Kelly's Dream (Sharon Shannon, Liz Carroll and Buddy MacDonald),
Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton Island,
Nova Scotia, Canada, October 14, 2002

Cape Breton Island is best known for its Scottish heritage, but it also welcomes many things Irish, particularly good music.

On this night, Cape Breton Island resident Buddy MacDonald was emcee and opening act at the Boularderie School (pronounced BOWL-a-dree) in the little community of Ross Ferry. MacDonald, a singer-songwriter, has been active in the community's music since the mid-70s, when he took part in the legendary Tarbot festival, a local version of Woodstock. This night, MacDonald sang a handful of entertaining songs, including a sing-along on "Wild Mountain Thyme," and a hilarious bit about a wild night during a previous Celtic Colours when everybody got home about sunup. MacDonald also hosted the nightly after-hours "Festival Club" at the Gaelic College, 3 a.m. or later, and by the end of the week was looking a bit the worse for wear.

The title of this night's program was "Kelly's Dream," as in "Now Kelly was an Irishman....," and it featured the playing of American Liz Carroll, who plays Irish-style fiddle, and Ireland's own accordion virtuoso, Sharon Shannon. This was the third time we saw Sharon during the festival, and we realized that she was doing pretty much the same set at every gig. It didn't matter so much to the locals — we found that the CB residents tended to attend concerts in their area, while the outsiders like us traveled all over the island, taking in a gig every night. Sharon played at the gala opening on Saturday night; in an all-accordion show called "Outside the Box" at the Savoy Theater in Glace Bay Sunday afternoon with Joe Derrane of Boston and Phil Cunningham of Scotland; and again in Boularderie on Monday night.
photo by Debra Goldenberg

Shannon has a crack band called The Woodchoppers, but for the festival she just had two of its members as accompanists: sister Mary Shannon (who can seemingly play anything with strings) on banjo and mandolin, and guitarist Jim Murray. Her set included some of her best known tunes, including "Diamond Mountain," "Rathlin Island" with Sharon on whistle, and a mazurka called "The Penguin," in addition to unnamed jigs and reels. For a good idea of what it was like, check out her superb Live in Galway CD.

Mary and Sharon Shannon
photo by Debra Goldenberg
Both Murray and Mary Shannon were immense fun to watch and excellent accompanists. Murray's style is highly rhythmic and percussive, and Sharon wisely gives him lots of room to stretch out and strut his stuff. Shannon also brought with her a young vocalist from Ireland, Pauline Scanlon, who sang two or three numbers in the middle of Shannon's set each time we saw her. She had a pretty good set of pipes, but seemed very nervous about singing in front of crowds. For her final number on this night, she gutsily chose Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," a difficult song on which she did a passable job. Shannon and her accompanists all are a bit on the shy side, and don't interact with the crowd very much. Sharon at least tries to remember to smile occasionally.

Liz Carroll, on the other hand, is very personable and friendly, both onstage and off. She tried to vary her set a little every night, not a difficult feat for a fiddler who was winning All-Ireland Championships 25 years ago. This was also the third time we'd seen Liz, but she hadn't worn out her welcome quite as much as Shannon had, although she was nearly worn out herself. "Mother of God, this trip is just about doing me in," she said at one point, much to the amusement of the crowd. Apparently, she'd been trying to keep up with legendary party-goer and festival co-host Phil Cunningham.

The people of Cape Breton know their fiddling, and never ceased to be knocked out by Liz Carroll's fiddling. Among her numbers this night, accompanied on the piano by local musician Tracy Dares MacNeil, were jigs "Battering Ram" and "Lark in the Morning," and, appropriately, "Kelly's," a slip-jig off her latest CD, Lake Effect. For the finale, Liz, Buddy, Sharon and their accompanists were joined onstage by Donnchadh Gough of Danu on bhodran, for an Alisdair Fraser set and Carlos Nunez's "Costa de Galicia." It was a night of sweet Irish music indeed.

[Gary Whitehouse]