Rollo Bay: then and now

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - Todd Ma­cLean

I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber Peter Chais­son in the same ways many of you will re­mem­ber him: fid­dle cra­dled to his ear; bow hand flu­idly sweep­ing across the strings; ex­pres­sive eyes fixed down­ward, gaz­ing deep into the soul of each tune brought forth by the whirling world of notes fly­ing from his left hand fin­gers — be it a jig, waltz, strath­spey, reel or air.

Whether it was a Satur­day night dance, a house party, a ceilidh or on stage at a fid­dle fes­ti­val, there he would be in that same way: that right leg bounc­ing in con­stant pound­ing of the beat, his fam­ily mem­bers chord­ing at his side as they pumped the lifeblood pulse into all the tunes that peo­ple came to hear.

He was a gift to us. To those close to him, to Is­lan­ders, to those who came to hear him from far and wide, he was a mu­si­cal jewel — one we would have wanted to cher­ish for­ever, if we could.

His sud­den death Sun­day af­ter­noon at the an­nual Rollo Bay Fid­dle Fes­ti­val si­lenced a mu­si­cian who was about so much more than just his mu­sic. Over the years, Chais­son worked end­lessly to en­sure the con­tin­u­a­tion of the fes­ti­val that his fa­ther and Fa­ther Faber Mac­Don­ald cre­ated, nur­tur­ing it into the long-stand­ing eastern P.E.I. sum­mer tra­di­tion that has al­ways fea­tured some of the best tra­di­tional mu­sic this re­gion has to of­fer.

And the re­sults of his ef­forts were per­fectly clear in the con­certs on Fri­day and Satur­day at the 39th an­nual Rollo Bay Fid­dle Fes­ti­val.

I took in the Fri­day night show in the ceilidh barn — a two-act night, with both of the acts fea­tur­ing mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians, some­thing that Peter al­ways sup­ported.

The evening be­gan with the dy­namic fid­dling of Anas­ta­sia DesRoches, ac­com­pa­nied by Brent Chais­son on guitar and Mylène Ouel­lette on pi­ano, a trio now go­ing un­der the new name of DOC (an acro­nym made up of the first letters of the mem­bers’ last names).

The ceilidh barn was packed with folks young and old with many of their toes a-tap­ping upon the wood floors as DOC played a 45-minute set of de­light­ful tunes that even got some up danc­ing early in the night. The trio has also launched a new CD. Check it out at anas­tasi­adesroches. Next up was The East Point­ers. “This is my first Rollo Bay Fid­dle Fes­ti­val,” said Jake Char­ron, the On­tario-based gui­tarist for the young tra­di­tional trio.

“And my 30th,” smiled the group’s ban­joist, Koady Chais­son, as the big crowd laughed in re­sponse. “And Tim, your 28th?”

“Twenty-sev­enth, ac­tu­ally,” said his cousin, fid­dler/per­cus­sion­ist Tim Chais­son. “I missed one.”

There was noth­ing miss­ing from the East Point­ers’ set on that night as they ripped into ‘ er with a fa­mil­ial-fu­eled-force in their first time play­ing Rollo Bay, send­ing the room into a ma­nia, as they de­liv­ered a set so full of driv­ing rhythms, cap­ti­vat­ing orig­i­nal tunes and im­pas­sioned play­ing (and a cap­pella singing), that the crowd jumped into a stand­ing ova­tion at their per­for­mance’s end.

“The banjo isn’t a Chais­son in­stru­ment,” one man said to Koady in con­ver­sa­tion at the end of the night. “But it is now.”

To me, that pro­vides a suc­cinct note of sum­mary to what was both a joy­ous week­end of mu­sic and a sad loss of one of the Is­land’s best mu­si­cians: the Chais­sons are, in­deed, about tra­di­tion — tra­di­tions that Peter Chais­son helped to cre­ate that shall surely live on in all those whom he loved, in­flu­enced, guided and inspired.

Yet, these per­form­ers on stage at Rollo Bay — and many oth­ers — are also evolv­ing en­ter­tain­ers, full of tra­di­tion and rich in prom­ise, and I know I speak for many of us when I say that I look for­ward in ex­cite­ment to where they will carry his legacy and this brightly glow­ing mu­si­cal torch in the years to come.

Next week: A fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment legacy of a dif­fer­ent kind - the Frank Led­well Sto­ry­telling & Com­edy Fes­ti­val at St. Peters Court­house.

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