Whycocomagh Gathering
at Whycocomagh Education Centre, Whycocomagh, Cape Breton
(13 October 2013)

I'm happy to be attending the Whycocomagh Gathering again this year, because it's always one of my favorites. The festival always picks a stellar line up for the show and this time includes Kimberley Fraser, Helene Blum & Harald Haugaard Band, Darol Anger & Natalie Haas & Brittany Haas, and Peter Uhrband.

After a brief intro from emcee and festival director Joella Foulds, Uhrband, accompanied by Morrison -- sorry, but I didn't catch his first name -- took the stage. They are from Denmark and Norway and play fiddle and accordion, respectively. Uhrband was an instructor to Haugaard, and I could really hear that. It was amazing how much sound this duo got out of just two instruments in their lively marches and polkas. They ended with the first tune of a set that were bridal tunes called "The Sweet," "The Sour" and "The Bitter."

Following the duo was a quartet: Fraser, Anger and the Haas sisters. It included two fiddles, one 5-string fiddle and a cello. The group was amazing with their harmonies, chopping rhythmic accompaniments, and fast fingering on Celtic melodies, old and new. The group came together for this festival but have played together in Boston before. They sounded as if they were playing together for years. I loved the range of the instruments: the deep, bass sounds of the cello to the sweet, treble sounds of the violin. Following an amazing jig that Natalie wrote, called "Between," Anger and Brittany played a duet that began with a slow, beautifully harmonized tune and then they picked up the pace with reels. Then, the four joined together again for some Cape Breton and Old Time tunes. Fraser shared some steps with some call and response chopping between her and Anger. They finished with a tune Anger wrote called, "Melt the Tea Kettle," which is exactly what this group could do. They're a powerhouse of talent and earned a much-deserved standing ovation.

After the intermission and a nice cup of tea, the Helene Blum & Harald Haugaard Band blew the crowd away. This group, from Denmark, is incredible. In celebration of Thanksgiving, Blum sang a song of being grateful for what we have. It was mesmerizing and gave me chills. Blum has the voice of an angel and, combined with Haugaard's wicked fiddling, they are a perfect musical pair. I loved this band's arrangements of songs and tunes. Along with the fiddle and vocals, the group includes a very talented cellist, two guitarists, and a drummer. It was another lovely combination. As I have been in the past, I was really impressed with the amount of sounds Haugaard can make with his fiddle, from bouncing the stick of the bow on the strings, to plucking, to airy sounds, to crisp, clean notes. He brought Uhrband back to the stage to show one of the people he learned from. They played a set of Danish dance tunes that got the audience clapping, and then a tune that Uhrband composed for his eldest daughter. Haugaard also brought fellow artist-in-residence (Fraser), along with "the Americans (Anger, Haas and Haas)" up for a set. They played the haunting tune, "Crossing to Ireland," and then finished their performance with some Cape Breton hornpipes and reels and a game of "spot the raised 4th," which is a different note in the scale that comes from the Nordic tradition. It was an interesting way to blend their styles and included the extra treat of a tune that Fraser and Haugaard composed together. The crowd went crazy over it.

For the finale, all of the performers gathered on the stage for a hauntingly beautiful tune with vocals lilted in the mix, which led into an equally-as-beautiful song, and then into an impressive set of reels. It was, by far, the best finale I've ever seen. It had the audience on their feet and clapping before it was finished. This concert, alone, made coming to the festival worth it. The best part is that I get to do this again, night after night, this week!

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

7 December 2013

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