Once again this year, the P.E.I. Mutual Festival of Small Halls is doing a supremely thorough job of covering the Island with top-notch traditional music and down-home entertainment, from both local and off-Island performers.
To be able to take a June drive out to the country, past the freshly planted fields and the purple and pink lupins popping up, and see an artist like Valdy at the Bonshaw Co-Op Hall or Rose Cousins at the Cymbria Lions Club or Tim Edey at the Lot 16 Community Hall or Richard Wood and J.P. Cormier at the Long Creek Baptist Church — these are experiences unlike anything else we can take in as a live music lover on P.E.I.
And it’s this twofold goodness — the experience of great music, and the experience of the community heart of the Island itself — that truly makes each Small Halls show a unique and special entity, for locals or tourists alike.
Interestingly enough, even though the Small Halls show I attended last weekend was actually not in a small hall, but rather in a downtown pub, that same warmhearted community feeling existed; which, I suppose, makes one think that it’s really not so much about the physical setting, but maybe more about the people and the music itself.
It was the Old Triangle that was the centre of the Small Halls late night action last Saturday night (it continues this weekend as the Late Nights Festival Club from 10 p.m. onward tonight and tomorrow night).
As is tradition with the Festival of Small Halls, the late night shows are always the chance for various performers from the festival to get up on stage together and jam out. It’s ort of a mixed grab bag of music from which you just never know what kind of goodies will come about.
Hosted by Jon Matthews, the night was kicked off at 10 p.m. with a set of solo songs by Matthews, followed by a rollicking fiddle/guitar set as Cynthia MacLeod fiddled and stomped up a storm for the crowd that was still gathering.
MacLeod then tagged in Courtney Hogan, as the red-haired Island fiddler sent reel and jig melodies bouncing about the bar for a 20-minute set, to make way for none other than J.P. Cormier.
And then, well, those bouncing melodies turned into sizzling darts in hyper-speed.
Accompanied by Matthews on acoustic guitar, Cormier just ripped into it, and flew powerfully through picked-out tunes on the guitar, thoroughly wowing even those who had seen him several times before.
I was standing mesmerized by his picking hand, in some kind of catatonic trance, for what seemed like minutes.
“Yep, I pretty much knew about 17 per cent of what he was playing,” said Matthews, as he stood at the bar after coming off the stage, looking like he’d just sailed a schooner through a nor’easter. (It should be said, though, that Matthews did quite well to hang on.)
The night closed out with superb sets by performers like The Marrieds (a really engaging husband-and-wife duo, who did a fired up version of Johnny Cash’s Jackson), Gordon Belsher and Benoit Borque with MacLeod and Matthews — who also played for a surprise step dance set, as dancers Cameron Francis and Juliette Roberts kicked out a long duo dance that sent the bar into a frenzy.
This weekend, there is an abundance of Festival of Small Halls concerts to choose from, as those in every county on the Island will be not too far of a drive from one of the incredible shows that is part of the final weekend’s lineup.
Check out the listings or www.smallhalls.com for all the information and scheduling.
Next week: I’m heading out for another Festival of Small Halls event — this time in New London.
Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.
1. Festival of Small Halls: New to London – New London Community Complex, today at 7:30 p.m., featuring Ten Strings And A Goat Skin, Rua Macmillan Trio, The Gawler Sisters.
2. Colin Grant, Chrissy Crowley, Jason Roach and Remi Arsenault – Old Triangle Pub, today at 6 p.m.
3. Anne & Gilbert, The Musical – The Guild, today and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 4 p.m. Catch the returning musical on its opening weekend.
4. Feast Dinner Theatre: Heard it Through the Grapevine – Brothers Two Restaurant (opening today) and Rodd Charlottetown Hotel (opening tomorrow), 6:30 p.m. Show runs Tueday to Saturday until Aug. 29.
5. The Marrieds – P.E.I. Farm Centre, today at 7:30 p.m. and the Old Belle River Church, tomorrow at 8 p.m.
6. Morgan Davis – Trailside Café, Mount Stewart, today at 8 p.m. with dinner seating at 6:30 p.m.
7. Festival of Small Halls: Livley 7 in Lot 7 – St. Mark’s Hall, Burton, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., featuring Qristina and Quinn Bachand, the Gawler Sisters and Celtic Feet.
8. P.E.I. Art Battle finals – P.E.I. Brewing Company, tomorrow at 8 p.m.
9. Festival of Small Halls finale – Kings Playhouse, Georgetown, Sunday at 3 p.m., featuring The Paul McKenna Band, Qristina and Quinn Bachand, Meaghan Blanchard and many more.
10. Indian River Festival: The Wailin’ Jennys – St. Mary’s Church, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.