It’s rare that a non-headlining performer at a music festival will entice the signing of a headlining act, but that’s how Island MusicFest artistic director/executive producer Doug Cox landed Ashley MacIsaac.
“The particulars about how I got asked to do this had a lot to do with the fact that Quinn (Bachand) is coming,” said MacIsaac during a phone interview this week. “That’s my big reason for wanting to come out and play, because I haven’t done a gig with Quinn for a couple of years. Quinn is in university so I have been working with other musicians for the past couple of years, so I didn’t have a chance to do anything with him. So I am quite excited to come.”
The Bachand siblings – Quinn and Qristina – were announced last week in another of the online performer rollout announcements.
The Bachands – Quinn on guitar, and Qristina on fiddle – are arguably the best Celtic musicians to come from the “wrong” end of Canada, inasmuch as Celtic music is concerned. They hail from Victoria.
Cox said the MacIsaac signing was indeed more than a coincidence.
“We reached out to him; we actually did it through the Bachands,” said Cox. “The last time he played here was with Quinn. He hasn’t played the festival before but I brought them here together for a winter concert at Native Sons Hall. So I did book the Bachands first, and then I thought, well it would kind of make sense to bring Ashley back.”
MacIsaac remembers the first time he heard Quinn play.
“I saw a YouTube video, when I searched Cape Breton fiddling, or Cape Breton guitar, I forget which, but the first thing that came up was… of this kid that was probably 10 or 11 years old, playing guitar, accompanying Buddy McMaster I believe.
“I sent a comment to whoever posted the video – I guess it was his mom – saying ‘This kid is really, really good’… and I got a response back that said ‘He has only been playing guitar for less than a year – he plays other instruments but just picked up the guitar when we were on vacation.’ I thought, OK I have to meet this guy.”
Bachand, who is currently on a full ride scholarship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, credits MacIsaac for much of his development during his formative years.
“He really introduced me to touring,” said Bachand, in a phone interview from Boston. “I had already released an album with my sister, Qristina, when I was 11 years old, and we did some touring with our parents… but those were much smaller stages.
“But with Ashley, we played some big festivals, like the Edmonton Folk Festival. We travelled to Australia, we played in Tasmania, Melbourne… that was my first real experience on the road. And we were headlining. It was a very crazy experience to get out there like that, with someone as well-known as Ashley. I learned a lot about how to take a show into your hands and how to control it. He is such an amazing performer. He can really pick up the audience and make them feel happy, or sad, or anxious or anything.”
Bachand said the show at Native Sons Hall in 2014 was the last time the two performed live together.
They had another scheduled date after that, but due to a family issue, MacIsaac had to cancel.
Bachand is flattered to be a contributing factor to MacIsaac’s MusicFest appearance. “
It’s a really good feeling, especially hearing that from someone I look up to so much,” said Quinn. “And I am also really excited to play with my sister, Qristina. (MusicFest) was the first festival we ever played together, and this will be our first time back since that first festival, so that’s really cool.”
MacIsaac said he expects to come to Courtenay with his percussionist, Jay Andrews (a.k.a. Sticks).
The MusicFest show will not be specific to an album-supported tour, although MacIsaac promises some new music is coming in 2016. His last album was Crossroads in 2011.
He is releasing a single next month and an album is forthcoming “sometime soon.”
“I’ve sort of been working with Jay out on the road for the last couple of years. So we have been touring this type of show and we have certain dates in different places that will be in conjunction with the record coming out, but we did not pre-destine to put on a tour, per se.”
MacIsaac said at this point in his career, having the chance to play with the next generation of talent is a motivational tool for him.
“Been there, done that, done thousands of shows, and over 20 years, to get to still have the opportunity to play with young musicians, cool artists, like Sticks, or like Quinn, and to meet people, hey, that’s great,” he said.
Vancouver Island MusicFest runs Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10. MacIsaac will play the main stage on Sunday evening. Weekend passes are available at islandmusicfest.com
Camping passes for the festival are also available through the festival website, while they last.