Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Farewell Tour and The Chieftains

Since Saturday was our last full day on Cape Breton, we decided to revisit some of our favorite places on the island. We grabbed a quick coffee at the Quality Inn and headed south. Unfortunately, John bypassed the gas station just before the Seal Island Bridge, and there wouldn't be another until we reached Baddeck...if then.

 Big Baddeck John

We passed a sign reading "Baddeck 20K" just as the range indicator dipped below 10 miles. John did a lot of coasting and very little braking, and we sputtered into Baddeck Esso with the range indicator readout at 0. That's zero. Nada. Nil.

Having averted the gas crisis, we made a return trip to Bean There for more Irish creme coffee (Paul), more pumpkin spice latte (John) and more blueberry scones (both).

Our next destination was Mabou, where we had stopped on Tuesday to visit the Red Shoe Pub. It was a bit of a ride, and after the stress of the gas episode we were able to conjure up some more appetite. This was my favorite spot on the trip, and not just for the big chunks of andouille sausage in the chili. John had the special, which was puttenesca alla spaghetti--not quite up to Hanover Street standards, but not bad.

 The route back to Sydney includes the Seal Island Bridge

Thus fortified, we headed back to Sydney to rest up for the final concert, "50 Years of Celtic Charm", to be held at Center 200, a casino and hockey arena.

A number of opening acts preceded the Chieftains. John dismissed fiddler/trumpeter Daniel Lapp for playing "new age crap". Wendy MacIsaac and Mary Jane Lamond were great again, but we had seen them Friday night. Glasgow's iconic Battlefield Band was a bit of a disappointment to me, although the fervor among the Scots in the audience was palpable when the two bagpipers commenced together. It was a night for the Chieftains, celebrating 50 years with Paddy Moloney at the helm.

Moloney's genius is not just his music, most of which is performed  on a tin whistle (with a more serious turn on the uilllean pipes). His diminutive stature belies a huge and gracious personality, and his generosity and willingness to share the stage with band members and guests is legendary. Long time member Matt Molloy was up front with his flute, and stalwart bodhran player Kevin Conneff came forward to sing a capella in his remarkable tenor.

The guests were treated with equal deference. Guest musicians on keyboards, harp, guitar, and fiddle were all given a chance to shine and receive Molloy's benediction. A wild clog dancer dazzled the crowd during "Ottawa Valley Dance" and then was joined by his brother, who had been playing fiddle. Energetic step-dancer Cara Butler led a stepping cadre of local girls onto the stage and then through the audience, where they recruited an Irish-dancing conga line for the grand finale.

Through it all, Paddy Moloney kept up a litany of quips. After Kevin Conneff's solo, he declared, "When Kevin sings, we just hope for the best." Introducing singer Alyth MacCormack, he noted, "She's from the Isle of Lewis, where they speak Scots Gaelic and make Scotch whisky...I wouldn't mind a drop right about now." When the Battlefield Band charged back on stage for the finale, he feigned fright, then recovered, quipping, "For a moment I thought you were English."

And when the appreciative crowd called The Chieftains back for an encore, Paddy scolded us, "Pathetic. Don't you people have homes to go to?"