A Touch of the Irish
at Riverdale Community Centre, Lower River Inhabitants, Cape Breton
(15 October 2013)

It was about a 90-minute drive from where I'm staying to Lower River Inhabitants, for this concert that I was really excited to attend. I was equally excited that for the first time, I found this venue. Every time I've ever tried to come to the Riverdale Community Centre, I just got a lovely, beautiful drive out of it, because I couldn't find it in the dark. So this was already shaping up to be a good night.

The first artist that emcee, Phill McIntyre (of the Skye Theater in Maine) brought to the stage was the one and only John Doyle. He kicked things off with a song about a soldier that was out in the cold and asking for a place to stay. After saying, "I'll keep going while I'm doing well," he sang a lively love song about a lady going on and on about how much she loves a man. It was called "I Know My Love," from Cork, Ireland. He followed it with a self-composed song called "The Alt." He was inspired to write it after moving back to Ireland for the last year. It was about an old man nearing the end of his life and looking through a Rowan tree, as the Druids did, and seeing the underworld. Then, he did one about the Irish Brigade, called "Clear Away." I loved the arrangement of the song, with fast and furious finger picking between the verses. Next, Chicago Irish fiddler Liz Carroll joined Doyle for some tunes. I was so happy to see them play together again. They are the perfect blend of virtuosos in their style of playing -- equals in skill and talent.

With Trevor Hutchinson (of Lunasa and the Water Boys) on bass and Sean Og Graham (of Beoga) on guitar, Carroll began her set with some reels she composed, including "Barbra Streisand's Trip to Saginaw." Carroll said she hopes Streisand will Google herself sometime and see the tune, then call her up and "come over for a glass of wine." Next, she played a slower, but lilting tune. She followed it up with some dance tunes, including "Balkin' Balkan" and "E-B-E Reel." After an explanation about how she wanted to write an Irish version of "Peter & the Wolf," she played her jazzy rendition of her hornpipe called "The Wolf," followed by her jig, "The Duck." She played a lovely slow tune she wrote for her late father called "Never Far Away" next. Carroll finished with three of her reels, including one she wrote for Jerry Holland called "Fiddle Heaven."

The Snowflake Trio kicked off the second half of the show. After flute player Nuala Kennedy shared a story about how she once won her own CD in a raffle, and encouraging the audience to put their tickets in for the raffle here, the trio began with a slow, haunting waltz, which led into a foot-stomping march. They followed this with a beautiful Oliver Schroer tune called, "Flowers," and then an equally-as-beautiful song where Kennedy took a poem from the area of Ireland she's from and wrote the melody to it. The song is called "The Voice from the Sea." It was duet between her and Vegar Vardal on Hardanger fiddle. With an ostinato on accordion by Frode Haltl, the set turned into massive craziness with Kennedy and Vardal picking up the pace on a tune, which led directly into a waltz Kennedy wrote. They ended their set with a reel that Kennedy wrote for the late Celtic Colours driver, Frank Sampson, called, "Big Pond Oyster Catcher." As with the other groups that played earlier in this show, I was most taken by the arrangements of this trio's tunes and songs: very ear-catching and entertaining. They are doing amazing, and innovative things for the music world.

After McIntyre encouraged the audience to attend the Festival Club, the Cape Breton duo of Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond and fiddler Wendy MacIsaac took the stage as the last phenomenal band of the night. Their music is wonderful, with modern arrangements of old songs and tunes, and I always love their banter between one another on stage. Between the music, I'm always laughing. The first song they did was a Gaelic work song. MacIsaac made the comment, "This show is called 'A Touch of the Irish,' right? ... Well, that's over." She then played some fun strathspeys and reels, including some Irish ones. With the introduction of band mates Seph Peters on guitar and Cathy Porter on percussion, the group did a song about the Blue Hills that Lamond co-wrote with Brian O'Headhra at a prior Celtic Colours festival. I had the opportunity to hear this band perform this song at Milwaukee Irish Fest and it was great there, but I really enjoyed hearing members of the audience sing along here, on their home turf.

Following this, MacIsaac played a lively set of tunes that she dedicated to her late brothers who passed away from muscular dystrophy in a hospital in this area. She explained that both she and her other brother now each have two boys, which has helped fill an empty place in her family's hearts. The set included a Liz Knowles tune called "Toss the Fiddles," and then some jigs by MacIsaac and fiddler friend Mairi Rankin. After another upbeat song, Lamond invited Doyle and Kennedy up for a lullaby about a father singing to his child about a woman that was taken away by fairies, but the fairies let her come back to Earth. It was beautiful, with Lamond and Kennedy taking turns on the verses and Doyle joining them on guitar and in harmony vocals on the choruses. Then, all of the tunemakers got up on the stage for a jig, strathspey and reels.

That wasn't even the finale. It began with an a cappella song by Lamond, Kennedy and Doyle, and then some puirt a beul (mouth music) into reels, where the whole group of performers looked like they were having so much fun. It was a very inspiring concert.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

14 December 2013

what's new