Beyond the Spotlight - Aaron Lewis

Aaron LewisIn my previous blog, I introduced you to Cape Breton sideman supreme, Al Bennett. Today I want to introduce you to another Cape Breton go to musician, Aaron Lewis. Al and Aaron are kind of like Cape Breton musical Ghost Busters in that regard. “Who ya gonna call?”

Like many Cape Breton artists, Aaron comes from a musical family (is it the water here?). In Aaron’s case this is plural. His Father & Uncle were professional touring musicians and his Mom had lots of music in her family as well.

Aaron is an amazing piano player and terrific singer but never met an instrument he didn’t like. I guess it was a very natural thing for young Aaron to become a professional musician when he was 16. Three years later, he became the second Lewis lad to join the Carelton Show Band (his Dad had played with them for many years).

Beyond the Spotlight - Featuring Allie Bennett

al-bennettFor 36 years he’s performed on over 100 records, toured a good part of the world and performed with a who’s who of Canadian folk musicians. He’s a musical director, teacher, guitar and fiddle player. He’s an arranger, producer and musical director. 

Al Bennett is also a humble man with a quiet sense of humour. He always makes me laugh when I’m hosting a show that he is in. As we pass backstage after his performance with someone and with the sound of wild cheering in the background, he will often say, “Fooled them again.” He is referring to the audience but we both know that no one was fooled. Allie just does not want to take any credit for a successful performance.

He’s played Vegas with John Allan, toured with Rita MacNeil, Bruce Guthro, the Rankins, the Barra MacNeils and many more. In short, he’s a musician’s musician. He’s been in the middle of some of the most historic musical developments and events in Cape Breton music history.

Yessss!…. Meeting John Allan Cameron

The great Cape Breton troubadour, John Allan Cameron (1938-2006), once told me he never wanted to be called a legend because people would no longer want to pay him to perform. He said this with a large John Allan smile but as I later came to discover, he was already somewhat of a victim to this scenario. He was doing dozens of benefit concerts across the country every year, often paying his own expenses. John Allan2

The first time I really got to meet John Allan was in the early 1990s when he invited the cast of the Cape Breton Summertime Revue to his home for an after show party. We were touring across the country and played that night in Markham, Ontario where John Allan lived with his wife Angela and son Stuart.

Up to this point, I had shared a few stages with John Allan at festivals and fund raisers but really only knew him by reputation and had only spoken to him in passing.

And the Word for Today is… Brilliant

It’s interesting how language is influenced and changes over time. I started travelling to Scotland in the mid 90’s and loved hearing the shopkeepers say “cheers” when they handed over my purchase. Ten years later I began to hear the same in Nova Scotia.

However, I found the British use of the word “brilliant” somewhat disconcerting because it was used to describe a person’s feelings about anything from a cup of tea to the weather. Since there is usually an exception to every English rule I must list my favorite here. I once heard the wonderful Irish fiddler, Liz Doherty, describe a music session the previous night as “Brilliant but mental!” That still makes me laugh.JP-ashley-stuart

Cape Breton, Cuba & Bagpipes???

If you ask most people where they can hear Celtic music they would likely answer Scotland and Ireland. An increasing number of folks would also think of Cape Breton because of our living Gaelic culture.

It would surprise some people that the areas of north western Spain, Galicia and Asturias, are also widely recognized as Celtic nations. Both of these regions also have a very active bagpipe tradition. (Their version of the instrument is called the gaita.)

Many Spanish settlers from these regions immigrated to Cuba in the 19th and early 20 centuries. (Fidel Castro’s father was from Galicia.) The Galician and Asturian  cultures were nearly lost until a new generation of descendants, like Arturo Quintana pictured below teaching children in Havana. began to revive their cultural traditions.