Heatwave unleashes fiddle firepower

There's been a fiddle vortex over Prince George in recent days.

First, local legend Daniel Lapp performed at Northern Lights Estate Winery. Coming up at Summerfest, rising star Chloe Nakahara is one of the entertainment attractions (she also headlines at Books & Company on Friday night). The B.C. Old Time Fiddlers Branch No. 1 - Prince George (yes, the founding branch) closed their jam season last week and got their membership drive underway for summer. And at the Heatwave Festival this week, Ottawa Valley phenom April Verch was one of the headliners.

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Verch was with Lapp in the global spotlight of the 2010 Olympic Games opening ceremonies in Vancouver, along with several of Canada's best fiddler acts. She was thrilled that the Games organizers put so much emphasis on the instrument and all the cultural spinoffs that waft from the powered up violin.

She was not surprised, however. It is one of Canada's foundational artistic traits.

It is coming up again this year as Canada recognizes 150 years of confederation.

"It's impossible to represent every tiny little regional style that we have but (the Games producers) did a good job in having a cross-section," she told The Citizen.

The main regional sounds ripple from Newfoundland and Labrador, Cape Breton and the rest of the Atlantic Maritime region, the Quebecois sound, the Ottawa Valley sound, the Metis style and Lapp is leading a movement to collect and define the B.C. sound. Verch posted a video that demonstrates several of these styles.

"I've guess I've always sort of been interested in that. It seems, performing, I get a lot of questions about it, so it has worked its way in," she said.

"It feels like yeah, it's ok to take time to talk about this on stage a little bit without turning it into a lecture. But it is important. It's part of the culture of it. I'm geeky about some of that stuff, but I enjoy it."

Technology and history are at a crossroads right now, she said. Fiddlers are at an important moment for documenting these regional styles.

"We've entered this era where people have the internet and are learning from that, and Skype lessons, and we're not isolated anymore, so it's an important time to talk about this and put some of it down, do some recordings of these styles before they even further evolve, which is all perfectly normal and healthy, but just to make sure we have a record of where it all came from," she said.

She's also taken new roads as a performer. After growing up in traditionalist channels that made her the winner of the vaunted Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Championship in 1997 (she also took silver in '96), she has added modern touches to her work today, has a striking singing voice and has also established herself as one of Canada's practitioners of the dual step-dance/fiddling art.

"It's always evolving," she said.

"The step dancing has always been a part of the show, but we've added a fair amount of foot percussion. I have a pair of shoes that has sandpaper on the bottom, so behind the vocals it sounds like a brush on snare drum - shuffling and swooshing."

Verch was one of more than 30 acts that comprised the Heatwave Festival built to celebrate Canada's sesquicentennial. Today's lineup includes Frontal Lobotomy (noon), Jack Van Somer, Rachelle Van Zanten and Ccile Doo-Kingu. Friday has Charlotte & Matt Diamond during KidzArtDayz, and the big evening finale on Saturday has Kym Gouchie & Friends, The Donn Roberts Band and The Paperboys.

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