St. Mary’s Church, Big Pond
Sunday, October 11
Pastoral Airs is a tradition in Big Pond. For over ten years, it has taken place twice a year, once in the summer, which kicks off the Big Pond Summer Festival and again in December. Throughout the years, many Cape Breton musicians have performed in St. Mary’s Church. This year was the first time the event took place during Celtic Colours. They try to keep the evening to no more than an hour and a half. The show Sunday October 11 set a new record at over two and a half hours!
The church was beautifully decorated in Autumn leaves, pumpkins and of course, fresh vegetables from the garden. All of the decorating was done by Anne MacIntyre of Big Pond.
The host of the afternoon was Donnie Campbell, a usual host and entertainer at Pastoral Airs, he managed to get the crowd singing right off with “The Island” and even people from “away” were singing our song.
Next on the program was one of Scotland’s finest fiddlers Alasdair Fraser who was accompanied by Barbara Magone MacDonald. Tony McManus was also scheduled for this afternoon’s performance but due to a late plane was unable to attend. Fraser is no stranger to Pastoral Airs. “It is wonderful to be back in Cape Breton and this church with Barbara. I haven’t been here since 1989,” Fraser told the audience, referring to a Pastoral Airs program he did nine years ago. Alasdair has a very graceful, almost majestic feel to his music and he held the whole audience captive during every number he played.
Ishbel MacAskill from the Isle of Lewis was next on the bill. She started off with a beautiful Gaelic love song and continued her set by singing more songs from her native Scotland. Although this was Ishbel’s first appearance in Big Pond, she was right at home.
Washabuck native Carl MacKenzie stepped up to the mic accompanied by Pat Chafe and played a selection of slow airs. The slow airs he played were quite familiar to many of the people out in the audience listening. During his last piece, he added he “O’Carolan’s Concerto” just for flavour.
Winnie Chafe and Legacy graced the stage for the end of the first half. Legacy consists of Barbara Stetter on flute and oboe, Kim Lantz on viola de gamba, Pat Chafe the group’s music arranger and pianist. During their performance they went back and forth between slow airs and songs, which were sung by Donnie Campbell. “The first piece he played was “Bovaglie’s Plaid”, you stole my number!” Winnie joked about a piece from Fraser’s first set which she had planned to play. The last song of her set was a medley which had the crowd singing right from their souls, “Lizzie Lindsey”. What made this particular number so special was Alasdair jumping up from his seat and join-ing Winnie on fiddle. They even played in harmony during the interlude pieces, “Morag de Dunvegan” and “Four Mary’s”, before going back into the choruses of “Lizzie Lindsey”.
The second half of the afternoon was just as entertaining as the first. All the performers came back to make their second appearance of the show. This afternoon’s concert had a wide variety of ages from 3 1/2 to senior citizen. Another thing that added a nice touch to the proceedings was Winnie joining Alasdair on his final number which the audience enjoyed so much they gave a standing ovation.
For the finale Alasdair, Barbara, Pat, Winnie, Kim, Barb, Carl and Donnie joined forces to give one great send off. They started with “Glencoe March” and ended with a bunch of great reels. Once the reels started, Pat, Barbara and I got up to dance sending everyone on their way on a high note!
After the show I went down the road with Winnie, Pat and Andre (Winnie’s brother) to Blanche Sophocles’ for a quick supper before heading to Port Hawkesbury for another show at 8:00pm. On our way from Blanche’s we listened to “Celtic Serenade”, a local radio program which has been promoting traditional as well as folk and Cape Breton music for over 25 years. The host of the program is Donnie Campbell, who also hosted the Pastoral Airs after which he had about thirty minutes to get back to Sydney, pick out his records for the show and get to the station in time to go on the air. From his first words we knew he must have just made it on time, for he was out of breath. We got a great kick out of listening as he managed to play his theme twice and at times nothing at all. At one point he even shut off a CD that was in the middle of playing. By the time we arrived in Port Hawkesbury, Donnie had things under control.