Old time fiddle music is bred in the bone of many Prince Edward Islanders like Buddy Longaphee, left and Cecil Trainor who were warming up before performing at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in this Guardian file photo. Longaphee has been going to the festival for 35 years and Trainor is a regular participant.
©Guardian file photo by Brian McInnis
Tune up the strings and rosin the bow — one of the oldest P.E.I. fiddle festivals is back.
On the verge of closing down last year after the tragic death of founder Peter Chaisson, the Rollo Bay fiddle festival will rise again to celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer.
“A few of my cousins and I are taking over the festival because we just can’t imagine it not happening,’’ confirmed award-winning performer Tim Chaisson, now touring in Australia. “We all would miss it.”
The younger wing of the talented fiddling family intends to restring the award-winning festival and has been quietly planning the rejuvenation throughout the winter. The festival’s management will be handled through the not-for-profit organization, Big Field Tradition (BFT), composed at this stage of seven Chaisson family members.
The festival grounds were for sale last fall following the death of Chaisson. His brothers, Kenny and Kevin, who also worked on the festival for years, acknowledged the rigours of time led to the decision.
However, the “for sale” sign disappeared after Christmas and there was no lack of speculation that wheels were in motion.
The festival was started in the 1970s by family patriarch Joe Chaisson as a way to reconnect young people with the fiddle music that had been dying out. Sons Peter, Kenny and Kevin all joined forces to build the festival into a tourism attraction and integral part of a P.E.I. summer for almost four decades.
But, on the final day of the 39th fiddle festival last July, 72-year-old Peter Chaisson collapsed and died on the site. The tragedy struck deep and took the wind out of the sails of the organizers.
“He would be proud to see the tradition carried forward for years to come,” says Peter’s son, Andrew, one of the members of Big Field Tradition, in a news release. “He knew well the power of music and its importance in one’s life, family and community.”
The festival continuing is great news, said master Island fiddler Roy Johnstone.
“It was the first fiddle festival I ever attended back in 1977 and hopefully the great tradition the Chaisson family has built continues for another 40 years.”
The Argyle Shore musician, said Rollo Bay has been a mainstay for traditional music, highlighted the wealth of fiddlers from across the Maritimes and provided a showcase for upcoming fiddlers who are now leading players on world stages.
Family members say further details on the festival will be forthcoming at a fundraising concert as they are finalized. That concert, to be held in the beautiful Rollo Bay church April 22 at 7 p.m., is also intriguing since the church has been decommissioned and could be torn down. But while nothing has been confirmed, there have been community groups exploring ways to rejuvenate it as a possible concert and performance venue similar to Indian River.
1 - The Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival was created in the 1970s to preserve Prince Edward Island's tradition of music.
2 - Musicians like Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Richard Wood, Troy MacGillivray, Jerry Holland, The Chaisson Family, The East Pointers and JP Cormier have performed on its stage.
3 - The festival was on the verge of closing down last year.
4 - Peter Chaisson, co-founder of the event, died in July of 2015.
5 - The Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival received the 2011 Premier’s Award for Tourism in recognition of its long-standing contribution to tourism and culture