The Homecoming
at the NDA School,
Cheticamp, NS (14 October 2003)

Each time I have attended the concert venue in Cheticamp, I have been pleasantly surprised. There is always a rich variety of entertainment by quality musicians with some link to the Acadian community. This one was no exception, and the night's performers put on an excellent show. They were slightly hampered by the sound at this venue, which I have to say was pretty poor. Performer and audience alike politely pretended not to notice, however, and went on with their jobs of enjoying the music.

First to take the stage were husband and wife Christine Balfa and Dirk Powell, accompanied by their nephew, Courtney Granger. I had not heard much in the way of Cajun music, and so I was anticipating something a little different with this band. And it was different, yet there was still something quite familiar about it -- perhaps the Acadian roots of the music had something to do with it. (Or perhaps it was that it sort of reminded me of the Kia commercial I'd seen on TV.) At any rate, the band put on a good show with a variety of traditional and new songs and tunes.

Powell's accordion playing was absolutely exceptional, and Balfa on guitar was no less expressive. The fiddle style in this music fell more into the accompaniment category, but Granger's playing was crisp and had good tone. Balfa's voice was rich and smooth, and well suited to the bluesy songs they played. The couple had a good stage presence, and their bilingual explanations and stories were well-appreciated by the audience.

Matthew Foulds joined the band on drums for the last couple of sets, which added another dimension to the band, and kicked up the energy level in the room a notch or two. They played one of their own compositions -- an energetic tune with a great beat -- and finished it off with their version of "Madeline." This was a definite crowd-pleaser and earned the band a standing ovation.

Next to the stage was La Swing du Suete, a local group of talented young people. Although I had heard of this group before, I had no idea what to expect from them. As it turns out, they put on quite an enjoyable show. They began with a cute little dance number, highlighting some Cape Breton style round and square dancing as well as stepdancing, which incorporated some silent acting as well. This was followed by an excellent set of strathspeys and reels on the fiddle by one of the group members.

The audience was then treated to a most unexpected number. The lights dimmed and the strains of the 1980s song, "I'm So Excited" floated into the air, and then a pair of skeletons (illuminated by black lights) bounced onto the stage. They were complete with glowing skipping ropes, and later joined by a pair of glowing butterflies! Quite the thing! Neat, and different. The rest of the show featured a great mix including a funky Highland dance to some modernized Celtic tunes, a funny French/English song from a young woman with a wonderful voice, stepdancing, squaredancing and a fantastic rhythmic foot-stomping number that much of the audience joined in from their seats. This young group had it all -- dancing, singing, acting, music -- and put on a well-choreographed, innovative show that was full of talent and variety.

The final act of the evening was Beolach, a band from Cape Breton made up of a crew of musicians who are all well-known as individual performers as well. Together, they put on a fantastic, well-polished and crowd-pleasing show. To me, Beolach is all about arrangements. They can take a set of tunes that everyone knows and plays, then turn it in to something out-of-this-world! Transitions between tunes were smooth and unique, and the tunes were full of neat harmonies between instruments. We were treated to some fine stepdancing by Mac Morin, Wendy MacIsaac and Mairi Rankin during one of the sets as well -- something which I always think greatly increases the energy level of a show.

Although Foulds on drums does an excellent job of providing percussion, I find that Patrick Gillis (guitar), Ryan MacNeil (pipes, whistles) and Mac Morin (piano) really add to the rhythms with their instruments as well. MacIsaac and Rankin are both impeccable and energetic fiddlers. The band's last set had the audience clapping along immediately after it began, and jumping up for a standing ovation as soon as it ended. I can't wait for the band's next album!

As is customary at Celtic Colours venues, the show finished off with a set from all of the evening's performers. Balfa, Powell and Granger began the set with Foulds on drums, and Morin and the other musicians quickly joined in. Then it was on into a rip-roaring set of Cape Breton tunes, complemented by Balfa's triangle (a neat-sounding addition) and a very cohesive square set by La Swing du Suete. The gang received another well-deserved standing ovation, and then it was off to our cars for the drive home (or the Festival Club, for those lucky enough not to have to work the next day) where the driving rhythm would still echo in our heads for many miles to come.

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 15 November 2003