String Crossings
at Strathspey Place, Mabou, Cape Breton
(16 October 2013)

This was my first time attending a show at this venue in one of my favorite towns in Cape Breton. Mabou is home to the infamous Red Shoe Pub and the Rankin Family. It's very picturesque -- a wonderful home to the Strathspey Place.

The lights dimmed and everyone settled into their seats for this interesting show. After emcee Janet Robinson gave a brief introduction, the show began with an arrangement of tunes that began with a jig and went into reels, including John Morris Rankin's tune, "Hull's," which was very impressively played by cellists Natalie Haas and Kirstine Elise Pedersen. I don't get to hear reels played up to speed on the cello very often, so I was really amazed by it and in awe of their talents.

Next, artist in residence and Cape Breton fiddler Kimberley Fraser, the organizer of this show, invited Natalie and Brittany Haas and Darol Anger to join her for a jig that Natalie wrote called "Between." I had the opportunity to hear this lovely arrangement at their performance in Whycocomagh a few nights ago, and I enjoyed it again tonight. This time bassist, Jamie Gatti joined them, which added even more depth to the arrangement.

After this the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc played a lively polska, and then the whole group played a very moving arrangement of "The Sweetness of Mary," arranged by Fraser. I loved the chord choices and the range and depth of all the instruments together. It was beautiful and gave me chills.

Fraser's first fiddle teacher, Kyle MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils, brought Brittany Haas back up for a duet of tunes he'd played with Bruce Molsky at a prior festival. It was a neat combination of a Cape Breton reel and an old-time reel. It was easy to see that the two fiddlers we enjoying their stage time together, as they tapped their toes and smiled along to the tunes.

Then it was the other artist in residence's time to shine. The group performed an arrangement of the tune, "Morris Field," by Danish fiddler Harald Haugaard. He, too, was really enjoying himself and having fun, especially at a point in the music where the audience thought they were finished and began to clap, but then the music went on, lucky for us.

After a set of old-time and Cape Breton tunes, played by Anger, Fraser, Haas and Haas, there was a blues duet by Anger and Gatti called, "Opus de Funk'" that included fancy finger work and amazing bass lines. Then came a tune, "Maria's 27th Birthday Plattgympa," by Nordic Fiddlers Bloc member Anders Hall. It had the craziest intro and "outro" I've ever heard. I would've never guessed the bouncy, danceable tune that was coming.

After Fraser introduced each performer, the whole group finished the first half of the show with a waltz and a Cape Breton reel with a Nordic twist of high fourths.

There was a lovely tea and bake sale during the intermission, and to begin the second half of the show, the group played a lively suite of J. Scott Skinner tunes, arranged by Fraser.

This was followed by Haugaard, Pedersen and Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson playing some traditional tunes from Denmark and the Shetland Islands. The set included a menuet, rant and polonaise. The first two were very Baroque-sounding; the last was very lively and polka-like.

After a set including old-time tunes, "Midnight on the Water" and "Bonaparte's Retreat," Anger, Fraser, Haas and Haas played a tune by Anger called "Melt the Tea Kettle," which was written for Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster. Anger's explanation of it was, "She played it great and now we're going to play it great."

MacNeil took the stage next to wow the crowd with a sweet slow air, to which he said, "This is a good one to snuggle up to the person next to you, even if you don't like them." It began as a duet between him and Natalie Haas, and then Gatti joined. They went into some more virtuosic hornpipes after and then reels.

The next set featured the cello players on a menuet, fling and cotillion. Then came one of my favorite tunes, "Tullochgorum," played by Fraser and MacNeil. It was neat to hear it with harmonies, and I especially liked when Gatti joined them and added a nice bass line to the mix. They put a jazzy spin on the end of it and then went into reels, which got the audience clapping.

They followed with another Haugaard tune called "Vesterland." He and Fraser played the slow air, accompanied by Pedersen and, one by one, the others came in and picked up the pace on the tune, which became a march with a lot of harmonies, counter melodies and a full range of sound.

Fraser did an amazing job of putting this show together. She explained how much rehearsal went into it and was very gracious to all of the musicians involved. After thanking the festival directors, sound technicians, all of the volunteers and the audience, she and the group ended the show with a hodgepodge of tunes and improvisation by each called "Ramblin'."

As if that wasn't enough, there was an encore of a reel that Hagaaurd and Fraser wrote together, which made its debut at this festival earlier in the week, called "Denmark Meets Cape Breton." They followed it with "The Cape Bretoner's Welcome to the Shetlands."

As I was making my way to the door, I heard nothing but compliments about the show. It received two standing ovations.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

21 December 2013

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