It’s easy to believe in an Acadian Welcome when walking through the halls of Etoile de L’Acadie in Sydney, being that it is a French school. The Cheticamp-bred host facilitated the evening using both official languages, proving that some jokes are funny in either language. The music did not exclusively focus on Acadian or French traditions, as World, Celtic, and country influences permeated many performances.
The sprawling gymnasium of the school provided the setting for the show, with lights turned off save for the stage lighting and a lamp above sound engineer Trevor Turnbull’s mixer. It turned out to be a decent venue, with the festival cutting the room in half presumably with sound and sight lines in mind.
Cape Breton’s J.P. Cormier started the show, bringing along his warmth, humour and virtuoso acoustic guitar skills. He led the set off with, “the first song I learned to play”, titled Opihi Moe Moe. Cormier revealed the title’s meaning when he joked, “it’s Hawaiian for ‘Opihi Moe Moe’”. He followed with the original “Somewhere in the Back of My Heart”, leading an audience sing-along for the chorus. He finished off the set with a few more songs and closed by picking a traditional Scottish tune accompanied by pianist Susan MacLean with the Pellerin Brothers stepping along.
I would never have predicted that I would witness a man dancing on sand on a gymnasium stage accompanied by a Celtic harpist. Nic Gareiss, dancer from Michigan, and Maeve Gilchrist, harpist from Edinburgh, infuse both seemingly disparate specialties into a synchronistic performance. Both young artists are accomplished and respected worldwide for their individual crafts, and together they bring a wholly original infusion of dance and music at once enthralling and entertaining. The percussive steps and slides of the dance mixed with the harp’s intricate melodies unveil a full sound, as expressed through a Norwegian instrumental “Nordfjord Hallen” as well as Gilchrist original “City of the North”, to which Gilchrist adds her voice.
Following the intermission, which was assuredly needed to sweep sand from the stage, Christine and Sylvie Doucet of Cheticamp stepped along to tunes provided by John Pellerin on fiddle and Susan MacLean on keys. Bill Pellerin stepped along for a tune, followed by his brother speaking of the Cape Breton fiddle tradition that the brothers were raised in. He finished with a set of strathspeys and reels.
The final performance by De Temps Antan was replete with boisterous energy in the Quebecoise cultural tradition. Accordion, fiddle, mouth harp, guitar, and bouzouki were wielded by the three men who stomped, sang, played, and infected the Sydney audience with their joie-de-vivre. The group mixed traditional French songs and originals, switching between instruments with commanding skill. The show finale brought all performers back to the stage to play a rollicking set and sending the crowd home tapping their toes et tapez des mains.