Winston's Home
at the Octagon Arts Centre,
Dingwall, NS
(13 October 2004)

Winston's Home is a concert held each year at the Octagon Arts Centre in Dingwall. This concert is held in memory of the late Winston Scotty Fitzgerald, a noted Cape Breton fiddler who had a tremendous influence on the playing styles of many of the island's musicians. This year, the concert featured Sandy MacIntyre and Dougie MacPhee -- both of whom have become fixtures at the venue -- plus Howie MacDonald, Allie Bennett, JP Cormier and Hilda Chiasson, all of whom requested to be a part of the concert this year.

I have attended this concert several times in the past, and often wished that I could hear more actual playing, less reminiscing. This is not to take away from the concert's intent -- as indeed, Winston Scotty Fitzgerald was a formidable musician -- but as a concert-goer, my wish was first and foremost to hear music. The venue puts on a workshop in the afternoon designed to go more in-depth on Winston's life, and I felt that previously, the workshop seemed to continue into the evening. This year's concert, however, seemed much more streamlined and was a pleasure to attend.

The concert began with a bang, with a wonderful group set which encompassed the sound of two pianos and four fiddles. Slight sound difficulties to begin with prevented it from being the best that it could be; however, they ironed it out fairly quickly and we were back on the road to excellence. Pairs of artists entertained us for the first little while -- first Howie, then Sandy, followed by Allie, all with Dougie on the piano. Howie's set, as usual, was crystal clear and full of zest. Sandy's faster stuff was fantastic and held great appeal for the audience (although I would argue that he was slightly out of tune -- especially when playing the slow air), and Allie played a great set of jigs. Dougie's accompaniment was impeccable, featuring some wonderful melodies in Sandy's "King George IV" set, and expressive percussion and harmonies all through.

Husband-and-wife team JP Cormier and Hilda Chiasson played the next set, and a fine set it was. JP did an impressive job of interpreting Winston Scotty's style of fiddling. He was very ornamental in the traditional style, and his expression shines through. I find it interesting that JP can stand so still while playing -- the only things moving are his arm, foot and flying fingers -- and yet put so much emotion into it. Dougie was up next with a fantastic solo piano set. The difficult strathspey "Tulloghorm" was fantastic -- I can't say enough about Dougie's playing! It is invariably impeccable. The whole gang then returned to the stage for another group set -- also well done.

The second half of the show followed much the same format, with more great tunes! Howie played the piano this time for a well-paced, expressive set from Allie. Sandy and Dougie paired up again for a set of John Morris Rankin tunes. The set had a pleasant, lilting tone, and any tuning troubles that Sandy was having in the first half had disappeared. Next, Howie played a set with Hilda providing the piano accompaniment. It was a beautifully played set, prompting a host of toe-tapping and head-bobbing from the crowd. JP and Hilda followed it up with another great ripping set of tunes, jumping right into the reels from the start. From a towering fiddler such as JP, what a light magical touch!

The group got together once more for a rousing finale. There was a good bit of spontaneous stepdancing going on, much to the delight of the audience. The gang received a standing ovation on finishing the set from an enthusiastic crowd. All in all, a brilliant evening. I hope that they stick to this format in the future, and pack in as much music as possible. (Now, if only they would pack in less people to the venue, all would be perfect! I never fail to feel like a sardine in a can there....)

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 27 November 2004

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