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Suite Music Over Too Soon...

Posted by Sharon Armstrong on Wed, 03/10/2010 - 00:41

One of the very best things about music festivals is that the fun never shuts down at the same time as the the festival gates do; it too just takes a little bit of a side-step. Or in this case a side-step, and then a shuttle-bus ride back to the Radisson Hotel.

I once heard someone describe festivals as just a way to corral sessions and, personally, I think that they might have be on to something there. Put together a whole lot of great musicians from all over the world in the one place, and, seriously, what else is going to happen? It’s a wonderful thing!

The Radisson Hotel on North Central Expressway where we all stayed seemed to be set up to encourage just those wonderful things – great music sessions.

In the central lobby there was a bar for the unorganized, there were tables and chairs for the tired and weary, there were separate rooms for tunes and singing sessions, and then there was the private party upstairs on the 9th floor where the musicians could kick back, and the partying could really kick off.

As well as the party upstairs, the corridors of the hotel were packed with local and featured musicians, all rubbing instruments with hotel guests and each other. It was friendly, and welcoming, and very, very noisy. Of course there was the one amateur Jambi drum player, but once she was tied up and stashed in the nearest cupboard, everything was cool.

Eamonn, being the organizer that he is, soon had the tables pushed out the way and people up dancing - indefatigable that man. I myself was ready to find a comfortable seat, and so I wandered upstairs to the party - I had heard that they had big sofas up there.

One of the highlights for me, musically, at the 2010 NTIF was the contemporary Acadian group Vishtèn; a group whose history was every bit as interesting as their music.

Vishtèn are twin sisters Pastelle and Emmanuelle LeBlanc from the small Canadian East Coast Prince Edward Island, and Pascal Miousse and Louis-Charles Vigneau from the neighboring, and even smaller archipelago of the Magdalen Islands.

Historically peopled by predominately French fishermen, these two tiny islands in the North Atlantic Ocean share a long history of cultural, personal, and musical ties. Their music is a mixture of French, Irish and Scottish, a reflection of the history of the displaced people who have immigrated to Canada throughout the centuries. It is also great craic, as I found out when I reached the 9th floor.

Pascal Miousse had brought his father along on the tour - a fine-looking man with a long, white ponytail - who is a guitarist. He wore around his neck a charm necklace made up of silver shells and starfish, and one tiny but accurate representation of the Magdalen Islands. What struck me about him was that he was warm, and friendly, despite my complete lack of French, and also very proud of his son. But the overwhelming impression I had formed of both Vishtèn and their music was the joyfulness with which they played, and the friendliness of the band members, and nowhere was that more apparent that in that crowded hotel suite. It was impossible not to smile, and it was impossible not to have a good time. And sign language will take you a long way, you know.

Around 5 AM – again – we decided to call it a night. We all had to be on the road back to New Orleans the next day, a situation that no one was very pleased with, so we lingered in the downstairs lobby…no one was ready to go home.

Next morning, after gathering the troops, we made our final trip out to Fair Park.

It was raining - that special southern rain that soaks you to the skin in seconds. the Park was still fairly busy, although now instead of being covered with sunshine, it was covered with umbrellas. We all agreed that the Hospitality Room beckoned.

The room was full of tired but happy faces, and the Meade, the Smithwicks and the Bushmill were still flowing.

I got to chatting with John Coyne, of Coyne and Reeves. John was born and raised in Limerick, and is now based in Boston, but he toured the Deep South for years playing Irish Music. I was curious about the difference between Irish Music up north, where he now lives, and down South in Mississippi where he used to.

“Down here it’s got the different ornamentations,” he said. “It’s got the Cajun influence, and I am noticing a lot of the Texas Swing and you know that is very interesting. I think my own take on it is that in a place like Boston, there is such a huge Irish community up there. You can’t get away with some things. When I lived in Mississippi, I was the only Irishman within 300 miles, and going from there to a place like Boston which is just full of Irish you were more just another face in the crowd, like. You know, you play Irish music and everyone is like, so? Down here, I think it is easier because it is relatively new to a lot of people, and so a lot of people are really into it. And you see that here at the Festival. And they love it, you know?”

With that it was time to hit the road, and start the long trip back to New Orleans.

Oh well, there is always next year.

The Living Tradition will be covering the 24th annual Festival International de Louisiane April 21-25, 2010.