Passing the Bow
at Judique Community Centre,
Judique, NS
(11 October 2004)

This was home-night and the crowd was primed. All Celtic Colours concerts are special but tonight -- before the concert even began, before the first note was played, before Buddy MacMaster even had time to sit down, let alone lift his bow up to his fiddle -- he received a standing ovation.

It didn't stop him for long. A little bow, smile and nod to the crowd and Buddy sat and began to play. His touch on "Niel Gow's Lament" was a yearning sweetness, but by the end of Buddy's session the Community Centre was rocking.

Having Buddy lead the way, as emcee Dan MacDonald pointed out, is in keeping with some of the finer points of tradition when you have a house full of fiddlers. The most experienced player often starts things off. When he's ready to take a break he turns it over to another player. If there's a congenial mood astir, a newer player might even be asked to play during the evening. (It's more polite to wait to be asked rather than to offer. Offering can be a tad presumptuous.)

The second player on the roster meant the audience received a 1-2 punch -- and a good one at that. Kinnon Beaton is a fiddling powerhouse with a well-deserved reputation as a dance fiddler. He doesn't have the years Buddy has, but his rich delivery and stirring compositions sound in the old tongue and he had the audience transfixed while he played.

I consider it perfect that Betty Lou accompanied brother Buddy and husband Kinnon on the piano. She's the innocuous-looking but potent sauce that turns a great musical dish into an epicurean treat.

Dan introduced fiddler Jerry Holland next, and what a range of musical styles he showed us! The first set brought back images of round-dancing to a fiddle, something I haven't seen done in a long time; it's fiddling for fancy dresses and pointy shoes, and it sounds fantastic. Then he turned a page and brought the wedding home to the hills and valleys of Inverness County. I imagined I could hear an Irish whisper when Jerry played, but that's not strange because many visitors also mistake the Cape Breton lilt for an Irish brogue.

The relaxed affinity evident as Marion Dewar accompanied Jerry on stage was so pleasing to an audience of listeners -- though they could make the feet move just as well, too.

Next up was Buddy's niece and Kinnon's daughter, Andrea Beaton, joined by her mother Betty Beaton on piano. Andrea is a strong player who gave us a nippy, perky first set. She played "Jennifer MacDonald's Waltz" composed by cousin Glenn Graham, and I'm convinced it should be the tune in all jewelry boxes from now on. In an instant she changed the mood as she drew back on her bow and let 'er rip. She's an animated player, moving to the tunes and smiling at the audience's response to her changes.

The well hadn't run dry yet. Another fiddler plucked from the pool took the stage: 18-year-old Robbie Fraser, with his brother Isaac accompanying, made his mark on the audience as well. Even his brief warm-up caught my attention; the strings said, "Listen. Listen now." And you know, the Spirit of the Ages was in his bow, without a doubt.

The centre was over-flowing and the intermission allowed well-needed leg-stretching for folks. It'd be after 10 o'clock before the show was over. I enjoyed the second half as much as the first. Dan MacDonald brought back the oldest and the youngest: Robbie Fraser and Buddy MacMaster played a set; then Kinnon, Andrea and Betty Beaton did a set together. Following this Jerry Holland, Marion Dewar, Wendy MacIsaac and Mairi Rankin performed together; Jerry sparkled as much as Mairi's attire and Wendy's smile, so it was a great combination.

You'd think that would have been enough, but there was more. Beolach, which includes fiddlers Mairi and Wendy plus Paddy Gillis (guitar), Ryan J. MacNeil (pipes) and Mac Morin (piano), is a relatively young band with lots of talent, stepdancing included. I was charmed by Wendy as usual, but completely won over by Paddy's playing.

In the grand finale, which turned out to be a mini-jam session, the players followed Buddy's lead. And again the stepdancing began, turn about. The crowd even urged Kinnon and Jerry out on their feet. It was a night that ended with a contented smile -- and biscuits and tea for all, compliments of the people of Judique.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 20 November 2004

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