Fiddles and Boots: Quebec band brings traditional Celtic music to Tucson

The Celtic Fiddle Festival,  organized by Kevin Burke, was of the best concerts that ever landed in Tucson

Burke, the great player of Irish fiddle, had the idea to put together three fiddlers from three different nations to celebrate the varying Celtic music of Ireland, French Brittany and Quebec. 

All three musicians were mesmerizing but the one I remember best is Andrés Brunet. 

Brunet, born and bred in Quebec, represented French Celtic music in the new world. Not only did he play a dazzling fiddle, he sang and danced at the same time. He was like a jockey winning the triple crown, using every part of his body to deliver his extraordinary performance. 

In a rare piece of luck in these sour COVID times, when many concerts have been canceled, Brunet is making a return appearance to Tucson. Now with the Quebec band Le Vent du Nord (Wind from the North), he will play with five other musicians this Friday night at Berger Performing Arts Center. 

He’s still got the moves. 

“Yes, I tap the feet when I play the fiddle, and I sing at the same time,” he says cheerily from his rural home in Saint-Sévère, Quebec, in eastern Canada. “There is no dance without the music and no music without the dance.”

Speaking English in a charming French accent, Brunet points out that he’s not the only “tap the foot” guy in Le Vent du Nord.  Olivier Demers, a founder of the 19-year-old group, taps his feet and also manages to work both the mandolin and the fiddle. 

Those without toes duty are still plenty busy. The three lead singers also play multiple instruments. Besides singing, Nicolas Boulerice wrangles both the piano and the rarely seen hurdy-gurdy. Simon Beaudry plays guitar and Irish bouzouki. And Réjean Brunet, Andrés’s big brother by a year and a half, commands the button accordion and the guitar. 

The band, which Andrés Brunet joined just four years ago after a long gig with La Bottine Souriante (Smiling Boot), has won Artist of the Year in the Juno Awards, regarded as the Grammys of Canada. 

The musicians are unabashed champions of the history and culture of Quebec, the only French-speaking province in an immense nation of mostly English speakers.

“All the singing is in French, absolutely,” Brunet says, though he cheerfully speaks in English to the audience. “Our traditional music is a big blend of French, Irish, Scottish and English.”

The band finds many of its songs in archives in Quebec City and Ottawa, the Canadian capital. 

“We love the archives,” he says. “We listen to old songs recorded in the last century. We are keeping alive the tradition of singing stories.”

Their new album, Territoires, has an old song featuring a sorrowful soldier mourning the 1758 defeat of New France at the hands of the British. The tale, Brunet says, reminds Quebecois that “we were strong one day.”

But the Le Vent’s music is jolly as well, especially with all those instruments and foot tapping going all at once. 

The Brunet brothers were “lucky to be born into a family where music was everywhere,” Andrés says. Their father, one of 11 children, sang and played guitar, and their mother, from a family of 8, played organ. 

One of their father’s brothers was a master fiddler and the two played together constantly. Every Sunday the giant clan gathered at the uncle’s home or the grandma’s, and everyone sang. 

“It was a nice blend of music and love,” he says. It also gave him his life’s work. 

One Sunday when he was 3, he became aware of his uncle playing. He told his mother, “I will play fiddle one day.” He kept his promise and he’s still immersed in the music, “because of the joy my uncle had playing fiddle.”  

Le Vent du Nord (Wind from the North)
Concert by Traditional Québécois French band
8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8
Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway
Reserved seats $25 general, $23 seniors
Door Tickets $28; $26 seniors
Streaming tickets for viewing at home, $15. Can be watched live or during the 24 hours after the concert.
To buy tickets for in-person show or for online, go to inconcerttucson.com

COVID PROTOCOLS: To see the show, audience members are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test administered on Oct. 6, 7 or 8. Without the documents, they won’t be admitted.