Every wonderful night of Celtic Colours boasts at least four or five topnotch shows scattered all over Cape Breton island. Tonight, we took the slow road to the Lions Club in the Village of St. Peter (only getting lost once!) for Ceilidh on the Canal.
The line-up for this show was brilliant. Starting out with a fiddler representing the future of Cape Breton music, with two short segments from an established singer/songwriter/poet, a reunion of fiddler cousins, and ending with an amazing new powerhouse group, the evening was the sort that made you want to brag to people later that you’d been lucky enough to have been there.
Mckayla MacNeil, a (barely) sixteen-year-old fiddler from “right down the road” and her accompanist Clifford Carter, opened the show with several fine sets, including a splendid rendition of the ever-popular “Brenda Stubbert’s Reel.” MacNeil’s fans were in force, cheering her on with loud gusto. She’s likely to be a regular at the festival for many years to come.
A familiar face at the festival club, Wally MacAulay added comedy and poetry to the music. Interspersing amusing semi-autobiographical introductions with ballads that demanded you listen and take note, MacAulay’s two interludes were the sort that sidled into your brain, where the songs and poems would keep repeating, demanding thought and examination. His unconventional vocal style takes some getting used to, but it worked well tonight.
Closing out the first half were Glenn Graham and Rodney MacDonald, a pair of fiddlers who happen to be cousins. The duo was backed by keyboardist Joel Chiasson and guitarist Patrick Gillis dressed in full thug finery of hoodie and shades. The concept of a Cape Breton ‘hood distracted me until the band began cranking out incredible tunes! Starting out strong, each tune drove the next into higher gear, dragging MacDonald out of his chair to stepdance. That alone was worth the price of the ticket. It isn’t every night you get to see a former premier of Nova Scotia step dance, or come to think of it, blaze away at the fiddle.
The Outside Track has the makings of a new supergroup. Composed of vocalist/flautist Norah Rendell, harpist Allie Robertson, accordionist Fiona Black, guitarist Cillian O’Dalaigh, and Cape Breton fiddler Mairi Rankin, The Outside Track tears through their sets. You get a lot of everything with this band: songs, tunes, and some bang-up stepdancing from Rankin and O’Dalaigh.
The finale was a no-holds barred rendition of “The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.” The stage was a forest of blazing fiddle bows, with MacAulley belting out the lyrics and everyone else churning out fabulous mayhem. You really should have been there!
Reviewed by C. Keegan