The Hills are Alive
at St. Peter's Church,
Ingonish, NS
(14 October 2004)

My wife and I headed over Smokey Mountain, always a gorgeous view -- too bad it wasn't sunny that afternoon -- and through Ingonish into the Highlands, where we stopped to admire a big ol' moose by the roadside before moving on to Lakies Head so I could scare away some fish (i.e., play my fiddle at the tip of a picturesque jetty), then headed back to town for some dinner and to the lovely St. Peter's Church of The Hills are Alive.

This evening's show began with Buddy MacDonald, who regaled the crowd with a few originals and traditional favorites ("We Remember You Well," "Eight More Hours," "Billy Be Fair," "No Small Boats," "Go Lassie Go"). I swear, as often as I see Buddy perform throughout the week of Celtic Colours, I never grow tired of his songs. I suppose, like a squirrel in autumn, I'm busy storing up the memories 'til I come again the following year.

After Buddy's performance, he yielded the stage to returning favorite Daniel Lapp, from Victoria, BC. Daniel, a virtuoso on fiddle and trumpet, brought along cohorts Adam Dobres on guitar and Martin Green on accordion. Unfortunately, the band suffered a broken guitar string before the first note was played, necessitating a change in their set list. So, Daniel and Martin kicked their portion of the evening off with a trumpet and accordion duet while Adam retired off-stage to replace the string. Then, with Adam back, Daniel swapped his horn for a fiddle for the "Blue Ribbon Reel," inspired by his daughter's racing.

It was a phenomenal set, marked with intensity, and the trio demonstrated sweeping, jazzy flair. At one point, Daniel strung his bow over and under his fiddle to hit all four strings at once for an ... unusual sound. His vocals on Richard Thompson's "Bee's Wing" carried a sense of urgency. A jig set written by Julian Sutton added Celtic overtones to a contemporary ensemble sound. Then, for a gypsy set called "Latcho Drom," Daniel's fiddle got busy and wild, vaguely reminiscent of a chase scene in an old movie.

After two old favorites, this show was my first introduction to Canadian singer-songwriter James Keelaghan. In a word, wow.

James, from Alberta, was joined on stage by Jane Clark on fiddle and Hugh Dillon on mandolin and bass. Once James started singing "Turn of the Wheel," it ceased to matter that he looked a little like the Great Pumpkin in his bright orange shirt under red lights.

His songs tell stories, and the mood got intense with the disaster of "Hillcrest Mine." "Somewhere Ahead" is a timeless sorrow, while "Stonecutter" reminds us that Canada's burned-down Parliament Building was rebuilt in 1916 by master masons, no apprentices, because the young stonecutters were all taken by the war in France.

Following the blatantly political "Hold Your Ground," Jane held the spotlight for an air, "For Joe," and "some lovely ones" on fiddle. The song "Captain Torres" held the audience spellbound; it tells of a ship that went down off the coast of Cape Breton in 1989. Sinking, and knowing that no help was available because of the storm, the ship radioed into land and patched through to a phone line, allowing each of 20 crewmen a mere two minutes to call home and say goodbye to their families. Jane's fiddle cried and wailed as James sang of those "phone calls from young men dying" and ended with a spoken, two-minute-long letter of farewell.


"You live in the most beautiful place in the world," James told the audience. Noting that he labored alongside a fair number of Cape Bretoners in Calgary in the 1970s, he added, "It's nice to know all of those guys weren't lying."

James ended his set with "Gladys Ridge," then the whole crew came back for a group performance of Buddy's ever-popular "Getting Dark Again" and an instrumental set led by two shy fiddlers. (Don't worry, Daniel and Jane didn't hold back for long.)

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 30 April 2005