Island Women
at Savoy Theatre, Glace Bay, Cape Breton
(12 October 2012)

It was my first time attending a show a the lovely Savoy Theater in Glace Bay, and even though the weather was dreary, I enjoyed the drive through the cute little town on the water. The theater itself is beautiful, too. It used to be a Vaudeville theater, and there used to be boxing matches in it. The history was really interesting.

First to grace the stage was the Scottish Gaelic singing duo of Cathy Ann MacPhee and Kathleen MacInnes. They began with a love song, first in unison and then harmony. They explained that it was typical to start with a tragic song, but they wanted to begin with a happy number to kick off the show. MacPhee promised they would take us through all of the emotions. They followed it with a song from the Isle of Skye, which was one that had to be learned and performed to get a job as a nanny at a castle there, to which the duo high-fived each other and said, "I think we got the job. What do you think?"

Laoise Kelly, "the harpoonist," as MacInnes called her, joined them for the next song, which was a French church song translated to Scots Gaelic. It was beautiful. The duo was really fun and it was their first time singing together on stage away from home. They were very happy to introduce Irish singer, Nuala Kennedy, who was next to wow the crowd.

She began by explaining how she feels right at home in Cape Breton and sang a song from home, unaccompanied. She had to ask the audience to wish her luck for it, though, because she had developed a bit of a cough, or a "festival contamination," as she put it. Then, to mix things up a bit, Wendy MacIsaac and Seph Peters joined her for some tunes. The first tune was called "The Green Lady," which she wrote for the ghost of Tulloch Castle and she recorded with the late Oliver Schroer. She followed it with some reels, including one called "The Coast of Austria," which she said is funny because Austria has no coast, so the tune fit her really well since she likes silly jokes like that. The audience loved the transition into the reels and started tapping their toes. Kennedy is a real gem in Irish music today, and she always has fun on the stage, bouncing lightly to the tunes and smiling while playing her flute. She is an absolute joy to hear.

She introduced Cheticamp native Sylvia LeLievre, an Acadian singer and songwriter. Accompanying herself on guitar, she sang a love song in French. After telling the audience that this festival is the best experience she has had, and how women are so powerful in the music, she invited Mary Jane Lamond to sing the next song with her. It was about telling someone you love how much you care about them and having a second chance to do so, when you were to shy to say it the first time you wanted to. It was beautiful with the harmonies between the two voices.

Lamond stayed on stage and said, "Next, I have the great pleasure to introduce myself, and I could go on and on...," but instead she brought her band mates onto stage, including MacIsaac, who said that the director had asked her for a good name for this show, and when she heard that the lineup was all women, she thought it should be called, "Does this Concert Make My Butt Look Big?" With that, the group went into a driving Gaelic song. Then, they did a song about the Blue Mountain, composed by Scottish singer Brian O'headhre.

Kennedy joined them for a set from their latest album called "The Yellow Coat Set." It was driving and lively. It received the loudest applause of the show so far. To continue the fun, MacPhee and MacInnes joined the group for a rhythmic milling song. It was great to hear all of the women's voices on it.

After the draw for door prizes by an adorable little girl named Brenley, folk duo Madison Violet took the stage and opened with a song called "No Fool for Trying." They announced that they were leaving Cape Breton the next day, and one said, "I'm going to bring home an oatcake and a hangover." Then, they sang a very sweet song they wrote for their grandmother, who passed away recently. They finished with a bluegrass song called, "Cindy, Cindy," which the audience clapped along to on an a cappella part. This was my first time hearing this duo live and I enjoyed them.

The Newfoundland trio The Once followed them. After expressing how lucky they are to be at Celtic Colours, lead singer Geraldine Hollett shared a story about how her dad told her he almost drowned at sea as a fisherman before she was born, but he saw her face when he was in the water and that was what brought him back to life. This was where their first song came from. It was amazing. They followed it with one that was dedicated to all the ladies in the house and was about a woman who was wishing her husband dead. For their last song, they asked the audience to sing with them on the chorus. It was called, "Song for Memory." The Once was completely engaging from start to finish, and I hope to hear more of them down the road.

The last act of this show was the legendary Cape Breton singer and recipient of The Order of Canada, Rita MacNeil. She received explosive applause and a standing ovation before she even opened her mouth, and again on the first word of her first song, which was about the love of Cape Breton. Love was the theme in pretty much every song. With all due respect, I know MacNeil is a big name here, but it was way over the top and cheesy for me, and I couldn't understand half of what she was saying, because she was adding too much vibrato and swells on most of what she sang. The best part of her show was her stories between the songs. She does have a nice sense of humor. Otherwise, it was like being at an overly positive therapy session or like watching an after-school special. It just wasn't for me.

For the finale, the whole group sang MacNeil's song, "Can this Be My Island, Too?" I was so happy when they went into a more lively song, and the audience appreciated it by clapping along. Then, all of the tune makers picked up the pace even more, with the two MacIsaacs of this concert showing some fancy footwork. It was a wonderful way to finish off the show.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

26 January 2013

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