A Fiddler’s Guide to Victoria, BC, part 1

Victoria BC by night

I recently spent a wonderful music-filled week in Victoria, which is the capital city of British Columbia, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s southwest Pacific coast. There is much to love about this city, but I’ll leave that to the travel writers. I’m here with the ‘Fiddler’s Guide’ to the area. There is quite a tradition of folk music in Victoria, with many fine fiddlers making their homes there, not to mention many opportunities for the large number of ‘hobby fiddlers’ in the community as well.

I started out the first evening at Hermann’s Jazz Club, which (as the name implies) usually features Jazz & Swing bands. But on this occasion, I was lucky to attend  a folk/acoustic showcase. The quartet Flash in the Pan performed a set of vocal & instrumental originals and cover tunes in a bluegrass vein, featuring the crisp, clean fiddling of Miriam Sonstenes.  Miriam is well known around the area for her versatility, playing with Flash in the Pan, folk trio Shearwater, old-time music duo Sweet Ginger, and several other bands, and in addition she leads the Victoria Conservatory Fiddles (which reminds me a bit of my Fairhope Slow session group). It was great meeting her after the show and talking shop about fiddling & teaching with her. Of all the souvenirs I took home from the trip, it’s an old-time fiddle tune that Miriam played – one of her signature tunes called ‘Feed Your Horse Corn & Hay’ – that may be my favorite.

Victoria's Irish Times Pub

The next evening I made the first of several visits to the Irish Times Pub in Victoria, a fine downtown establishment that features Irish music 7 nights a week! Fiddler Calvin Cairns, a well known Canadian fiddler, teacher and musical entertainer, was holding court there with a Celtic duo. Calvin added great fiddle flourishes and passionate solos to every song, and tore into some amazingly energetic sets of reels & jigs on both fiddle and concertina. Calvin has entertained audiences coast-to-coast across Canada and in many countries around the world and it was easy for me to see why! He was also a gracious person (as was most everyone we met) and invited me and my wife Fran to take the stage, where we played some fiddle & bodhran duets ourselves. It was great fun!

Calvin Cairns & Quinn Bachand @ Irish Times Pub

The very next evening back at the Irish Times Pub, Calvin was performing with a different partner – 14 year old guitar wunderkind Quinn Bachand. The two of them sounded great on every set! Quinn has been recognized as “one of the best Celtic guitar accompanists in the world” by famous Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac and I could tell why instantly. Later that night I sat in with Quinn and it was a real treat. His rhythmic drive and use of inventive chord patterns bring to mind the playing of John Doyle.

I have plenty more to tell about Quinn and his fiddling sister Qristina in my next post. I’ll also report on sitting in with about 60 others fiddlers in the Victoria Fiddlers Society monthly jam, and about the most energetic Irish session I think I’ve ever played in!

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