Route 19 ... the Concert,
Celtic Colours 2001
at Inverness Junior/Senior High School,
Cape Breton, NS
(12 October 2001)

The excitement was tangible going into the Inverness Junior/Senior High School at the tail end of an amazing Celtic Colours week. It wasn't just the lone bagpiper who blasted a welcome from beneath the entrance overhang -- anticipation was high for the crackerjack lineup scheduled to perform in the school's gymnasium.

"Is Ashley here?" an elderly woman asked me excitedly. He was. But she'd have to wait to see him -- there was plenty of music preceding his appearance on stage.

The Aoife Clancy Band delivered a grand opening, despite the sniffles Aoife said were closing her throat. Aoife's voice showed no signs of strain, and bandmates Christy O'Connell and Larry Nugent were on top of their game. The only disappointment there was for people who'd seen Aoife's Wednesday performance at Wagmatcook; her program Friday was pretty much identical to the earlier show. Still, no one seemed to mind the reprise -- the performance was certainly sterling and Aoife's singing was brilliant despite her cold. Besides, Larry had already won over the crowd by announcing his afternoon dip in Cape Breton's bracing sea.

Haugaard & Hoirup, a fiddle and guitar duo from Denmark, provided a taste of something a little different during a lively set of traditional and new pieces of Danish music. The set, which included waltzes, minuets and a sort of musical dialogue between the instruments, also featured a short love song in Danish; singer Morten Alfred Hoirup didn't attempt to teach the words, but invited the audience to hum along.

The Danish blend of instrumental music was distinctly different from Celtic and Cape Breton fiddle styles but wholly remarkable in its own right. Certainly the crowd loved it, giving the band its first standing ovation midway through the set and another at the end, following a triangle (jig), fast reel and polka set.

The spotlight turned towards home after the intermission, when local fiddle legend Howie MacDonald and pianist Joel Chiasson performed a set of Cape Breton tunes. Howie, known as much for his wit as his fiddling, kicked off his set by noting that Capers are proud of their music, their culture and their hospitality. "We're even proud of our unemployment," he proclaimed.

He started his show with a beautiful air, nameless, which he learned from Phil Cunningham on a trip to Scotland several years ago with the Rankin Family. It quickly flowed into a jig set that begged for dancing. Howie's too-short portion of the show delighted the crowd with the energy of his tunes as well as his humorous way of describing each piece.

And then Cape Breton bad boy Ashley MacIsaac, who achieved fame for his outrageous fiddle technique and notoriety for his various excesses and sometimes abrasive attitude, took the stage to thunderous applause. Playing left-handed on a borrowed fiddle (his own, he said, was stuck in Brooklyn), Ashley certainly has earned the forgiveness of his hometown crowd.

He played several tune sets with little conversation, exhibiting casual excellence that made it all look easy. Then Howie came back to the stage, taking over the chatter and playing some duo fiddle tunes beginning with "74th Highlanders March." It was, to say the least, a pleasure to see two giants at work, taking the medley anywhere their whims decided to go.

Ashley, Howie and Joel then brought the two Danes and Larry from Aoife's band back to the stage for a powerful finale of hornpipes and reels. When that wasn't enough for the screaming crowd, Ashley (on fiddle) and Howie (shifting to piano) joined guest Gerry Deveau, who exhibited manual wizardry with the spoons, for an accelerating final set.

It was certainly a night to remember in Inverness. On the way back to the Festival Club, I also stopped in Middle River to hear fiddlers Sandy MacIntyre and Carl MacKenzie and pianists Mary MacIntyre and Pat Chafe providing the music for the Middle River Square Dance. The tunes coming from the stage were flawless; the footwork on the floor was tireless. It was nice to have a taste of that show -- the tragedy of Celtic Colours is the amount of music you have to miss!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001