ANTIGONISH, N.S. - It’s a return engagement 25 years in the making.
Eastern Nova Scotia Exhibition (ENSE) manager Donald MacLellan noted it was 25 years ago Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac first appeared at the local exhibition and, this year, he returns with a Saturday (Sept. 1) evening performance on the outdoor stage.
The show, which will see Antigonish musical talents Mary Beth Carty and Allan Dewar joining MacIsaac on stage, gets underway at 6:30 p.m.
“I was thinking it was pretty near that,” MacIsaac said, when informed about the silver anniversary time period. “I’m 43 now so I would have been 17 or 18 playing there the last time.”
MacIsaac said he appreciated being invited back to perform at the ENSE and talked, passionately, about what exhibitions mean to him.
“When I was asked to play it, I thought about those shows I did and something that has always been an allure to me is to be close to the sheep barn and giant pumpkins,” he said, referencing the agriculture shows, displays and contests, which he considers the essence of event.
“In the early 90s, for me, going to the exhibition really represented people’s achievements in all their different fields. I think that is really what it has been about for so many people, for so many years … and I get to come back to it.
“For me it’s a happiness to come back 25 years later and be part of something that shows everyone’s achievements in a given year; that’s really what the exhibition is about.”
As he further reflected on attending exhibitions as a youth, it was the ENSE he recalled.
“There could have been a Sydney one, I don’t know, and other smaller affairs, but Antigonish, definitely, in my father’s books, was the one which had great events and had for many, many decades,” he said. “People know Antigonish is farming country; the people are farm people.”
MacIsaac also noted he appreciates the ENSE is “for everyone.”
“I’ll be playing music that I feel comfortable playing for everybody,” he said.
“We’ve played many shows in the Piper’s Pub in Antigonish; myself and piano players, fiddlers, but it’s not always ones that kids get to go to,” he said.
“We’re hoping this one will be entire families out, older people, farmers with their kids; out for an enjoyable time at a very traditional event.”
It has been a busy summer for MacIsaac with a number of shows around the Maritimes, including an appearance at Stanfest last month.
“It has been interesting because, in the last number of years, I’ve done more touring in the summer to different places, but I did a lot around Nova Scotia this year,” he said.
He added the exhibition show, and another in Sydney the weekend earlier, will basically wrap-up his summer touring schedule.
“I’m also going to be in Sydney (Aug. 25) for the close of the big festival there (the Great Big Bash) with Jimmy Rankin,” he said of the Sydney show.
“Overall, I have had a good summer. The time in between (concerts) has allowed me to move, I just moved into a new place, so it has been an easy summer with a lot of great seafood being in Nova Scotia a few times.”
He concluded his thoughts with another expression of gratitude for his ENSE show.
“I really appreciate the exhibition asking me to part of it and I know that it’s an important event for the whole area, for Port Hawkesbury, for Inverness County,” he said. “I know people from all over come up and partake in it and I hope to see a lot of people who aren’t just from Antigonish out when I’m playing. Maybe, if there is enough Invernessers, we’ll get a square set going right on the exhibition grounds.”