Chaisson brothers receive PEI Music Association Industry Award
by Patricia Roy
The mention Rollo Bay to anyone interested in traditional music brings to mind the sounds of fiddles echoing in the soft rolling hills of Eastern Prince Edward Island. That connection is no accident and due in large part to one family and three brothers in particular, Peter, Kevin and Kenny Chaisson and their late father Joseph Simon, better known as Joe Pete.
The Chaisson brothers received the PEI Music Award Association’s Industry Person of the Year Award at the award show finale at the Confederation Centre of the Arts November 20, for their contribution to the preservation of traditional music on Prince Edward Island.
In a recent interview, Peter noted that they were “overwhelmed” by the response to the very first Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in 1976.
It was after seeing a documentary on the decline of fiddling in Cape Breton and fearing the same thing would happen here, that their father Joe Pete, their uncle Roddie and others, namely Father Faber MacDonald, Father and Charles Cheverie, decided to do something about it.
Peter said they anticipated having not too bad of a crowd for the first festival, “but we wound up with a traffic jam.”
However, musicians and fans from Cape Breton who had come over for this Sunday afternoon concert knew what the family was in for. They were soon out directing traffic.“We didn’t realize how big of a draw it was going to be.”
The crowds have leveled off as well compared to the 1980s when there was between seven and 8,000 people for this third weekend of July event.
He remembers their father saying that years ago, everybody had a violin under the bed, even though they may not have played it because playing music got to be considered vain. Fiddle music had started to die off as a result. But Peter says things have come full circle for traditional music and musicians. “And I don’t care what anyone says, the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival was front and centre as far as being responsible for the revival of traditional music on Prince Edward Island.”
Kenny finds that he has to put the fiddle away for periods of time now, but Kevin, who plays piano, and Peter still play somewhere on the Island about twice a week. Kevin added that in the final analysis, “when you see kids coming up through the system and playing on stage or wherever, that's what drives us. That’s the rewards.”