Festival Club
at the Gaelic College of Arts & Crafts,
St. Ann's, Cape Breton
(7 October 2012)

No one seemed sure who she was, but she was playing like the devil's own business on the Festival Club stage Sunday evening.

Seph Peters, an acclaimed local guitarist, showed up in the Green Room to perform. According to bystanders, he brought his girlfriend -- and her fiddle -- along; no one I spoke to seemed to know her name, just another phenomenal talent from Cape Breton's fertile soil. Next year, I imagine, she'll be leading the bill.

The Festival Club always features great talent. Next up tonight was Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond and longtime fiddle partner Wendy MacIsaac, along with their band. A great set of instrumentals and Gaelic songs later, Wendy sat down for a fiddle blitz, accompanied only by keyboard and setting the whole room bouncing. Then Wendy showed her steps to the rhythm of Mary Jane's quick-tongued mastery of the Gaelic. I left with their new CD in hand, something to look forward to on my next long drive.

Nuala Kennedy, singer and flute player, has been a longtime favorite of mine, and I've seen her both solo and in various bands over the years. This time, she was performing with her newest band, Oirialla, which draws from the musical heritage of the Oriel region of Ireland. Nuala was joined by Irish fiddler Gerry O'Connor and accordionist Martin Quinn, as well as Breton guitarist Gilles le Bigot.

My schedule for the week still in flux, I wasn't sure Sunday if I'd be seeing these guys elsewhere or not. Thank God for the Festival Club, though, which made sure I had a taste.

The band is tight and talented, and Nuala shows the same level of pure pleasure whether she's playing or listening to someone else. I'm a diehard fiddle fanatic, and yet when Nuala picks up a flute or whistle, I'm enraptured ... so much so, I think my wife is getting suspicious.

If you want to find a stalker, though, look for the woman seated nearby whose eyes never seem to leave Nuala's face and is wearing the exact same shirt. Hmmm.

Tunes and songs later -- with kudos to Gilles for soldiering on after snapping a string -- I had a chance to chat at length with Gerry about the fallow traditions of Northern Irish music and recent attempts to resurrect the tradition. I wish him much success with that, as any Irish musical tradition is likely to be rich and well worth mining.

John Doyle and Bruce Molsky were next, reprising music performed earlier that evening in Whycocomagh. It was past 2, an hour when many music venues in the world are winding down. Not here, where the Outside Track was just taking the stage and in short order has a few dozen enthusiastic dancers at their feet. Meanwhile, back in the Green Room, Joe Peter MacLean -- himself a Cape Breton tradition -- was holding court over an informal session.

The night wraps up with Sprag Session, a local band composed of the talented Jason Roach, Darren McMullen, Colin Grant, Merlin Clarke and Donnie Calabrese.

Although their Celtic rock sound is less to my taste than the purer drop that was dominating much of the festival, the band certainly won over the crowd and there was no question of the musicians' skills. Me, I decided to head home with my wife for some much-needed sleep.

review by
Tom Knapp

10 November 2012

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