BY WANDA EARHART
On, Sunday May 16th the Three Pianos returned to the Savoy stage. The anticipation was evident as the expected full house of fans quickly took to their seats for what has become a favorite among regular concert goers. The Three Pianos, (Johnny Aucoin, Stephen Muise and Aaron Lewis) are in their eighth year of bringing a collaborative twist to, and exhibiting an obvious respect for, the many styles of piano performance. Having witnessed their steady rise in popularity, I have to admit that this particular edition was by far their finest evening. Delivering close to three hours of musical memories, to a crowd of a more “mature” age, there’s no question that all would have remained, had the night never come to an end. A more engaged and participatory audience I haven’t seen in a very long time.
From opening number to encore, all ears were tuned to the stage as the guys presented ample opportunity to sing along and on many occasions to play a veritable game of name that tune/artist as the trips down memory lane continued. It is plain to see that much thought went into the program, which included, TV themes, a country segment, Walt Disney songs, Buddy Holly era (complete with dark rimmed glasses for the trio), a John Denver campfire inspired sing-a-long, the 1950’s, and even a contest that included a string of songs that allowed folks to guess the year and enter a ballot at intermission for a prize. Five smart and lucky people knew that 1962 was the winner.
As always, it would not be a Three Pianos evening without having each player showcase their individual talents. Stephen Muise showed off the stride piano technique which requires a deft left-handed accompaniment on the keys. His “Tennessee Waltz” and the “Maple Leaf Rag”, resulted in the first standing ovation of the night. For his part, Aaron Lewis delivered “Discovering Gold” a Fred Lavery/Gordie Sampson penned song which is the first single from Lewis’ hugely anticipated upcoming debut country album. The single currently sits at #4 on local charts and this lovely ballad was much appreciated by the hushed crowd, who no doubt will be first in line to get their hands on a copy, upon the CDs release. Fans were equally excited to learn that Lewis and fellow Carlton Showband-mates will embark on a reunion tour in the fall of 2010, including a stop at the Savoy. Johnny Aucoin serenaded with “Faded Love” and “Lovesick Blues”, playing them together as “Faded Lovesick Blues”, putting his usual heart and soul into the moment. This particular crowd is also well aware that the show ain’t over ‘til they hear Johnny Aucoin send a shout out to Floyd Cramer, and this night was no exception as he brought the house down with his “Bumble Bee Boogie”. An absolutely magnificent way to end the show! Lending support throughout the night were two exceptional musicians in their own right, Allie Bennett on bass, and Ron Leadbeater on drums, and special guest Jenn Sheppard added her vocals to a rock and roll segment—a welcome addition by all.
An added feature of this year’s spring concert was special guest, renowned Cape Breton traditional pianist Dougie MacPhee. In his introduction, Muise explained that it has been a long standing ambition to have this Cape Breton icon join the Three Pianos onstage, not only for their musical similarities, but for the fact that the original concept of the group was that all of these particular players, including MacPhee share a connection to the town of New Waterford, and so they were absolutely thrilled to finally see this collaboration finally come to life on the Savoy stage. MacPhee appeared twice throughout the night, and dazzled the crowd with a collection of tunes from a playlist of the who’s who of the Cape Breton Fiddling tradition, and later, a medley of Angus Chisholm tunes. Tremendous.
As the crowd filed out, voices were already lamenting the long period in between Three Piano concerts, but one optimistic fan put things into perspective for the group by saying “…it’s always more than worth the wait!”