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

The Asham Stompers were back this evening, trading their white uniforms for dazzling red and black and now minus one female member, but never missing a beat as they demonstrated their breathless form of dance.

Just when you begin to think they can't continue, they do -- not even bothering to look winded as their feet weave rhythmic and intricate patterns on stage. Kudos to their fiddler, who kicked into an accelerating rendition of "Orange Blossom Special" as the pace of feet on the floor picked up accordingly. And those dancers just kept smiling, even though I could barely see their feet, so fleetly were they moving.

Wally MacAulay was handling emcee duties on this Monday evening at the Festival Club until Buddy MacDonald, who was giving an emotional show down in D'Escousse, could arrive. There was plenty of musical action to keep the audience entertained, including Anita MacDonald, the Dardanelles, the Alan Kelly Band and Maxim Cormier, a guitarist who was releasing his first album after receiving the Frank "Big Sampie" Sampson Award, a scholarship from the Festival Volunteer Drive'Ers Association. His set began with just a pair of guitarists on stage, then suddenly there was a full band behind him. There was a look of pure bliss on his face as he played, his excitement palpable.

Sadly, top-notch performers including Andrea Beaton, Colin Grant and Troy MacGillivray were drifting around backstage, unused. The best nights at the Festival Club are often those where they throw a mix of local and international talent on stage and see what happens. Not only is it a guarantee you won't just see a rehash of some earlier show that evening, but it also leads to some of the most amazing, mind-blowing jams that have ever happened, anywhere, ever.

Impromptu pick-up bands at past festivals have even led to new bands forming and unusual recording partnerships, too. Over the course of the week, I lost count of the number of musicians who complained to me about the lack of those opportunities, which -- I was told repeatedly -- is one of the biggest attractions about the festival. Members of the audience agreed, noting that the drive to St. Ann's and the additional charge to attend the Festival Club was worth it largely because of the chance to see something they couldn't see anywhere else.

Fortunately, it was coming.

The highlight for me this evening was a brilliant blast of tunes by Cape Breton fiddler Chrissy Crowley, joined on stage by piper Kenneth MacKenzie, guitarist Tony Byrne, pianist Jason Roach and snare drummer Cheryl Smith. That was some mighty fine playing all around, and it ended my night on a high note indeed.

review by
Tom Knapp

24 November 2012

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