Ceilidh at the Big Fiddle,
Sydney, Cape Breton
(7 October 2005)

I was buzzing with excitement when I arrived at the opening concert at the Big Fiddle. This is my second year at Celtic Colours and words can not even describe how amazing it was for me in 2004. I am so happy to be back and to have the privilege of attending one of the opening shows.

Kicking off the ceilidh was Gaelic song queen Mary Jane Lamond. Her shows are always a treat, not only because of her beautiful voice, but because she has a wonderful stage presence. In every one of her shows, the audience is always really into it because of the variety of songs and her great sense of humor. Tonight, her jokes were very feministic. She introduced one song by asking, "What do you call a woman who takes a man's job?" When she answered, "Lazy," half the audience had a good laugh. This was followed by a milling song. She also included some love songs and some mouth music for good measure. It was a fantastic performance, and once again, the audience loved every second of it.

Next, emcee Eric MacEwan introduced La Swing du Suete to the audience. They are a lovely and talented group of kids from Cheticamp, and they got the audience going some more. Their routines are quite different from the typical dances one might expect to see at a ceilidh in both their steps and their costumes. The girls were wearing long skirts and high heels! It was an interesting experience to see them and they did a wonderful job.

Next up was a performance by Cape Breton legends Buddy MacMaster and Dougie MacPhee. This was my first time hearing them play together and I think it was a match well made. Both are veterans of Cape Breton music and they proved it to the audience tonight. After Buddy cracked a joke that he just decided what he was going to play as he walked onto the stage, they began with a set of jigs. At almost 81 years of age, Buddy has not lost his spark. I could see that he was enjoying every note he played and the audience was, too. The jigs were followed by a traditional Cape Breton set of strathspeys and reels, to which La Swing du Suete joined in and wowed the crowd some more. The whole performance was very impressive and it gave newcomers a wonderful introduction to the traditional music of the island.

Following Buddy and Dougie was a stunning performance by Kathryn Tickell and her band. She is an award-winning piper and also a phenomenal fiddle player. I really enjoyed the band's arrangements of sets and their choice of tunes. They kept me wondering what was next and made their performance really interesting. Like Lamond, this band has a fantastic stage presence. They were constantly moving to the beat and always looked like they were having fun, even though they had flown in just prior to the concert. They had the audience clapping because there was never a dull moment in the performance. I can honestly say that Tickell is one of my new favorite performers.

After intermission, Cathie Ryan graced the stage with her band. She earned the title of "female vocalist of the decade" from Irish Music Magazine, and I could see why. In this performance, she sang a wonderful mix of lively songs and beautiful ballads. She has a clear and steady voice that makes her very enjoyable to listen to. Her songs are very calming and easy to follow so it is no wonder why she has come this far in her career.

Last, but certainly not least, was one of Cape Breton's finest up and coming bands, Beolach. I have seen them play a few times already and enjoy listening to their albums, so it was a treat to see them again. They kicked off their set by having the audience join them in singing "Happy Birthday" to Mairi Rankin and after a bashful smile from her, they played some tunes from their most recent album, Variations. They were wonderful, despite some horrible issues with sound. There was an awful popping sound every now and then, as well as the emcee's voice from backstage, and the pipes could barely be heard at all, but they just kept plowing their way through the "Hot Lunch Set." They handled it really well, and thankfully, things ran more smoothly for their "Corporal AB" set, which is my favorite track from their album. This was followed by a dance number by Mairi, Mac Morin and Wendy MacIsaac, and a final blast of tunes for which La Swing du Suete joined them. I hope to see this band continue to grow in success because they keep getting better and better every time I hear them.

The grand finale left me feeling like this festival is going to be as much fun and as entertaining as it was last year. It began with a duet by Cathie and Mary Jane. After that, Buddy led everyone else in a lively set of tunes, which led to more dancing and mouth music. This show was a great start to the festival and one that I will never forget.

by Kaitlin Hahn
5 November 2005