Ashley MacIsaac sizzles at Olympic Kitchen Party thrills his down-home fans at Atlantic Canada venue

Ashley MacIsaac sizzles at Kitchen Party

 Firebrand fiddler lets fingers fly, thrills his down-home fans at Atlantic Canada venue on Granville Island
Ashley MacIsaac

Where: Atlantic Canada Kitchen Party (Backstage Lounge) on Granville Island

When: Saturday night

The wait was worth it. Cape Breton's firebrand fiddler Ashley MacIsaac sports some of the most loyal fans on the planet, so when Atlantic House Canada announced he'd be performing at its Kitchen Party (a. k.a. the Arts Club Backstage Lounge) on Saturday night at 10:30, devotees started showing up at noon.

By the time MacIsaac arrived at about 11 p.m., many gallons of good Sir John A's Honey Wheat Ale and other tasty Maritime treats had been dispensed to the crowd, so the packed bar was more than ready for a good old kitchen-party fiddle fest. Turns out the bearded lad was late because he'd been: a) performing for the lineup of people outside who couldn't get in; and, b) joining country artist George Canyon next door at Atlantic Canada on Deck (a. k.a. the Arts Club Granville Island Stage) for an impromptu rendition of The Hockey Song.

Funnyman Shaun Majumder was hosting that show and, after ushering MacIsaac into the bar, led off his introduction with a rambling discourse on what might best be described as The Majumder Numbers Theory on Why We'll Win Hockey Gold. Finally, it was MacIsaac's turn to tune his sound system, introduce his guitarist Quinn Bachand and let loose.

Oh my, do those fingers fly! Until that moment, the most important cultural event of the day in this Maritime enclave at Vancouver 2010 came when federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay joined the premiers of Prince Edward Island (Robert Ghiz) and Nova Scotia (Darrell Dexter) on stage at Come On In! (that's usually the Revue Stage) for a lesson in how to play the spoons.

Not knowing how to play said spoons didn't stop one happy lass from trying to help Ashley out. The only accompaniment he needed, however, came from Bachand's tight guitar work -- not bad for a lad who turned 14 on Friday.

They roared through Mary Mac with MacIsaac displaying his gift for taking an arrangement far and wide, from blistering pace to slow and sweet. Having joined in the fiddle portion of the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday, he tossed off a compliment about fellow performer k.d. lang ( "Man, she can rock a suit!") and launched into King of the Faeries, losing some of the subtle beauty of this Gaelic classic to the too-loud crowd.

He asked if any of us were old enough to remember The Maple Leaf Forever. You bet; I had to learn it at Holyrood elementary, but lyrics like "Wolfe the dauntless hero came/and planted firm Britannia's flag" have kept this chestnut on the Canadian back-burner. Resurrected as an Irish jig with classical stylings, it could now even play down the street at Place de la Francophonie 2010 without causing offence.

Having insulted Newfoundlanders by declaring them to be Cape Bretoners with the brains beaten out of 'em, MacIsaac made it up by leading the mob in what else but I's the Bye. There should have been smoke issuing from his strings.

After praising fellow Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland, who died last year, MacIsaac looked forward to the next generation and invited Tim Chaisson from P.E.I. to join him. Bookending young Bachand, they opened a medley of Maritime hits with My Cape Breton Home and, MacIsaac taking the reins, whipped the mob into a frenzy with music that moved like lightning.

Jeez by gum, was it fun!

Peter Birnie
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