Island Neighbours
at United Protestant Church, Sydney River, Cape Breton
(11 October 2012)

After hearing Pepeto Pinto play Cape Breton tunes on the steel drums this week, I was excited for this show. This is why:

The first act of the evening was the duo Monica and Seamus MacNeil. They are a truly unique pair, in that Monica plays Celtic music on the alto saxophone and is accompanied by her husband, Seamus, on piano. They began with a slow tune called "Carolan's Quarrel with the Landlady," and I was mesmerized from the first note. It was really beautiful on the saxophone. There were toes tapping immediately when the duo went into reels. After introducing her husband as "the cutest member of the Barra MacNeils" and explaining what her instrument was, the duo played another slow air by Pat Chafe and then some jigs, which she said she might need to borrow someone's oxygen tank for.

To give Monica a chance to catch her breath, Seamus wowed the crowd with his amazing talents. He played a breathtaking air -- no pun intended to Monica. This flowed right into strathspeys and reels. I am always in awe of Seamus' piano playing, because he makes the instrument sound like an entire band. His set received applause in the middle of it, twice.

Monica followed this with a set of marches, strathspeys and reels, including a Jerry Holland tune. Rocking back and forth to the tunes, and tapping her foot, she looked like she was really enjoying playing for everyone. She received applause in the middle of the tune "Sheehan's."

After some cute couple banter between the two -- and a tribute to John Ferguson, who passed away this week -- they finished with a set that included a Paul Cranford tune. It began with a tear-jerking air. Of all the tunes Monica played, I liked the airs the most. They sound amazing on the saxophone, especially with Seamus accompanying them.

Next to take the stage was virtuoso Cape Breton fiddler Dwayne Cote, who was accompanied by the equally talented Hilda Chiasson-Cormier. After an enormous amount of thank yous and noting that his mother was in the audience, Cote began with a request from her, the Jerry Holland tune "My Mother Dear," followed by a few of his own compositions.

Cote is one of the few fiddlers on the island that I can hear the influence of classical lessons in his playing. Every note has a full, clean sound. There is no scratching in his playing. Yet, the tunes still sound like Cape Breton style and not like he is reading the tunes off of a page. This is hard for a lot of classically trained violinists who are learning fiddle to master. For them, I'd highly recommend listening to Cote.

After wowing the crowd with his first set of virtuosity, he played a set he learned from Jerry Holland's Master Cape Breton Fiddler album. It was a fantastic medley of mean-sounding B minor tunes. He followed this with another set of his own compositions, with some shouts of encouragement from none other than Brenda Stubbert in the middle of it, which got the audience to clap along even harder.

For his next set, he asked for requests from the audience. Two tunes that came up the most were "Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife," and "Tullochgorum." He said, "Well, there's no reason why we can't do both," and with that, off he went on the air, complete with the full range of his instrument. The audience went nuts when he went into the second request. He followed it with unrequested, but very much appreciated, reels and comedic polka, "The Orange Blossom Special," and "Turkeys in the Straw." His set ended with a standing ovation.

Acadian band Vishten took the stage after intermission and immediately got the crowd stomping and clapping with some mouth organ, foot percussion, fiddle and accordion. I love how unpredictable the arrangements of their sets are and it is incredible how much sound they get with just three people! It sounded like at least twice that many were on the stage.

For their second number, they did a Louisiana song, and they invited the audience to join in. The song was about a man who liked three things in life: women, dancing and whiskey. The audience sounded really great on it. Vishten did the chorus in call-and-response style, so they totally got it. It was driving and fun.

They followed the song with a set of Cape Breton tunes. I loved how it went from a strathspey on fiddle to a reel on whistle, with chopping on fiddle, and then both on the melody. Then, the accordion joined in and it was this amazing wall of sound, again, with only three musicians.

After another lilting song with tight harmonies between all three voices, Emmanuelle played a set of reels on whistle, with Pascal on guitar and Pastelle on fiddle. All three are extremely multitalented. Then, they performed a tune that Pascal composed for his son on guitar, and then a jig he composed for Pastelle and Emmanuelle's father.

Their next song was "sort of a Cajun, Acadian, Celtic mix," as Emmanuelle put it. Once again, the trio's harmonies were extremely tight. I absolutely loved the foot percussion. It really drove the song and blended with the rhythms that were happening on the piano. All of it complemented the song and the instrumental interludes on fiddle and whistle. The audience clapped loudly in appreciation along with them.

The last of their performance was a set of tunes with steps by Pastelle and Emmanuelle. I am in awe of this band and was completely entertained by their entire show, as I was with every act of the night. Their finale was well put together, with reels by all including Holland's tune, "Brenda Stubbert's." (On a side note, Stubbert leaned over to me, laughing, and said, "I saw you putting my name there," as I was typing this.) There was more dancing by Monica, Dwayne, Hilda and the sisters from Vishten. If people weren't having fun at this show, it was their own fault. This concert was a treat.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

12 January 2013

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