P.E.I. fiddler J.J. Chaisson heading to Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival

Carolyn Drake lifestyles@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 17, 2014

J.J. Chaisson

©Guardian photo

It has already been a busy summer of music for J.J. Chaisson.

The well-known Island fiddler (with his brother, Koady) has been delighting audiences with foot-stompin' tunes at the Old Triangle in Charlottetown every Wednesday night. He also found time for a quick trip to Cape Breton at the end of June for a few concerts at Kitchen Fest. And just last weekend he put down the fiddle and grabbed the guitar to accompany Natalie MacMaster as she dazzled the Celebration Zone audience in a concert in Charlottetown.

Many people might consider that to be a highlight reel already.

But for Chaisson, the real fun of the summer is still to come — the 38th annual Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival.

"There are so many great musicians, fiddlers, singers and dancers who show up for this weekend, it's hard not to get excited for it every year," he said of the event that returns to the festival grounds in Rollo Bay, July 18-20. "It's the music, but it's the friendships that people make, too. There's just something magical that happens when you meet people from away. You feel a connection. You meet them with a handshake on Friday and on Sunday evening you're giving them a hug goodbye... ."

"Another thing that has always amazed me about the festival is that you can have a world-class fiddler on stage and the next number can be a 12-year-old just getting their start. That in inself is unique. If you show up and put your name on the list and you want a chance, then you get a chance. And that's very cool and very, very special."

Chaisson, who is 32, has seen plenty of performers come and go at Rollo Bay as he has been coming to the festival for as long as he can remember. A grandson of one of the original organizers, Joe Pete Chaisson, in addition to performing he — and many of his cousins — try to help out both before and during the festival, with everything from lining up acts, stage-managing and accompanying someone on stage to parking cars, doing security duty, making a run to Souris for supplies and picking up litter.

That's what makes it work, he explains, all kinds of people who give their time, including hisuncles, aunts anddozens of first cousins.

However, Chaisson says the "heart and soul" of the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival is his uncle, Peter Chaisson.

"He loves it. At his age, if he didn't love it he wouldn't do it. He has done the job of six or seven (people) getting ready for this, and when it's time to get passed on it's going to have be done as a committee."

Another person who looks forward to the festival every year is Marlene MacDonald, for many seasons one of the smiling faces who greeted people as they arrived at the gate. Then a few years ago she moved up to the stage to host the concerts.

"It's kind of like a family reunion. It's all happy, great, positive. It's pretty nice to have that," she said, adding it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces year after year and to meet people for the first time.

And then there are the tunes.

"The music is fantastic. And you never know what kind of surprises you're going to get. Like Mike Hall a few years ago - I'd never heard of him and then he jumps on the stage and starts playing and he's just great . . . .

"I've gotten to introduce the little ones in Kathryn (Dau Schmidt's) fiddle classes right up to fiddlers like Natalie MacMaster and our own Richard Wood. It has been pretty fantastic. And then there are a lot of family connections, like Ward MacDonald and Alan MacDonald and the Chaissons, and that is nice for people to see, too.

J.J., who now brings his own family to the festival (he and his wife, Julie, have three young children), still enjoys the excitement of it all.

"I can remember so vividly when I was their age and the excitement coming here. And now to have that role reversed and be able to bring them is awesome . . . .

"I wish more people would take advantage of such a great weekend of fun and music. The music does to me what the sunshine does to a lot of other people. Anytime I'm around music there's never any bad feelings or negativity."