J. J. Chaisson and Kevin Sullivan at Agawam

Event Description

2008 March 15 (Saturday) and 16 (Sunday)
19h30 (Saturday) and 14h (Sunday)
Private house concert at the Captain Charles Leonard House, 663 Main Street, Agawam, Massachusetts
J. J. Chaisson from Prince Edward Island and Kevin Sullivan from the Pioneer Valley provide a concert of traditional Scottish music.
$14.00 by advance reservation via e-mail to Meg Sullivan at
or by phone at +1 (413) 789-9267; $18.00 at the door

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2008 March 17)

Dan and Meg Sullivan’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration continued a long-standing tradition of having members of the Bear River Chaisson family from Prince Edward Island come to Western Massachusetts for a concert of traditional Scottish music. In 2006, it was J.J. and his uncle Kevin; in 2007, it was J.J. and his first cousin Timothy; this year, it was just J.J. That was because Julie and J.J.’s daughter, Ella Rose, who was born this past October, accompanied them on this trip, so there was no room in the car for an accompanist this year. Kevin Sullivan, a well-known bouzouki, mandolin and guitar session musician in Western Massachusetts, stepped into the breach and performed admirably.

There were two concerts, one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon; the former was sold out and there were only a few vacant places in the latter. As was the case with Zoë Darrow’s Agawam concert in February, there were several younger folk in the audience at both concerts, as J.J.’s fine playing is well-known in the area (indeed, it was the Chaisson cousins who encouraged Zoë to switch from classical violin to traditional Scottish fiddle).

The Saturday concert opened with a new J. J. composition, Ella Rose’s Reel, which was incorporated into a fine set of traditional E-minor reels. The second set started with Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of His Second Wife, continued with a strathspey, and ended with a spate of tunes, the last two of which were MacNab’s Hornpipe and St. Anne’s Reel. A set of jigs in E encouraged a couple of the younger members of the audience to step ’er off. The final set of the first half was a marathon set, starting with a slow air, a strathspey, and more than a dozen of the finest toe-tapping reels.

The second half opened with a set of jigs in D, which switched to reels half-way through; this set was played on guitar, as J. J. is as formidable a guitar player as he is a fiddler. I then got to hear for the first time his lovely slow air, Seize the Moment, written in memory of a good friend of his who was killed while jogging by a drunk driver; like J. J., his friend was a lobsterman, so the tune bears the name of his friend’s boat. The third set started with J. J.’s composition The Icing on the Cake, a waltz written in tribute to his wife on her wedding day, and was followed by a long blast of reels. The fourth set was of several jigs in A minor and A. Then, a dazzling Tulloch Gorm followed by many reels came pouring forth from his fiddle to finish the concert. The audience hadn’t yet had enough, demanding more by rhythmic applause, so J. J. and Kevin played a final set, starting with Kennedy Street March and ending with another blast of reels.

Since I had already driven to Massachusetts from New Jersey, it would have been foolish for me not to attend the Sunday concert as well, and so I did. I was delighted to get a chance to hear Seize the Moment a second time; while a number of the tunes were the same as those of the Saturday concert, most were different, really giving Kevin a work-out as he found fine accompaniments to many tunes with which he said he was not really familiar. While, given the cool weather, it was not so incongruous as it was at a dance during the height of summer at last year’s Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in PEI, the inclusion of Dashing through the Snow in a jig set brought chuckles from the audience. The beautiful slow air, The Rosebud of Allendale, was superbly played; heretofore, I had always associated it with the playing of Buddy MacMaster, but J. J.’s version was equally fine and beautifully phrased. Zoë Darrow was in the audience on Sunday and was invited to the stage to perform with J. J. during his last number; they started with Catharsis and traded reels during the rest of the set. For the encore, they began with Amazing Grace and continued with strathspeys and reels; during this set, J. J. gave us a brief set of steps while continuing to play the fiddle.

J. J. has a CD in progress; it has been recorded and is currently being edited and mastered. He said it contains Seize the Moment, which should give this fine air the wider exposure it deserves. The CD should be out of production by the time the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival takes place from 17-20 July; those who will be in the Maritimes then should definitely attempt to attend the four days of nearly non-stop music in a beautiful natural amphitheatre on the east coast of Prince Edward Island; see this web site for more information, including the on-site camping facilities. It is the best opportunity to hear J. J. and the many talented members of the Bear River Chaisson family as well as a non-stop selection of other fine PEI, Acadian, and Cape Breton fiddlers.

As always, I extend my sincerest thanks to Meg and Dan for hosting this superb series of house concerts. And thanks as well to J. J. and Kevin for sharing their very fine music with us. Even though mostly Scottish, the feast of great traditional music was still a marvellous way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!


Meg Sullivan opens the Saturday concert

J. J. Chaisson and daughter Ella Rose at the start of the Saturday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Saturday concert

Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki at the Saturday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Saturday concert

Young step-dancer dancing to J. J.’s jigs at the Saturday concert

J. J. Chaisson on guitar at the Saturday concert

J. J. Chaisson on guitar at the Saturday concert
accompanied by Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Saturday concert

Dan Sullivan minding the sound board at the Sunday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Sunday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Sunday concert
accompanied by Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki

J. J. Chaisson holds his daughter Ella Rose at the Sunday concert

J. J. Chaisson on guitar at the Sunday concert
accompanied by Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki

J. J. Chaisson on guitar at the Sunday concert

J.J., Ella Rose, and Julie Chaisson during intermission at the Sunday concert

Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki at the Sunday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Sunday concert
accompanied by Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki

J. J. Chaisson and Zoë Darrow on fiddles at the Sunday concert

J. J. Chaisson on fiddle at the Sunday concert
accompanied by Kevin Sullivan on bouzouki

J. J. Chaisson step-dancing and fiddling during the finale of the Sunday concert