HALIFAX — When award-winning P.E.I. singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant strode onto the stage of the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium here Saturday night and plugged in his guitar, the first song on his set list was supposed to be Tell Me A Ghost Story.
That’s what it said in the program.
But the events of the last few days have weighed on the mind of the Rustico native.
So, instead, Gallant kicked off his set at A Sound Celebration With Symphony Nova Scotia with a rousing version of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ Bud The Spud that brought the crowd to its feet.
He then delivered the three songs on his scheduled set list, the aforementioned Tell Me A Ghost Story, a beautiful new song called God’s Reply and the East Coast classic Peter’s Dream, which pretty much brought the house down.
Peter’s Dream has been named one of the top 10 East Coast songs of all time by voters in a just completed CBC radio poll.
Gallant joked that even if a better song came along now, he would still have one of the top 10 East Coast songs of all time because the list is now closed.
“You can’t bump me off the list.”
Not even if you wrote a lovely little song about a cottage by the sea in P.E.I. like the one Senator Mike Duffy lives in part of the year, he said, tongue in cheek, to the delight of his audience.
Gallant shared Saturday night’s stage with a diverse mix of East Coast artists that included Halifax soul/R&B singer Cyndi Cain, Newfoundland and Labrador folk duo Ennis, electro hip-hop band Radio Radio from Moncton, Cape Breton piper Ian McKinnon and the grande dame of East Coast music, Rita MacNeil.
Each of these artists brought something special to the mix.
Cain, with her powerful pipes and gospel-infused style, made you want to get our of your seat and shake your tailfeathers.
Ennis, with their emotionally powerful ballads and rousing folk songs about the changing face of Newfoundland and Labrador, gave me goose bumps.
Radio Radio’s vocal aerobics and constant interplay were energizing and hugely entertaining.
McKinnon took many back to their Celtic roots with a virtuoso performance on the pipes of the Ceilidh movement from the MacKinnon’s Brook Suite.
MacNeil, who does not perform as frequently as she once did, was welcomed with open arms as she served up versions of two of her biggest hits, Flying On Your Own and Working Man, both arranged by Scott Macmillan.
She too stopped to pay tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors and his contribution to this country’s musical tapestry.
With the full orchestral might of Symphony Nova Scotia behind them the music of these artists took on a whole new dimension, prompting a number of the artists to speak to how thrilled they were to hear their music given such a glorious treatment by these talented musicians.
Earlier in the day Saturday, P.E.I.’s Jon Matthews was among four recipients of a Stompin’ Tom Award during the East Coast Music Awards Industry Brunch.
Matthews, an accomplished musician, record producer and recording engineer, shared that honour with Claudine Theriault, founder of a New Brunswick music distribution company, Cape Breton fiddler Joe Peter MacLean and Neil Bishop, a musician from Newfoundland and Labrador.
In accepting their awards, Matthews and his co-recipients paid tribute to Connors and his contribution to the cultural fabric of this nation. Theriault evoked Connors’ memory when she began to stomp on the stage, prompting others in the room to join her.
The producers of the industry brunch turned back the clock with a vintage piece of film culled from the CBC archives in which Connors stomped his way through a rousing version of Bud The Spud.
Those attending the brunch also joined in singing a promotional jingle Connors once recorded to promote P.E.I. as a tourist destination. In addition to the presentation of the Stompin’ Tom Connors Awards, the East Coast Music Association presented awards to members of the music industry and the media. Several nominations had gone to companies, organizations and media from P.E.I. but there were no winners from the Island.