Stonehurst Wes, Anya, Neall and Molly, our fine hosts Workshop in the Opera house Captain Mitchell and David aboard the trawler Cape Sable the family on the streets of Lunnenburg photos by Beth Colin and Beth kayaking on the Atlantic Shipyard in Lunnenburg Geoff, David and Dave, Bandstand performance Garnet at the Opera House Feutchaque Concert on the Wharf What a backdrop! Geoff, David and Dave dockside MacCrimmons Revenge, Sunday night Geoff, David and Dave, in the big tent, Sunday
Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival: All Around the Town
I hadn't been to Lunenburg since hitchhiking through in my teens. I remember thinking it was beautiful. I remember the shipyard where the Bluenose was built. I remember very little else. It was more than time to return.
We left Port Aux Basque Nfld. on the Lief Ericsson on Thursday morning bound for North Sydney on Cape Breton. Our passage was replete with swells that mercifully dropped to a near dead calm, bright sunshine and whales off the port bow. A perfect crossing as it turned out.
We pulled into the festival site at Blockhouse Hill, over looking the town. There I saw the largest tent I'd ever seen - filled to capacity with festivalgoers. A Celtic band was roaring along in full flight and I made my way to the back of the stage. I couldn't believe my eyes. Producing this driving sound were The Cottars, a band made up of 11 to 14 year old siblings from Cape Breton. I nearly got back in the van and ran for it. It was all too impressive and the next generation once removed all too close. This is an amazingly talented band, with nothing but great things ahead. Feeling very much the greybeard, I drove us off to our billet on South Stonehurst, just outside the village.
We were housed with the family Ostertag - Wes, Neall, Molly and Anya. Lovely and accommodating people. They hail from the Hudson River valley in New York State and spend as much of the summer as possible on this rocky point of land. The views from the windows in the morning were nothing short of breath taking and the sea kayaking expeditions courtesy of our hosts merely guilded the lily. As if life wasn't good enough I enjoyed the best coffee ever while sitting on their porch or the rocks, playing guitar and looking out past the breakwaters to the open ocean. Schooners and fishing boats regularly made there way to surrounding anchorages, gliding across the seascape past the lighthouse and the outlying islands.
All that to say we had to remind ourselves we were there to work. Our first appearance was at the bandstand in the middle of town. The bandstand is an imposing structure to say the least. The roof fairly towers over the stage on tall pillars, so the bandstand can be seen from further up the hill. The town is built on a hillside, and the bandstand takes pride of place about half way down to the harbour. People sat on the terraced lawn that surrounded three sides of the stage, and the site was well attended. We managed to catch some of Swamparella's Cajun set. Garnet Rogers came up after us. That gives you an idea of the lineup. We were warmly received by the crowd, and thus were eased into the festival in the best possible way. The location of the concert lent itself to a certain ease and an eagerness to play. Dave, Geoff and I were very at home in the park.
The Opera House on Lincoln Street was the site of two of our workshops on the weekend. It is a beautiful old edifice, a classic building of its time and a warm and an intimate place to play. The workshops saw us on stage with Garnet Rogers, Feutchaque, Emaline Delapaix, Kim Erickson and Addie O'Conner from the band Curfa. The site was extremely well attended; the audience treated to a great variety of styles and songs. I very much enjoyed hearing a couple of new songs from Garnet, his final love song of the set a particularly beautiful offering. Prior to our arrival on stage the audience had been treated to beautiful Gaelic singing of Patricia Murray and Elyra Campbell.
By far my favorite workshop/small concert venue took place on the Wharf. It is literally a wharf on the harbourfront, surrounded by working fishing boats, schooners and pleasure craft of all size and description. For our half-hour set we picked songs that harkened in some way to a nautical theme - at least all the ones on that subject that I've written. It was a wonderful audience to play for. They sat out in the bright sun and sang along beautifully. The wind had picked up by our late afternoon set providing some relief from the heat. The boys and I were hard pressed not to look around at the traffic in the harbour, the comings and goings of ships and at the beautiful frontage offered by the houses and shops of the waterfront. It was an odd combination of distraction and motivation. You don't often get to sing in such an unusual place, and that in itself was thrilling. I'd seen a picture years ago of a band on that exact stage and thought to myself "Someday I'd like to play there". It was worth the wait.
We squeezed in a visit to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, and I had the honour to meet Captain Mitchell, a Newfoundlander, aboard the trawler Cape Sable. This was a man who had fished for 45 years, 21 of them as captain. He had gone to sea in schooners originally, and now works as a guide at the museum. I asked him umpteen questions about the life and at one point asked about the highest seas he'd encountered. He looked over at the buildings stacked above us on the hillside, and in a very matter of fact voice said, "Oh, about as high as that building on the third street up. Of course it would be coming at you at some speed." I felt honoured to shake his hand.
Our sound check at the main stage tent Sunday afternoon did not prepare us for the evening show. The massive tent had us thinking of zeppelin hangers, and ocean liner dry docks and all manner of very large things. Rarely has a sound check been so efficient though, or the end result so pleasing.
We took the stage as the second last act of the festival, just before April Verch and her superb band closed the night. We had watched an excellent evening of music up until that point, with styles ranging from Grit Laskin to MacCrimmons Revenge. The tent itself was packed - a marvelous sight in its own right.
Our set fairly flew by, and was wonderfully received. On the songs where they were invited to sing along, the audience did so with full throated abandon and split into harmonies as if we had all practiced beforehand. There are singing crowds and there are singing crowds, but the boys and I were hard pressed to recall a larger and more powerful grouping of voices. It was like getting a shot of pure adrenaline. We all felt it, and played accordingly. It was as rewarding a 35 minutes as I have ever spent on stage, and will remain as the highlight of the weekend for all of us. It was a privilege to play to such a welcoming audience.
The post festival party was a joyous affair, with music taking place in all the corners of the warehouse floor. I wasn't surprised to see Darren Arsenault centering a crowd of pickers on one side and at the other end the members of Swamperella rolling out tunes. I lost Dave and Geoff to a bluegrass jam outside early on in the night, and said goodbye to them as they sang close harmony in a circle on the dock. That was the sound that followed Beth and I down the empty street.
We would all like to thank Pat McLarty and the Festival committee for the opportunity and hospitality. It is a unique setting for such a friendly festival. Thank you all very much.
Wes, Anya, Neall and Molly, our fine hosts
Workshop in the Opera house
Captain Mitchell and David aboard the trawler Cape Sable
the family on the streets of Lunnenburg
photos by Beth
Colin and Beth kayaking on the Atlantic
Shipyard in Lunnenburg
Geoff, David and Dave, Bandstand performance
Garnet at the Opera House
Concert on the Wharf
What a backdrop! Geoff, David and Dave dockside
MacCrimmons Revenge, Sunday night
Geoff, David and Dave, in the big tent, Sunday night