Guitar Summit
at Judique Community Centre,
Judique, NS
(14 October 2004)

Ah, the sound of guitar strings, plucked, caressed, slapped and shirred. What would I find in the mix, I wondered; after hearing a few Guitar Summits past, what gems were left? Would anything tip the scales towards perfection tonight?

As always, a sense of anticipation sits over the crowd before this concert. You know, fiddlers can almost always win a crowd over with a few well-placed tunes. A group of guitarists are a bit more eclectic, and perhaps the repertoire is more unpredictable. So the tension builds as guitar fans try to imagine what the night might hold.

The guitarists come on stage. J.P. Cormier sat on the far left, next Anna Massie. Tony McManus got the center spot, and to his left was Bruce Molsky. Gordie Sampson sat on the far right, putting the two Cape Bretoners on the tips of the crescent -- which suits my sense of hospitality and also sets my mind at rest since this flanks the strangers and protects this little MacDonald-stronghold-of-a -community in the event that there is latent Campbell blood bubbling beneath the surface of these guests.

Sorry ... I was envisioning another place and time. Though Judique was originally a Clan Ranald-MacDonald stronghold, there is a fine wealth of Campbells and Rankins and MacEacherns (mainly from the Glenaladale Settlers) in the little village. And time sets to rest the wary sense of strangers in our midst.

On to the show -- J.P. opened the evening with a series of complex moves about which he said "I never do live." Well, that set the mood -- we knew it wasn't going to be all fun and games for the participants. A Highland/Acadian challenge was issued. And he continued to play a wonderful set that included a Spanish-sounding piece. I think I concentrated more on watching his hands and fingers do their work than I did thinking about the music. But I remember it was great and Darrren McMullin played a hand in it as well.

Anna's turn to solo came next. She raised her hand and said "Taxi!" then quipped that she "might turn her guitar in after that," but we knew she was only joking because she had no trouble keeping up with the boys at the Summit last year. And as she played with her usual intensity, I imagined there would be only one guitar player left standing at the end of the night -- but would not hazard a guess at who it might be. Anna's hand rhythms are fantastic and she plays like she's driving a motorcycle, leaning with the turns, reacting to the scenery and enjoying every bit of the ride.

Next up was Scotland's Tony McManus and he's a natural at center stage. I wondered if he was sweating it now. I never should have wondered. He was ready and waiting and to prove it issued this warning: "It's a don't-try-this-at-home tune." I think the man lives to play guitar and he delivered some awesome moments in music this night.

A little running commentary about the tune "Annie's Ferret" brought on some good laughs. J.P. and Gordie played from opposite ends of the stage and Gordie issued a little challenge of his own, "The one who plays the most notes wins," and then for the rest of the night the camaraderie grew.

What began as an unforgettable showdown quickly became a rare guitar showcase with the gracious presence of Bruce Molsky. It was his first trip to Cape Breton and, though he said he grew up in New York City, his soft-spoken ways made him an icon of cool and his choice of music expressed a southern rural charm. It was obvious he, too, was up for whatever was going on tonight. He told us about finding an LP with 25 versions of "John Henry" on it, and then went on to play for us a balmy version of "Fishing Blues," which is a tune written by the same composer.

Gordie brought it all together with some square dance jigs. I think he must have 20 fingers on each hand.

Around and across and hither and yon, the players took turns at solos and duos. J.P. made his mark once again with lustrous Scottish rhythms, Anna did a hornpipe and played "Out on a Limb," a sparkling tune for a friend of hers -- a prosthesis maker. Tony announced his marriage of Friday past and that he had met his beloved at a previous Celtic Colours festival.

Bruce did something from the Congo, a gorgeous African tune he called "Song of Praise." And Gordie did a rendition of a splendid tune called "Beautiful Lake Ainslie" by Elmer Briand.

In the second half, J.P.'s performance was an intense bout of fantastic playing, his rich instrumental style showing no bounds. Anna got us bouncing with a panoply of tunes; Tony brought out a jazz teaser and Irish dance music; Bruce did a song called "Field Holler" and a few West Virginia tunes on a fiddle. Yep, he just eased the fiddle right in among all those big guitars and played a set for Buddy. Gordie did a bit from Angus Chisholm's repertoire and played a guitar piece in memory of Carlo Spinazolla.

What a wonderful night, made extra special by the rare blend of musicians on stage and their effort to bring something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue to the stage. It married well. Can we do it again next year?

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 26 February 2005

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