Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cookin' in the kitchen

Kitchen party? In the kitchen?
Where we come from on the West Coast, wives complain when a house party crowd inevitably splits into male and female, with guys hanging out near the fridge and the women trying to be sociable in the living room.
But here, on the East Coast, we ended up at two kitchen parties in two days in Hubbards, N.S. and neither party was in the kitchen. One was in The Trellis Cafe and the other was a private affair where everyone gathered on the big front porch facing the ocean, marveling at the warmth of the first night of October.
Both nights were wonderful. A party, always, is made by its people and we met some great, fun, social, outgoing and most of all musical folks. A Maritime party means bring the instruments and they did. For some, it was 12 and six-string guitars, for others a variety of drums, another a teeny tiny squeeze box, and some wonderful voices, in all styles, ranges and harmonies. Out of pockets came a set of spoons and various shakers for percussion backup.
It was good fortune that brought us to this seaside hamlet, 50 kilometres out of Halifax. Vicki’s old friend, Andrew, who also holds Cushing cottage memories dear, insisted she visit his older sister Bonnie at her home in Hubbards.
Out came the maps to figure just where this hamlet is. Andrew insisted Bonnie would welcome us with open arms, which she did. But because it was her busiest day of the week as a piano teacher, she sandwiched us into her schedule using the local cafe, The Trellis, as a meeting place.
Once we figured out who the other was after an absence of 35 years or so, we were off and running. Bonnie’s enthusiasm for the home she has made with husband Bob McCuaig, where they raised their three children and where she nursed her mother until her death, is stronger than ever after 30 years. No regrets on moving from Montreal. Our chat is interrupted by her neighbours and friends stopping by to say hello.
She apologizes again and again for the fact she is busy and has to hurry home to more of her 40 or so piano students. She apologizes for the fact she is leaving the next evening for a wedding in Ottawa and cannot stay to show us a good time.
But she takes us to the campground, in town, and see us settled before rushing off. The campground, two-thirds full of permanent trailers that act as a cottage for their mostly-Halifax based owners, is not particularly our style but it has WiFi and laundry, and we’re in desperate need.
It also has us close to town and able to explore it easily so that evening we return to the Trellis for their usual Thursday evening open jam.
It’s a kitchen party.
Before long, they’re looking at us questioningly so when Ian starts taking pictures for the blog, he explains what we’re doing on our travels.
“Come on in, sit down,” someone says, and we’re part of the party.
When Earl McAllister stands to sing, and the guitar chords begin, Sean Avis puts his guitar down and says, “Close your eyes for this. C’mon, close them. It’ll all be clear in a minute.”
And he’s right because he’s seen this before.
“When it began, ooo, ahh, ooo, I can’t begin to knowin, but then I know it’s growing strong,” Earl sings, and we of the closed eyes are certain Neil Diamond has entered the crowded room.
Earl is well known locally for this routine. When he’s really serious about his performance, he dresses the part but tonight he’s in jeans and a shirt.
He’s not alone in holding the limelight. When Misha Mosher gets up, the house is quiet after her first note. Her bluesy voice commands attention and she gets it, whether she’s singing here or with Sean and James Nairn when they perform as Two Many Strings.
One after another, the women take a turn at singing the lead in some song they’ve enjoyed for years. Cindy Fahie likes to belt out Patsy Cline, her sister Susan Lethbridge, visiting from Flin Flon, Man., delivers a touching John Lennon tune written for Yoko Ono. Lethbridge sings it accompanied by her husband Brent on guitar when they realize that nice young couple, who have been sitting at a corner table for hours, are on their honeymoon.
The newlyweds will never forget this evening.
We learn later that this is an exceptional night when everyone seems to gel just perfectly. Carol Webb is flawless in her harmony and stirring when she sings lead. The guitar playing from Avis, Nairn, Pat Fahie, Gary Stephen and Dave Anderson accompany each other as each chooses a song to play.
They apologize that there isn’t the usual assortment of instruments. It’s just who happened to show up tonight.
We don’t see any need for apology. The music keeps us there until staff decide the night has to come to an end, long after the usual closing time.
But we’re heartened when Cindy approaches us as we get ready to leave.
She and Pat are having a house party the next night, and we’d be welcome if we’d like to come. She asks where we’re staying and then laughs. Her house is the yellow one — across the road from the campground.
So it’s not hard to find the next night when we meet more of their friends, and more musicians. Carol’s husband, Don, feels recovered sufficiently from bronchitis to join the party with his squeeze box.
Earlier in the day, we squeezed another visit with Bonnie into her tight schedule and told her how much fun we’d had the night before at the Trellis. As we described a voice or guitar playing, Bonnie, the small village resident, put names to our descriptions.
At the house party, Ian asked for names of all and sundry. They were quite keen to be on our blog.
And we were quite keen to have been included in their regular lives, if only for a couple of nights.
We’ll not forget Hubbards.

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