I just got back from the Pembroke fiddle and step dance festival today. It was my first time there for the festival. I went up on the bus Saturday morning and arrived in the early afternoon. Having walked from the bus depot into town, I stopped into the Giant Tiger to buy some food. The town seemed to have come alive for the fiddle festival; there was a family group inside in the cafeteria singing a Carter Family song and when I went out into the parking lot, there was Peter Dawson, Jim Beatie, and some friends putting on a show there. Jim treated the audience to four or five traditional songs from Pontiac County, which is just across the Ottawa river from Pembroke on the Quebec side. He was soon joined by Peter Dawson on fiddle, and soon enough there were two step dancers, a Ms. Dewar and Mr Hughes.
I walked into the park along the riverside and once inside wandering amongst the RVs, heard my friend Jeannie's voice. At this point, I knew that I had found the famed blue Gaspesian tent. This is pretty much where I stayed the whole weekend. I had two great nights of fiddle tunes and country songs and met some new friends along the way too. Brigid and I played many of Cyril Devouge's and Erskine's tunes during the weekend. Roland White's son, Gavin was there and he especially appreciated Cyril's tunes and had Brigid and I record a bunch of them in his camper the next day. Roland was Cyril's best friend growing up and taught Cyril many tunes, so Gavin hadn't heard a lot of these tunes in many years and was excited to hear them again.
Saturday and Sunday afternoons I spent trading tunes with the Drody brothers and Gary Snowman which was a lot of fun. Anthony played a great version of the Cultivator Reel which he called the Turkey Farmer and had learned from a busker in Perce. Joseph played a great version of the Gaspe Reel, not the better known tune these days by this title, but a great funky little G tune with a characteristic plucked E string in the last phrase of the tune.
Saturday night at the tent was really magical. Michel Mallette joined us and played some really incredible French style fiddle music with Brigid. Later on, Derek Wilson showed up and gave us some top notch Ontario style fiddling which was also just incredible. Gary Snowman got up several times and shook the floor boards with his lively and powerful step-dancing. At the end of the night, Derek was joined by a fiddler from London, Ontario named Carmen. They were really on fire and played a medley of about eight Bb tunes and then a bunch of waltzes in Bb and F. Here is a picture of the Saturday night session:
And here are two tunes from the same night. The first one, I'm playing one of Cyril's old tunes he learned from a fiddler from York in the Gaspe named Arty Savidant. We call it Arty Savidant's Tune.
Listen to Arty Savidant's Tune
And here is Michel Mallette burning it up on two great reels, Bailey's (composed by one of the fiddler's who hangs out at Pembroke) and St. Anne's.
Listen to Bailey's Reel and St. Anne's Reel
Sunday had another real treat in store. A nice elderly French fiddler from Valleyfield named George showed up in the tent, initially playing guitar. Eventually he moved on to the fiddle and I switched to guitar as people began leaving for dinner. He is in his late 70's and is originally from the Huntingdon area in the Chateauguay Valley and learned fiddle from his Dad who he said was very good. He really blew me away, playing these elegant old French style reels as well as a lot of modern waltzes. He had amazing bow control and intonation and was just as comfortable in Bb or F as G and D. He seemed to enjoy the way I played backup guitar because I used a few jazzy passing chords on the waltzes as well as some nice old-fashioned bass walks I picked up from Brigid and old Doc Roberts records. I also tried using some Missouri style backup on some of his driving French reels and I like the way they turned out. In addition to being a wonderful player, he was such a perfect gentleman. So polite and considerate and willing to help me out with a melody or chord whenever necessary.
I really like Pembroke because its not just an ordinary music festival where people go to watch big name acts, but a place where people come together to see old friend, socialize, play cards, share songs and tunes, and dance a few steps. I think that's pretty special thing and its really wonderful to be around people who love great fiddling and step dancing. I really had a blast and will be back in the years to come.