With an armload of accolades to their credit, Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys are indeed guided by ‘the sharp cuts of his fiddle’.
Presented by the Central Music Festival Society, the Prince Edward Island-based band performs April 13th at the Elks Lodge. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the music at 8 p.m.
The guys will be performing tunes from their latest CD, 2015’s Laugh, Dance & Sing and earlier projects, delivering what’s described as a, ‘A sure-footed roots instrumentation to accompany the spectacle. It’s a joyful sight that divides the line between the band and the audience.
Plenty of cuts mirror the rich musical heritage of their eastern Canadian roots, melding traditional bluegrass and roots bolstered by their stunning musicianship.
Sonic gems abound on the latest project from the robust, lively disc opener Riding’ the Fiddle, which dives right into the equally energetic Song to a Young Seagull.
Dusty Derby has a distinctly nostalgic flavour to it while Goodbye City Lights exudes a touch of that raw bluegrass sensibility.
A Maritime Lullaby showcases the band’s ability to tone things down beautifully as well.
Then it’s back into flat-out high gear with King’s Highway and the Pickle King Polka.
Interestingly, frontman MacKeeman (fiddle, feet, and vocals) didn’t grow up surrounded by musicians, but his family did have a passion for music however.
He started off with dancing – and later, at about nine years of age – took up the fiddle.
“Dancing and fiddling kind of go hand in hand. And I was always around a lot of fiddle players, so I just really wanted to learn it too.
“I just always really liked fiddle music, in particular the ‘down east’ style fiddle music.” There are certainly country and bluegrass sensibilities woven into the mix as well.
As the years passed, MacKeeman was also influenced by older fiddlers who had reams of experience and had honed their own unique sounds and styles, too.
“There weren’t a lot of teachers in my area at that time – a lot of fiddle players, not necessarily a lot of fiddle teachers though. But I did take lessons from a fellow for about two years and I kind of picked up the rest on my own,” he explained of the process of finding his own style. “I had a good foundation, and then I joined different fiddlers’ groups and would go and play different seniors’ homes and things like that.
“I learned a lot by just sitting in with people and listening to records – picking up things that way.”
Rounding out the band are Mark Geddes (bass, drums, percussion, mandolin, and banjo), Thomas Webb (vocals, banjo, guitar, pedal steel guitar and bass) and Peter Cann (vocals and guitar). The band officially formed about six years ago.
At the time of the first CD, he recalled that he had been playing with a bluegrass group at the time.
“People would ask every now and again if I had a fiddle CD – so I really just made a fiddle CD for the fun of it without a plan of making a band per se,” he said with a laugh. “I met these guys (in the band) through the music scene here on Prince Edward Island – through bluegrass festivals and things like that. I also had played along with them for different (artists) but not necessarily as a group,” he added.
Ultimately, the line-up was formed after that initial CD was released, as folks were increasingly requesting gigs.
“It was an easy choice for fellows to play with, because I had played with these guys in different shapes and forms with many different people over the years.”
No doubt about it – their talents blended seamlessly.
And it wasn’t long before more accolades started rolling in.
Pickin’ n Clickin’ (2013) was honoured with the 2014 East Coast Music Award for Roots Traditional Group Recording of the Year and the band was also awarded the Galaxie Supernova Award at the 2012 Ottawa Folk Festival for their outstanding high-energy performance.
The CD also took the 2014 Winner Music PEI Award for Roots Traditional Recording of the Year.
The guys have also performed at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, The Woodford Folk Festival, WOMAD, Celtic Connections, and to audiences at sold-out venues, festivals and theatres across Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Malaysia and Australia.
Meanwhile, the band will be heading into the studio when they get home from this current trek out west.
“It’s a bigger step for us – we’ll be working with a Nashville producer on this one. So it’s definitely a bigger leap for us.
“It will be challenging, but in a good way I think.”
For MacKeeman, whether touring or recording, another primary focus besides music is pretty tough to imagine.
“I always pictured myself playing music – whether it was for fun or a career. I love doing it. It’s nice – we get to go and play concerts, and if we weren’t doing that, we’d be doing it at home anyways!”
For tickets, check out www.centralmusicfest.com.