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Eclectic lineup hits Fairbanks for Fiddle Fest

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:28 pm | Updated: 2:30 pm, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Last year, Fairbanks oncologist and Celtic music fan Andrew Cox invited Canadian fiddler Troy MacGillivray up for a concert and workshops. MacGillivray’s band sold out the Blue Loon and filled the Pioneer Park Theater for a second show. The workshops also were a big hit. The event was so successful Cox decided to do it again this year.

“This year it was clear we wanted to make it a little bigger,” Cox said. Three times the size, in fact.

The Far North Fiddle Fest will again feature the Troy MacGillivray Band, which will be joined by Fairbanks native Caitlin Warbelow. MacGillivray, from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, will play a mix of traditional Cape Breton and Irish tunes. Also on the bill are Jeremy Kittel and Nathaniel Smith, a fiddle/cello duo whose genre-defying music includes elements of jazz and Celtic. The third group is the April Verch Trio, from Ontario’s Ottawa Valley.

All proceeds benefit Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Hospice Services.

The musicians will arrive in Fairbanks Sept. 5 to begin three-day series of workshops, culminating with a concert at the Davis Concert Hall on Saturday, Sept. 8. A community jam is scheduled at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Alaska Coffee Roasting Co., 4001 Geist Road.

“I go to other festivals around the country and these are the best of those festivals,” Cox said. “All three, in my opinion, are as strong … you can’t get stronger within their genre.”

He was especially impressed with April Verch.

“It’s more of an old-time style,” he said of her music. “It would be very similar to the Appalachian fiddlers. She combines not just fiddle and vocals but a very lively step dance. She’s just a masterful kind of performer.”

Verch has been impressing audiences since she was a 4-year-old step-dancing with her sister. She is the first woman to win both the Grand Masters and Canadian Open fiddle championships and performed at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

She has released eight CDs, most recently “That’s How We Run,” an exploration of southern traditional mountain music paired with “plucky, straight-backed Canadian tunes.”

“The world is this amazing puzzle that we can’t fully understand and music is the joy that pulls it all together and helps us make sense of it,” Verch says on her website.

Troy MacGillivray’s roots are in the traditional Scottish and Irish music of Cape Breton. He has been step-dancing since he was 6 years old and began teaching piano at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts at age 13. He started playing fiddle as a teenager. Music is in his blood. His parents and sisters are also accomplished musicians. MacGillivray’s grandfather, fiddling pioneer Hugh A. MacDonald, is a member of the Nova Scotia Country Hall of Fame.

MacGillivray’s latest project is “When Here Meets There,” a collaboration with fiddle champion Shane Cook.

Cox first saw Kittel perform in 2008 and was wowed by his music, which he finds hard to pigeonhole.

“He comes from a more classical background,” Cox said. “Scottish and sort of jazz and now he’s doing something, I don’t know quite what to call it. It was like listening to 15 people playing at once. Not many people can do that.”

Kittel will be playing with cellist Nathaniel Smith, an award-winning musician who has toured with Mark O’Connor and Natalie MacMaster. Smith has performed with a wide variety of musicians, appearing on Austin City Limits and NPR’s Prairie Home Companion. He released a CD, “Arrhythmia,” of original cello music in 2009, as well as a live CD, “The Nathaniel Smith Jazz Project,” recorded live at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Cox compared the musicians with guitar great Leo Kottke, who will be performing in Fairbanks Sept. 7.

“They’re all relatively young,” Cox said. “All of them are spending all year on the road just touring. I suspect they’ll achieve what Leo Kottke achieved, we’re just seeing them a couple decades earlier.”

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.


What: Far North Fiddle Fest concert

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8

Where: Davis Concert Hall, UAF campus

Cost: $20 adults; $10 students, seniors, military and UAF students.

Info: fairbankshospital

What: Community jam

When: 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 6

Where: Alaska Coffee Roasting Co., 4001 Geist Road



When: Sept. 6-8 at Zion Lutheran Church

Ages: 7 to adult

Times: 1-4 p.m. Thursday

1-4 p.m. Friday

9:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $25 per day. Scholarships are available.

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