Women in Tune
at Whycocomagh Eco Centre, Whycocomagh, Cape Breton
(10 October 2010)

Whycocomagh Eco Centre has a reputation for having sold-out concerts at Celtic Colours just about every year, and this year was the same. There was a large, appreciative crowd, and there was standing room only -- and barely that. This was no surprise, because the show included Loaise Kelly, Mollie O'Brien, Liz Doherty Connection and Andrea Beaton, Naimh Ni Charra, and Natalie MacMaster and Tracey Dares-MacNeil.

The lovely Loaise Kelly started off the show with her talents on the harp. I had the privilege of hearing Kelly for the first time last year at this festival, and I was in awe. Tonight was no different. I enjoy her lilting, toe-tapping style. She began with tunes by Turlough O'Carolan, the infamous blind harper who wrote many tunes that are still played today. After expressing how grateful she was to be back in Cape Breton, she played an air from her home in County Mayo, written in 1840. Kelly finished her short set with reels, including John Morris Rankin's "Hull's."

I really enjoy Kelly's bass lines and the fact that she plays tunes that others might think would be difficult on the harp, but she makes them sound like they're no problem. Appropriately, she received explosive applause.

Following Kelly was jazz and blues singer Mollie O'Brien, a Colorado native. It was quite a change from the traditional Celtic music I had just heard, but I liked it. O'Brien has a strong, smooth voice, and she can really belt out a song. Her guitarist and husband Rich O'Brien was equally as talented. They began with a blues song, which I believe was called "If You're Looking for Trouble," where both really showed the range of their talents. The duo followed it with a more folk-sounding song by a friend of Mollie's.

Both have really nice stage presence. They advertised their album by saying that people should buy it because they really want to stay on the road. Otherwise, they would have to "do a James Taylor and Carol King tribute, or something," to which Rich started a riff from one of their songs, to give the audience a laugh. They finished with a rocking song called "The Shake." I was thoroughly impressed with this duo. I wasn't expecting to hear this kind of music at this festival, but I really enjoyed it.

Next up was the Liz Doherty Connection. Ireland's Doherty is very well known locally, having lived in Cape Breton where she studied and worked on a Ph.D. on the island's music traditions. The group began with a set of Doherty's native Donegal hornpipes, followed by some fast-paced reels. Then they played a slower-paced set of jigs, but equally as entertaining.

Doherty and her band are a dynamite explosion of sound, and very much appreciated by the audience because of it. I really enjoyed the harmonies between the fiddles, Doherty and Louise Hunter. They were incredible; their fingers were flying and the transitions between tunes were flawless. The band also includes Jim Woods on bodhran and accordion and Ian Carr on guitar. Joining them for this show was Judique fiddler Andrea Beaton. They played a wild set of hornpipes and reels. Then, they played an air by Liz Carroll, a jig, a slip jig and reels ... quite the eclectic set, but really fun, nonetheless! They ended their set with a medley for Scottish, Donegal and Cape Breton tunes. This was a 5-star, first-class performance.

After the intermission and the draw for a CD and signed plaque, the audience was graced with the beautiful music of Naimh Ni Charra, who became popular via playing with Riverdance. Although she played fiddle in that show, tonight she was sharing her talent on concertina as well. She began her performance with a solo air that was based on an aisling poem. Then, she picked up her fiddle and wowed the crowd with a set of jigs, and in the middle of the set, while her guitar player played a nice interlude, she flawlessly switched back to concertina. Next, she played a lament she wrote for a friend, followed by slip jigs.

She introduced her concertina to the audience, literally, by saying "its first name is Terry." She explained how it is a member of the accordion family and she wishes she could play the concertina and fiddle at the same time. On that note, she took off with a barn dance and some warp-speed slip jigs. Lastly, she was joined by members of the Liz Doherty Connection and Laoise Kelly for a set of reels. It was a great end to Ni Charra's performance.

Mollie and Rich O'Brien came up for another song after this and were joined by Ni Charra. Rich explained that they put the song "Saints & Sinners" together during intermission, and even though their music isn't Celtic, they thought they'd have Ni Charra join them on concertina to "sound sort of Irish."

Then, after one more song by the O'Briens, the much-anticipated performance of Natalie MacMaster began. With her blonde curls swaying back and forth and her foot tapping, she started with a good Cape Breton set of marches, strathspeys and reels. Tracey Dares-MacNeil really drove'er on the piano, too, with a "whoop!" from the audience, when she threw in a glissando.

While the technicians sorted out a monitor problem, MacMaster told the audience she was expecting baby No. 4 and how she and Dares-MacNeil are enjoying motherhood and music. Once everything was in working order, they played a set of jigs and then a bouncy set of clogs and reels. MacMaster finished with an air and a medley of tunes she learned from her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, and broke a string in the middle of it, and exclaimed with a laugh, "Oh my gosh, I was so into it!" So, she happily told the audience about her family, as she changed her string, and then began the set, again. In the end, it received explosive applause and a standing ovation, in spite of what had happened.

For the last performances of the night, MacMaster, Beaton and Doherty gathered on the stage for a set that began with the beautiful air, "Hector the Hero." It was mesmerizing to hear the harmonies on the haunting tune. Then, they sped things up with another Cape Breton set. Following that was a stunning song from O'Brien. Then, the rest of the performers piled onto the stage for one last blast of tunes. They could barely fit, but when they got started it was just an incredible wall of sound until the end!

I probably said this before, but I have enjoyed every concert I've ever been to in Whycocomagh. It's a wonderful venue, with nice people, fantastic lineups of performers, and responsive audiences. Once again, I really enjoyed the show and am looking forward to more in the future.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

22 January 2011

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