The French Connection,
Celtic Colours 2001
at the Cheticamp NDA School
in Cheticamp, Cape Breton, NS
(9 October 2001)

For the past several years, I have attended events at the Celtic Colours festival, but I had yet to have the pleasure of attending the Cheticamp event. Each year I somehow managed to miss it, but heard how wonderful it was after the fact. This year then, I headed off to Cheticamp with high hopes, listening to all (two) of my French CDs along the way. Far from being disappointed, I've decided that this venue is a must on my schedule for next year's festival.

The venue opened with a set from local fiddler Brent AuCoin, accompanied on piano by the renowned Maybelle Chisholm. Although the young AuCoin played only one set, what a set it was! Beginning with a lovely slow air, he then moved into a march and strathspeys before ending with a feverish batch of reels. The set lasted a good 20 minutes at least and was well-matched by Chisholm's flavourful accompaniment. The pair provided smooth transitions and energetic tunes with characteristic Acadian expression. I quite enjoyed the playing of this talented young man, my only criticism being that he seemed to lack a good stage presence. He appeared a little shy, perhaps, and very concentrated on his instrument. I find that the performers I really enjoy are slightly more dynamic and can develop a rapport with the audience, but perhaps with a little more experience in the limelight, AuCoin will come to possess this ability.

The second act to take the stage certainly had the ability to engage the crowd. From the time they stepdanced their way onto the stage until they played their last notes, they had the rapt attention of the audience. Celtitude, hailing from Canada's Prince Edward Island, consists of three sisters and a cousin. The group members play a wide variety of instruments -- fiddle, accordion, guitar, bodhran, piano and tin whistle -- and can dance up a storm. Celtitude's act began with a brilliantly choreographed dance routine, and the energy level never let up!

One of the aspects of Acadian music that I love the most is the foot tapping that is so often intertwined with the music. It adds another dimension to tunes and rhythms, and there was certainly no shortage of foot action with this band. I was quite impressed by the versatility shown by the group. Expressive airs, tuneful vocal harmonies, intriguing instrumental arrangements and an energetic, crowd-pleasing style -- this band has it all! This was Celtitude's first trip to Celtic Colours, and I certainly hope that they make a return visit next year.

After such a fantastic performance, I wondered how the next band would fare. Suroit is another band with roots in the Cheticamp area, and I had heard good things about them prior to this event. But, could they possibly live up to the standard that Celtitude had set? Well, although Suroit had a vastly different style than Celtitude, I have to say that they did indeed manage to pass the grade -- indeed, with flying colours. Equipped with whistles, mandolin, drums, keyboard, accordion, electric guitars, bagpipes and even a washboard, Suroit would best be classed as Celtic rock. But they were more than that. An eclectic kind of mix with hints of traditional Cape Breton, Acadian, bluegrass and Cajun music, plus some good old rock 'n' roll, Suroit's music had a gripping effect as well. They too, had a formidable stage presence and were obviously enjoying themselves in front of a local crowd.

Suroit played a good number of instrumental tunes along with some vocal numbers. The vocals were strong, harmonies outstanding and the instrumentals were fantastic. The band infused a great deal of energy into their playing, which was certainly contagious. I even saw the sound and lighting guy doing a jig or two. A standing ovation from the crowd brought the band out for an encore, a fine blast of tunes. This very polished band is obviously used to performing, and once again I'll look for more from them in the future.

The only disappointment of the night in my books was that all of the performers didn't get together for a final act. With the talent in each of the night's acts, such a spectacle would have been electrifying, no doubt. I was also a little surprised to find that at least half of the crowd were "from away." In the past, the audience at the majority of Celtic Colours events was predominantly local residents. However, with the rising cost of festival events, more and more locals choose to forego the concerts, as they can see the same performers regularly at a much lower cost. I feel that such commercialism will eventually turn the festival into a tourist attraction, and locals will simply lose interest. However, I digress. The French Connection was a well-organized event and full of talent. I hope to see more of each of the night's performers, and will certainly plan a trip to the next French Connection.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001