Home I'll Be
at the Big Pond Community Centre,
Big Pond, NS (11 October 2003)

The Home I'll Be concert in Big Pond, part of Cape Breton's 2003 Celtic Colours Festival, marked the first time that I had visited the community's new fire hall. Finding a seat in the auditorium, I immediately noticed the architecture of the building, which seemed far more suited to concerts and dances than to merely holding typical fire hall events. But then, this was Big Pond, home of a host of wonderful musicians and a kitchen-party site extraordinaire -- what else would you expect, but a fire hall built for sound?

The audience, as it usually is at Celtic Colours events, was quite diverse. There were couples from Germany and Halifax sitting in the row behind me, a large smattering of Americans from all over the country, and I recognized quite a few locals and islanders from farther afield amongst the eager faces. All were clearly there to enjoy some top-rate music, and none were disappointed.

Gordie Sampson opened the show, and although he claimed to have a cold, you wouldn't have known it! Gordie is releasing a new album later this year, and he treated the audience to a number of his new songs, as well as some older material, including "Grandpa's Remedy," a little ditty about the vicious hangovers brought on by drinking out of the bottle with the "X" on it. Gordie plays a good variety of styles on his guitar, and can fingerpick with the best of them. Often, it seemed hard to believe that there was only one guy up there with a guitar -- he has a great ability to carry the whole song by himself, and he creates a very full sound.

Gordie's last two sets were instrumental, and for the first, he brought Tracey Dares-MacNeil to the stage to accompany him on the piano. It was an amazing set of guitar-picking tunes, beginning with some jigs that immediately set the audience's toes into tap mode. I'd be hard pressed to say which I enjoyed more -- the piano or the guitar. While Gordie's fingers simply flew over the strings, Tracey showed her amazing knack for accompaniment, giving just the right amount of attention to chords and melodies. After the jigs, Tracey took over the lead for a group of reels. I am simply in love with Tracey's style on the piano, and I would gladly sit through a whole concert with her alone. She certainly puts to rest the myth that a piano is only an accompaniment instrument in Cape Breton music. I was kind of disappointed when she left the stage again for Gordie's last set!

My disappointment didn't last long, however, Gordie's last set was a lovely air, followed by jigs and a whack of reels that set the feet flying once again. His expression was beautiful, and the things he makes that guitar do! Wow.

Next, Tracey returned to the stage with Howie MacDonald -- another of my favorite musicians -- for a few sets of fiddle tunes. Host Dennis MacDonald pretty much summed up the "Howie" experience when he remarked that when people think of Howie, their feet just automatically start to tap. How true! This pair was obviously having fun before they even started to play, and to me, that's what really makes a good performance. Tracey's wide smile is quite infectious, and Howie's wise-cracking remarks had the audience in stitches within minutes.

My only disappointment with this part of the show was that they only played four sets! The last one saw Gordie return to the stage to join in a rip-roaring set of tunes -- I practically had to tie myself into my seat to keep from jumping up and dancing! Each set in this part of the show left me lusting for more. Too short, too short, too short! That's my only complaint. Again, Dennis hit the nail on the head when he said, "Howie is a terribly confusing entertainer. You don't know whether you want to hear more stories or more tunes -- you just know that you want to hear more!"

After the intermission, Lunasa -- a band which I had heard much of, but had never actually heard -- took the stage. Lunasa is an Irish band composed of Kevin Crawford (flute, whistles, bodhran), Sean Smyth (fiddle, whistles), Donogh Hennessy (guitars), Trevor Hutchinson (double bass) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes, low whistle). I'm glad that I finally got to hear this band, because they were excellent.

Lunasa played 11 sets on their own, and they were just full of good tunes. There was lots of variety in both speed and style, and each band member had a chance to strut his stuff. Kevin was simply excellent on flute, whistles and bodhran, and did a great job as spokesman for the band. He more than made up for the silence of the other members. They were outstanding as well; each instrumentalist brought a unique and polished sound to the band.

I was quite impressed with the instrumental arrangements Lunasa had, as well as their versatility. There were many a great harmonies between the instruments -- particularly whistles and flute -- and they wove together rhythms and melodies in an intricate and unique fashion. They also kept the audience nodding, tapping and bobbing the whole way through. My only wish with this band would be that Kevin play the bodhran more often! He did a breathtaking solo to start off one of the sets, and it was amazing. He had excellent tone, and some really different off-beat rhythms -- stuff that's all-too-often neglected by wanna-be bodhran players out there.

After Lunasa received a standing ovation from the audience, Howie and Gordie joined them on the stage for a finale. I was rather hoping that Tracey would join in as well, but alas, there was no room to bring the piano back! The finale is always my favorite part of a Celtic Colours show, as the audience is often treated to some musical combinations that they won't often get the chance to hear. In this case, the gang played a great hopping set of tunes. It sounded like they play together all the time, and everyone looked to be having such a good time -- they and sent everyone home with broad smiles on their faces ... after another standing ovation, of course.

This was a long show, as they go. It was allotted something like two hours and 20 minutes, but ended up being over three hours -- this, however was certainly not a deterrent! An excellent show with some fine tunes, and a great, hospitable venue! What more can you ask?!?

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 8 November 2003