Historically, Eastern Canada (Down East) has always been a hub of fiddle activity. This year, it hosted the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in Truro, NS. We thought it only fitting to revisit and remember another amazing event which has taken on an almost mystic and legendary reputation. It took place in Halifax in July 1999. Little did anyone know that "Fiddles of the World" would be remembered as the most spectacular and the most influential Fiddle celebration in Canadian history or maybe in the world for that matter.
“BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME” is not only a line from the movie "Field of Dreams", but a mantra embraced by a humble, iconic and visionary Down East fiddler. The one and only, Ivan Hicks from Sackville N.B.
Ivan was at the time, and still is one of the most beloved fiddlers in the Canadian (and beyond) traditional music community. It was his vision and determination that led to one of the most inspirational celebrations in our music history. It was a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Maritime Old Time Fiddle Competition. It was also the 250th birthday of Halifax. But mostly, it was, according to Ivan, a way to give the spirit of our beloved fiddle music a bit of a spark. Instead it turned out to be a bit more like an exploding shooting star!
Trying to describe what we witnessed at FOW is like waking up from a wondrous dream and later trying to describe it to someone.
It was part conference, part symposium, part festival, part trade show and part fiddle camp. It was jam sessions, lectures, workshops, and world class themed fiddle concerts. It was merchandize sales, intimate concerts capped off with a massive fiddlers‘ lobster picnic. There were even small performances throughout the city. All in 5 days! A kaleidoscopic Fiddlers’ extravaganza. In addition the socializing, sharing and professional friendships made endure to this day for many of us.
Canada’s premiere fiddle regions were well represented what from: Alberta’s multi stylistic Calvin Vollrath (who also wrote the FOW theme tune), Ontario Fiddle princess April Verch, colourful Quebec fiddler Yvon Cuillerier, James Bay Cree player James Cheechoo to Nova Scotia's Gordon Stobbe,Down East great Ned Landry and world renowned Cape Bretoner Natalie MacMaster. And that’s just to name a few! Whew!
International wonders were in abundance with players such as Appalachian Master Bruce Molsky, Ireland's Kevin Burke, Scotland's Alistair Fraser, Bluegrass King Byron Berline, Annbjorg Lien brought many their first sample of Norwegian fiddle and Paul Anastasia and Mark O'Connor brought some their first taste of contemporary fiddle styles. Just try to imagine 4000 fiddlers, fans, production people and the press descending on Halifax to be greeted by such a gargantuan display of fiddle prowess. And this, folks, was just the tip of the iceberg!
Imagine, for a second, that this magnificent celebration was developed by goodwill, a telephone and a fax machine. UNBELIEVABLE! One might wonder how Mr Hicks did it? My guess is he used a technique that a lot effective visionaries and organizers use. He surrounded himself with good people!
The following are some of the wonderful people that made up the amazing team of “DREAM MAKERS": Vivian Hicks (secretary treasurer and Ivan's partner in life itself), Jim Delaney (former chairman of the Maritime Fiddle Festival), Jim Hardy (program committee), Michael Ardenne (event producer ), Gordon Stobbe (artistic director) and Denise Moore (communications). Each of these no doubt brought in dozens of other great people totalling literally hundreds of volunteers.
We had never seen anything like this before and don’t know if we ever will again. However, if we don't it will stand forever in our memories.
Brian Hebert (Pembroke, ON)
Senior Canadian Grand Masters Board Member and Ottawa Valley Fiddler
*Brian attended Fiddles of the World as an Artistic Director and Ottawa Valley Fiddler*