Kimberley Fraser and Mark Simos at Agawam

Event Summary

2008 May 3 (Saturday)
Private house concert at the Captain Charles Leonard House, 663 Main Street, Agawam, Massachusetts
Kimberley Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Mark Simos.
$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 May 6)

This past Saturday saw the last of this season’s series of house concerts at the Captain Charles Leonard House in Agawam (Massachusetts), featuring Kimberley Fraser on fiddle; Mark Simos on guitar, piano, and fiddle; and a guest appearance by Greg Dorchak on fiddle. Mark is a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Kimberley is working on her second degree, and specializes in several traditional music genres, including Irish and Appalachian music. Greg is Kimberley’s partner.

With Mark on guitar, the initial set began with Joan MacDonald Boes’ beautiful The Sweetness of Mary and ended with James Scott Skinner’s The Hurricane; sandwiched between were a number of other fine tunes, all familiar, but whose names I don’t know. Next up was a set of familiar toe-tapping jigs, in C, Kimberley said. With Mark now on piano, Kimberley then gave us a superb rendition of Jerry Holland’s exquisite In Memory of Herbie MacLeod. The second jig set from Kimberley’s last recording, Falling on New Ground, came next. This was followed by a set of Antigonish polkas popularized by the playing of Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald and which are still often heard in Cape Breton (e.g., Alan Snyder lists recordings of “(Antigonish Polka #1)” performed by fiddlers as disparate as Winston, Tara Lynne Touesnard, Joe Cormier, Jennifer Roland, Wendy MacIsaac, and Kendra MacGillivray). Mark then gave us what I heard as Georgia Push Tune and Trouble in Mind, played on solo fiddle in the southern Appalachian style. With Mark back on guitar, Kimberley finished the first half of the concert with a fantastic set lasting well over a quarter hour starting with a strathspey, continuing with Tulloch Gorm, and ending with a spate of reels, the last of which was not familiar to me. It was an amazing performance, as Kimberley’s always are.

After intermission, with Mark on piano, Kimberley gave us another long set, starting with Mrs. Crawford as a slow air, then a strathspey and several reels. With Mark back on guitar, in response to a request made during intermission by an attendee who’s trying to learn these tunes, Kimberley played “The Madames” set from her last recording, including Madame Neruda and Madame Vanoni, both hornpipes by James Scott Skinner; she said she didn’t remember having played these tunes since she had recorded them, but nevertheless got through the complex music with aplomb. Mark on guitar and Greg on fiddle then gave us a strathspey and a reel while Kimberley step danced to their playing. Next up was a dual fiddle set with Mark and Kimberley playing an “old tyme” Appalachian set in “cross G tuning”, which I take to be akin in purpose to high bass tuning in Cape Breton; I didn’t completely get the names of either tune they played, but I suspect the second might have been Black Jack Grove. With Mark again on piano, Kimberley then played the hauntingly beautiful slow air, Aberdeen, which also appears on her last recording; composed by Fran Grey of the Orkney Islands while ill in hospital in Aberdeen, it is built around the musical notes in the name, viz., A B E D E E. With Mark back on guitar, Kimberley gave us a final rousing set, including the King George Strathspey and the King George the IV reel. Greeted with a standing ovation, and then by rhythmic applause calling her back even though she had played way beyond the allotted time, with Mark on piano, Kimberley gave us a final tremendous set, starting with the waltzes on Buddy MacMaster’s Glencoe Hall recording (Longueval, Amelia, Morag’s) and moving on to reels, with The Orange Blossom Special thrown in for good measure! Absolute bliss!

Mark is clearly a very talented musician, but just as clearly he is not yet completely at home in Cape Breton music, although he has a substantial background in traditional Irish music accompaniment. To my ears, his guitar accompaniment on the first of the jig sets was noticeably outside the Cape Breton style and just muddied the music; on the second jig set, sometimes his piano was on the mark and sometimes not. His piano accompaniment to In Memory of Herbie MacLeod was not in the Cape Breton style either, but it nevertheless worked for me. His piano accompaniment to Mrs. Crawford and the following strathspey was also very fine, but for the following reels, it was much muddier, very syncopated, quasi-jazzy even, and sounded as if he were just trying too hard. His piano accompaniment to Aberdeen, on the other hand, was again very fine and his work on the encore number with The Orange Blossom Special was similarly excellent. He really shone on the two sets where he played Appalachian style music on the fiddle, clearly his forte. Kimberley’s playing throughout was top notch, even on the “old tyme” set she did with Mark, and a testament to her flexibility on the fiddle. She surely wowed the audience with her varied and always gorgeous playing! Greg, who has been playing fiddle for four years now, acquitted himself very well, clearly having benefited from Kimberley’s teaching.

Once her exams are done and the current semester ends, Kimberley will be heading to Afghanistan at the end of May and the beginning of June to entertain the NATO troops serving there along with a contingent of mostly country musicians, including Matt Minglewood from Cape Breton. When she gets back, together with fellow Cape Bretoners Mac Morin, Wendy MacIsaac, Patrick Gillis, and Mary Jane Lamond, Kimberley will be appearing at the Cape Cod Celtic Festival 2008 from 26-29 June. It is great to see this amazing young musician getting the wide recognition she so richly deserves.

Thanks to Meg and Dan Sullivan for their hard work in putting together an outstanding series of concerts. What an incredible way to end the season! Way to go!


Meg and Dan Sullivan just before the concert started

Meg Sullivan introducing the artists

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle

Mark Simos on guitar

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle

Mark Simos on piano

Mark Simos on solo fiddle

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Mark Simos on guitar

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle

Mark Simos on piano

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Mark Simos on guitar

Kimberley Fraser step-dancing,
accompanied by Greg Dorchak on fiddle and Mark Simos on guitar

Greg Dorchak on fiddle

Kimberley Fraser step-dancing

Mark Simos and Kimberley Fraser on dual fiddles
playing an “old tyme” fiddle set

Kimberley Fraser on fiddle

Mark Simos on piano