Kitchen Racket
at the Jubilee School,
Sydney Mines, NS (17 October 2003)

This is the second year that I have attended the Kitchen Racket venue in Sydney Mines; last year's venue was excellent, and the gymnasium was simply packed full of people. I went to the concert early, expecting to have to find some room along the back wall. When I arrived, however, I was somewhat surprised to find no line at the door. I cocked my ear to the wind -- nope, no strains of music yet floating out the windows, so I hadn't arrived too late. I checked my program to see if perhaps the show was a later start than I thought. No, it seemed I was running right on time. I showed my pass to the volunteers at the table and wandered into the gym. Ten minutes to start time, and still half of the seats empty! Strange. Had Halloween come early this year? Would this strange emptiness in the gym affect the performance? I settled down to find out.

Although some stragglers wandered in throughout the first act, the seats in the house never did reach more than three quarters of its capacity. Nevertheless, each of the evening's performers put on a wonderful show, and the appreciative audience more than made up for its small numbers with their applause.

Anna Massie, a 20-year-old fiddler from Scotland, was first to take the stage, along with her father, accompanying on guitar. I don't believe they ever did announce her father's name, so I'll just call him "Pa." At any rate, Anna's first set made me think that I was in for a great night of music! Her expression was wonderful, and she had great speed and clarity on the reels. Not only that, but she told some great stories. And, there's something about that Scottish accent -- I could sit and listen to someone talk all night, if they'd only speak Scottish to me! Anna had a powerful and friendly stage presence, and told a great bunch of humourous stories along with each set.

For the next set, Anna switched to mandolin for a group of jigs and slip jigs with a kind of a jazzy beat. Again, her expression was fantastic, and her nimble fingers picked out the tunes seemingly with ease. Back to the fiddle then, for a Cape Breton set of marches, strathspeys and reels. You could hardly tell she wasn't a native! As soon as she moved into the faster tunes, I could hear the toe-tapping all around me, and see heads bobbing happily along. Next, Pa sang a song, which Anna accompanied on guitar. It was a countryesque sort of tune, and Pa had a great voice for it. The accompaniment was beautiful.

I was starting to wonder if there was any instrument this girl couldn't play! And wow -- then she did a set of reels on the guitar for her final tune that just bowled me over. What a set! The finger picking was simply amazing -- lightning fast, but clear as a bell. She looked to be having a ball up there playing, and the set seemed to go on forever -- not that I wanted it to end, mind you! The rest of the audience felt the same, I'd say, as they jumped up for a standing ovation immediately after the last note. Then Anna was asked back to the stage for an encore, and she did a bang-up job on "The Mason's Apron" on her guitar, with about a thousand variations to it! I certainly hope to hear more of this young woman!

Next to the stage was Jennifer Roland, a hometown favorite. Accompanying Jennifer's fiddle were Jason Kempt (piano), Jason Murdock (guitar) and Ronnie Ledbeiter (drums). Jennifer began her performance with a great, percussive set of steps, and then picked up her fiddle for an equally percussive set of reels. The poor girl was so ill earlier in the week that she was unable to finish her set at Louisbourg. You wouldn't know it from the performance she gave at Kitchen Racket! It was a high-energy, heartfelt performance right from the start.

Jennifer played a great mix of sets -- mostly starting off with something slower, and working into a frenzy of reels. I really like her fun take on traditional Cape Breton classics. Her transitions are smooth, her playing crisp, clear and quite animated. Jennifer clearly loves to play. Her wide smile is contagious and her powerful tunes tend to infect legs with the dancing bug. For her last set, she went immediately into a powerful reel, and the set just kept on getting more and more energetic as it went on! She has a great ability to play a nice, long set which still leaves the listener wanting more when it's over. Once again, the audience collectively jumped to its feet as Jennifer finished her last set.

After a brief intermission, Bohola took the stage. I had never heard of this band before, beyond the description in the program, and so I didn't know what to expect. Could they live up to the previous performances? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, they did! With instruments including guitar, accordion, mandolin and fiddle, Boholo put on a wonderful show. From their first set of jigs, it was apparent that we were dealing with a well-polished band. There was a great lilting feel to their music, and some wonderful harmonies between accordion and fiddle. The arrangements were very pleasant, and the percussion from the strings added to the sound.

In each of the sets Bohola played, I was impressed with the rhythmic aspects of their music. It had a uncontrollable-bouncing-in-your-seat type of lilt to it, and was quite percussive, despite the lack of traditional percussion instruments. The band's vocals were excellent as well, and had some great harmonies.

Jimmy Keane on accordion was astounding. His fingers were absolutely flying, and the audience loved it. During Bohola's last set, they even had a stepdancer from the audience jump up for a few steps -- always a sign of a good set of tunes! Once again, the audience rewarded the band with a standing ovation and lots of loud cheering, belying their numbers.

Now I have to say here that although I commend the volunteers at all of the Celtic Colours events who really make the festival what it is, there was a pair of them at this venue that I could have cheerfully strangled! I wouldn't normally put something like this in a review, but these two yacked continually throughout the entire second half of the concert, which greatly detracted from my enjoyment of the music. With all of the empty seats available in the auditorium, why would two people who so obviously had no intention of listening to the music seat themselves directly behind the concertgoers? If this bothered me, then surely it had a detrimental effect on those who had paid their $20 to see the concert as well. (There. I have ranted, and I feel better now. This little tangent merely mirrors my experience of the concert!)

Anna, Pa, Jennifer and band then joined Bohola on stage for the last set of tunes. They started off with what I think was a Robbie Burns poem set to the music of "Auld Lang Syne." (I could tell you for sure if it hadn't been for the chatterboxes!) Well done, and then on into a great rambunctious set of reels including all of the musicians. I so love these finales! We were treated to another great set of steps by Jennifer as well. Each of the musicians on stage were highlighted in turn, and the high level of talent on the stage was certainly apparent. I left wanting to hear more, as I'm sure much of the audience did. Shame on everyone who passed up this concert!! Remedy your ways, and get there next year!

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 29 November 2003