Jerry Holland
at the Festival Club, St. Ann's, Cape Breton (2007)

A real treat this week was seeing Jerry Holland put on his usual flawless display. Ailing, limping and visibly tired -- it's no secret Jerry is suffering from cancer -- the master fiddler and composer dominated the Festival Club stage Thursday evening after a sold-out show in Sydney.

Supported by Marion Dewer on piano, Albert Alfonso on bodhran and son Jerry Holland Jr. on drums, the elder Holland was once again the epitome of excellence.

Seeing Jerry in 2007 sent me back to the first time I met him, in October 2000. I was catching my breath outside a dance in Middle River, still in awe at my first visit to Cape Breton and Celtic Colours. Back then I was still fairly new to Cape Breton's distinctive fiddle culture, and I had only one Cape Breton tune -- "Stan Chapman's Jig" -- in my own fiddle repertoire. Suddenly I realized the band inside was performing it, and I turned to a friend and said, "Hey, I play that one." The fellow next to me turned around and grinned at me. "Really?" he said. "I wrote that one."

Jerry Holland has always been a beloved figure in Cape Breton, perhaps all the more so because he wasn't born there -- he chose it as his home and made himself an integral part of its musical culture.

Jerry was born in Boston, but his Canadian roots are strong: his father was from New Brunswick and his mother from Quebec. After steeping himself in Boston's thriving Cape Breton culture, he moved to the island in 1975, at age 20. By that time, he was already well-versed in performing, and since then he has recorded 11 albums and has published two books of fiddle tunes.

All this week, I'd been hearing people talking about Jerry and his condition, and now here he was, soldiering on in the face of extreme adversity, sweat pouring down his face from the pain, and yet he never missed a note or bow stroke, and his smiles showed how much joy he took from the simple act of playing. Every whoop and cheer made his grin all the broader.

It was a testament to his love of music that he was there at all. It was a testament to his talent that he rocked the room with every note.

review by
Tom Knapp

17 November 2007

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