Rollo Bay: then and now
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.