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Harmonica Player had them Rocking

The Stan Rogers Folk Festival has come and gone for another year and by all accounts it was a successful one. I heard great music, met great people and stayed (reasonably) dry. One of the big stories of the festival was the weather that stayed rain and fog free until late Sunday afternoon. Even then, it was only a fairly brief set of showers, nothing compared to the heavy rain they had leading up to the weekend.

The sky was clear and the “blue” moon was out all three nights.

Musically, I was VERY impressed with Mike Stevens, a truly wild harmonica player who joined the always-solid Alan Gerber on stage during the first set on Friday night and had them rocking in the aisles. Stevens was usually teamed with fellow Jim & Jessie band-mate Raymond McLain, another impressive, multi-talented musician.
I think the talk of the weekend was Chirgilchin, a group of throat singers and musicians from Tuva, a small Russian province north of Western Mongolia.
Individually and collectively, they created sounds that I didn’t think that human vocal cords could produce. When they shared a workshop stage on Sunday afternoon with Mike Stevens and Raymond McLain, the result was utterly amazing.
I expected to enjoy Nanci Griffith but I found her a bit flat on stage. But for all that, it was great to finally see her. On the other hand, Gretchen Peters was a delight. The writer of million-selling songs for people like Martina Mcbride, Bryan Adams and Shania Twain, clearly seemed to be enjoying herself, delighted that people in Canso had even heard of her. She stopped me in my tracks as I raced across the field on Saturday afternoon, her crystal-clear voice doing The Aviator’s Song, a touching and painful song about her father.
Not to be outdone, the Cape Breton musicians smoked the place every time they performed.
One of the highlights had J.P.Cormier, Gordie Sampson and Rosie MacKenzie doing a non-stop half-hour instrumental group of tunes that included Oh Canada.
Backstage, music just happened whenever. Perhaps the best jam included Qui Xia He, the pipa player from Silk Road doing a piece of classical Chinese music, backed by Scott MacMillan, Dakota Dave Hull (both on guitars) and bassist Drew Phelps from The Quebe Sisters Band. Truly strange and wonderful at the same time.
I was impressed by The Quebe Sisters, a trio of young Texas fiddlers who played (and sang) in perfect harmony.
Also by Switchback and Poor Angus, as they combined in the Celtic Variations workshop.
And Tom Fun rocked the place every time they played.
Magic moments? The Singing Stan show on Sunday afternoon, an emotional gathering of singers, (including Stan Rogers’ family), doing an hour of Stan’s music.
Gordie Sampson, backed by an all-star group of singers and musicians, cranking out a powerhouse version of The Band’s anthem, The Weight, to close his set.
Bruce Guthro’s impromptu and impassioned a cappella version of Northwest Passage. Jason Wilber (John Prine’s guitarist) doing Watching Picasso, a song about hearing Ron Hynes perform for the first time, just before Ron did his set on the main stage on Sunday.
Funnest thing all weekend? Steve Antle (backed by Gordie Sampson and Bruce Guthro) singing a reggae version of his only hit, Fuzzy’s Fries.
Biggest disappointment? Tommy Makem was too ill to make the trip to Canso.
There’s so much more but those are just the highlights. I picked up a few CDs while in Canso and I’ll get to them in the weeks ahead.

Dan MacDonald, the Cape Breton Post
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