With his passing at the age of 89, the Celtic traditional world lost a highly respected musical master who was immensely popular across the island and far beyond.
Buddy was a man considered a legend among traditional fiddlers around the world. I knew him for over 50 years as he was a regular player for the dances in Creignish as I was growing up. Through the years I booked him for dances and concerts many times and worked with him on stage on many more occasions. He was always professional, accommodating and genteel and very, very witty, a real joy to be with.
He was such a powerful dance player, with impeccable timing and a wide selection of tunes that would provide “lift” to those on the floor and draw them out to dance even harder. I danced a lot to his music over the years but one particular occasion sticks out, a Saturday where Buddy played at a wedding in the afternoon and a dance that evening. I did 14 square sets to his music that day and danced as hard for the last as for the first.
He didn’t record until after he retired from over 45 years with CN when his other career as a full-time fiddler took over. Through the years he performed and taught all across Canada, the United States and Europe. He received a great many awards while he was living (including being the only North American listed in Scotland’s Traditional Music Hall of Fame).
And there were even more accolades after he passed away. At one point last week he was the top “trending” topic on Facebook, something that would have caused him to smile and shake his head in his own humble way. Thanks to modern technology his music will live on and future generations of fiddlers can continue to learn from The Master and his music.
The lineup at his wake went on for hours. St. Andrews Church in Judique, where his funeral took place, was packed with his extended family, neighbours, friends, and at least a dozen priests. And the reception that followed at the Community Center was filled with musicians and fans, a fitting send-off for a man who inspired so many and who will be missed so much.
Cape Breton also lost another cultural great last week, Kay MacDonald of New Waterford. A MacFarlene from Margaree who went to Boston as a teenager, she worked, married and raised a family there and was very active in the strong Cape Breton community that thrived in that area through the 1950s and ‘60s.
She returned to Cape Breton after the passing of her first husband where she remarried and continued her cultural contribution through her work at the Beaton Institute, teaching Gaelic, hosting Island Echoes on CBC Radio and her involvement with the Gaelic Choir. She became a great resource for the language, the “go to” person when you needed a Gaelic translation or the proper pronunciation or phrasing of the words to a traditional Gaelic song. Kay was 93.
This pair of Cape Breton giants will be profoundly missed, from both the music and the language sides of the culture. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of both Buddy and Kay.
I caught Ashley MacIsaac at the Old Triangle a few weeks back, swapping fiddle and piano chores with Brenda Stubbert. Needless to say, there was a packed house with people arriving long before the 8:30 show. And it was well worth the wait as he approached things with his usual drive and energy, creating a wonderful evening of music!
I also made it to the Fiddler’s Festival Concert on August 17 at the Gaelic College. The weather co-operated and there were lots of great players, singers and dancers on hand, mostly from Cape Breton but from places like Vermont, Ontario and Switzerland as well.
The Second Annual Acoustic Roots Festival takes place on August 29-31 at the Two Rivers Wildlife Park, located near Marion Bridge. The festival features a great lineup of talent in several genres including folk, country, Celtic, bluegrass and blues.
Dan MacDonald is a former Inverness County resident who now lives in the Sydney area. Involved in the Cape Breton music scene for more than 20 years, he operates his own company, Creignish Hills Entertainment. Contact him at email@example.com.