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Christmas Bird Counts

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Wintertide Holiday Festival

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Review by Sean McQuaid

Prince Edward Island's own Acadian fab four have come home yet again this year, playing at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in September. After paying their dues in the Confederation Centre’s smaller venues over the years, the quartet have graduated to the main stage—and while the small group may not need the extra space, they certainly fill it with their abundance of instruments and their unmatched exuberance.

For those who have seen the group’s many past shows or purchased their albums, the product remains much the same: traditional singing and step-dancing by the whole gang, lead vocals (and shameless mugging) by bassist Albert Arsenault and guitarist Chuck Arsenault (no relation), lead fiddle by Louise Arsenault (the rock-solid musical anchor of the group), lively keyboards by the beaming Helene Arsenault Bergeron (Albert’s sister), incongruously rich brass instrumentation by Chuck, and a wide, wacky array of percussion instruments wielded by diabolical drummer Albert.

One of the oldest and best-loved bits in the band’s repertoire is their co-op drum band, still an integral part of the show, in which Albert and Helene draft luckless audience members into serving as a human drum set with assorted instruments strapped to their heads. Albert plays these makeshift skins with an air of good-natured sadism that never fails to provoke howls of laughter.

Some of the newer routines are crowd-pleasers, too. One of the most clever sequences sees Albert and Chuck solicit spare change from the audience as part of the lead-in to a song regarding money. Albert then uses the coins to create a sort of shaker instrument which he plays during the song, and later gives the coins away to a lucky spectator.

Perhaps the biggest laughs of the night, though, go to eyebrow-arching, incurable ham Chuck Arsenault. Despite his classical training, Arsenault may well be at his best when he’s just plain goofing around, most notably with a series of musical impressions that bring the house down: backed by the rest of the band, he sings and dances pseudo-Acadian versions of pop standards such as “Satisfaction,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Staying Alive,” using exaggerated mannerisms, costume changes and crazed choreography to hilarious effect. He’s a show-off, but he’s also a born showman, and the crowd loves him.

Crowds seem to love the rest of Barachois, too, and not without good reason. Melding crack musicianship and a reverent traditional sensibility with boundless energy and a sense of cheeky whimsy, the quartet continue to charm audiences with performances uniquely their own.

Events Calendar

December 2018
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