunny's luggage and instruments in London for a day.

When everything was in working order again, Ni Mhaonaigh sang a lullaby in Irish she wrote for her daughter. This was followed by some lively jigs she composed, which she played on a Hardanger fiddle, and then another song called "I Wish My Love was a Red, Red Rose (NOT the Burns version)," which was passed on from Sarah Makem. After another lively song about eloping, Ni Mhaonaigh said, "We're having so much fun. There should be a government health warning for this island. We're wrecked after only one night of being here!" The duo finished with a wonderful set of reels.

After intermission, the final act of the evening, Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook, took the stage. They began with a set of reels. Accompanied only by each other, there were some really nice harmonies in the tunes. Then, they were joined by an amazing back-up band, which included Skip Holmes on guitar, Ray Leger on mandolin and Kimberley Fraser on piano. The group played some jigs, which featured Sabra MacGillivray with some Highland dancing, and then reels, where Sabra quickly transitioned to some wonderful step dancing. Throughout the performance the fiddlers took turns doing some solos. Cook had a few spotlight moments, including a jig he wrote and a tune called "Foolin' Around," which sounded like Texas/southern swing. He also played some waltzes in that style -- one of which he learned from fiddler Mark O'Connor.

Troy also wowed the crowd with some a couple of solos. Particularly, his piano solo: the beautiful air, "Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife." His choice of chords made for a fresh rendition of an old tune. It was mesmerizing. He continued with some clogs and reels to pick the audience up again. He also did a fiddle solo, to which he announced, "Kimberley and I ran through a few tunes, but we still don't know what we're playing," and then, looking at Holmes and Leger, he said with a laugh, "and you guys are playing ... well ... it's in F." The whole group took the stage to finish with some reels, including the bright and lively "Road to Errogie." They received the first standing ovation of the evening.

For a grand finale, all of the performers gathered for some reels. It was an amazing concert with wonderful variety and inspiring talent. Once again, I really enjoyed this venue.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

16 January 2010

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