Brenda Stubbert's Real
at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Sydney Mines, Cape Breton
(11 October 2010)

For my third show of the festival, I took a little drive to Sydney Mines to the beautiful St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. I was really excited about this one, because I've heard all of the artists before and knew if I didn't have fun at this show, it was definitely my own fault.

The show was humorously called "Brenda Stubbert's Real," a pun on the name of the late Jerry Holland's tune, "Brenda Stubbert's Reel." The tune is popular all over the world and has been played in many styles, besides the reel it was written as. So, this concert was special for a couple of reasons: it showed whom the tune was written for and it paid tribute to the man who wrote the tune.

Stubbert started her show off, on the church organ, with a beautiful tune she wrote. Then, after a brief story about the name of the concert from emcee Dan MacDonald, Stubbert grabbed her fiddle and was joined on stage by the talented and hilarious Howie MacDonald on piano. In Cape Breton, they would say "drive 'er" on the tunes, and that they did. I heard more shouts and whistles throughout the first set than I ever have at any other concert. Stubbert played a fantastic set of Cape Breton tunes, including the reel, "Mortgage Burn."

The duo then switched places and Howie "drove 'er" some more, but not until after Howie reminisced about a childhood of playing fiddle with Stubbert, and sharing the news that Stubbert is a new grandmother. Continuing on, Howie played an energetic set of jigs into some reels, to which I could feel the floor bouncing from all of the tapping feet in the audience.

Following the duo was the phenomenal guitarist and singer/songwriter John Doyle. He began with a song, accompanying himself with fancy fingerwork and driving rhythm on the guitar. Then he played a set of tunes, beginning with a lovely waltz he wrote for Jerry Holland, and then into a "sort of Swedish jig," as Doyle put it, and then some reels. I'm always amazed at how fast Doyle's fingers can fly and the chordal variations and bass lines he comes up with for tunes!

After showing his stuff, he invited Stubbert back to the stage to have a tune with him. They played a waltz that was written by Holland for his friend John Hartford and was recorded on the Holland and Doyle album, Helping Hands. The duo followed this with a spirited, toe-tapping Nova Scotia polka. Then, Howie joined them for a set of jigs, including "The Vega Mandolin," and some reels.

Next to take the stage was the exquisite Nuala Kennedy, who began with a beautiful song in Gaelic from her latest album, Tune In. Then, Doyle and Stubbert joined her on some mazurkas and the tune, "My Own Cape Breton Home," which the audience very much appreciated. Next, she played a set of Stubbert tunes, which she said she researched and "flutified." She said, "I hope I do them justice," and that she did! They were vibrant and fun and members of the audience were clapping along and shouting out their appreciation. It ended in explosive applause and a hug between Kennedy and Stubbert.

After that, MacDonald joined them on stage, along with Tracey Bailey, Stubbert's daughter, and her new baby, Ava Grace, who was adorably decked out in Cape Breton plaid. Bailey showed her steps as her mom played the "King's Set." And, just when the emcee thought they were finished, Stubbert said, "We're having so much fun, we don't want to get off the stage," and to that, they played a rousing set of reels, with smiles on their faces, and feet pounding into the stage.

After an intermission with tea and fudge, Maire O'Keeffe graced the stage, along with Paul MacDonald. O'Keeffe began with reels from her native County Kerry, made popular by Paddy Cronin, and including the tune, "The Flowing Bowl." She also played some playful-sounding barn dances, with the audience keeping perfect time. Then, Paul invited Stubbert to play some piano with them, so O'Keeffe, feeling fortunate to be sharing the stage with two wonderful Cape Breton musicians, played a set to pay tribute to three late musicians: Holland, Robert Stubbert (Brenda's father) and Dougie MacDonald. The set included the tunes "Robert Stubbert's" (written by Holland) and "Chums" (written by Holland and Dougie MacDonald). It was a wonderful end to their performance.

The last musician to show her stuff was Sydney Mines native Kimberley Fraser, accompanied by Stubbert and Doyle. After expressing how happy she was to be playing in her hometown, and how grateful she was to be invited to play with Stubbert, she played a set, including "The Lament for the Death of Reverend Archie Beaton" and "Trip to Windsor." The audience went crazy on the reels and Fraser had some really nice variations on the tunes. She received a standing ovation, and received an, "'at a girl, Kimberley!" from Stubbert, who didn't even know how to follow her performance.

But they switched places anyway, and Stubbert thanked everyone for coming to the show and expressed that "it was mighty craic" playing with her guests. She then played a set, which she dedicated to her late father and brother, and to Holland. The audience cheered with every key change. She, too, received a much-deserved standing ovation.

Then, they did some "fiddle aerobics," where Fraser was fingering her own fiddle but bowing Stubbert's, and Stubbert was fingering her fiddle but bowing Fraser's. It's interesting, because they can do this face-to-face, since Stubbert is right-handed and Fraser is left-handed. They played a lively set of reels this way without missing a beat. Again, the crowd went crazy!

To this, the two were joined by O'Keeffe and Paul MacDonald for some reels. Then, Kennedy came up for a song with Doyle. There were some really nice harmonies between the two singers, and a lovely instrumental interlude by the two of them, and the song led into some equally impressive reels.

Of course, to end, there was a grand finale with all of the musicians. To kick it off, Kennedy and Doyle sang "The Parting Glass," with the audience singing along. Then, they went right into a last blast of reels, appropriately ending with "Brenda Stubbert's Reel" and Stubbert herself showing some steps. The audience appreciated it so much, they demanded an encore. It was fabulous.

So far, out of the shows I've been to at this year's festival, this was by far the most appreciative and responsive crowd. It made it really fun. I could see how the musicians were feeding off of this energy and playing even harder. They looked like they were really enjoying themselves on stage, as I did, too. I found it hard to keep my feet still, because the music was so full of zest, and that made it a great concert.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

12 February 2011

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