On the Move
Canadian fiddler April Verch

December 22, 2001
By Russ Ringsak
April Verch has had quite the year. VERCHuosity, her first album on Rounder Records - her fourth overall - was released internationally in January and right away was nominated by the Prairie Music Awards for Best Roots Album of 2001. In February she was in Vancouver for the International Folk Alliance, where she was a featured artist, had a terrific time and came down with strep throat. She recovered, taught at the first Pacific Fiddle College in Hope, British Columbia, played a gig at Abbotsford and came home briefly to the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, where she and her new husband moved into a new apartment.

She also signed with a new agent in the U.S. and set up a couple of trips down here, played a concert at the Prince Albert Casino in Saskatchewan and a CD Launch Concert in Pembroke, while a movie company followed her and her family around for week of interviews for a documentary film; and then took off to tour more of Saskatchewan and Alberta, where they did 14 shows in 15 days.

In May she went to the Montana Fiddle Camp in Monarch, where she taught for a week, and then flew down to Oklahoma to the Grand Lake Music Festival where she taught, met more folks, and had some barbecue; in June she spent two weeks teaching and playing at the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp and then went to Massachusetts for the Summerfest. She went home for a couple of days and got ready to record a new album and then left on the busy part of the summer schedule, a long tour running from July to November, through northeast US and Canada and then out to California, Minnesota and Saskatchewan. The documentary film came out in August, titled April Verch Roots Revisited.

It wears an older person out just to read her itinerary; it's more intense than the NASCAR racing schedule. Basketball players in the NBA have relaxing seasons compared to this. Next weekend she'll be at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and then in February it's the International Folk Alliance in Florida and back to British Columbia in March.

She began step dancing at the age of three, imitating her older sister, and at four entered her first step dance contest. She saw fiddles there and immediately wanted one, a wish granted her on her sixth birthday, and in the ensuing 17 years she's won some 400 fiddle awards, including the Canadian Grand National Fiddle Championship and the Canadian Open Fiddle Championship.

She's toured most of Canada plus the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates, and her playing and high-energy step dancing moves critics to write things like "...talent hotter than sunshine..." "...simply demands to be heard," and "...graceful, forceful, eloquent, well-versed in the traditional styles of her instrument;" and "...her strings burn with energy."

At a gas-station pit stop somewhere on the road from Boston to Portland, Maine, she told writer Greg Quill: "I grew up on the music of Graham Townsend and Don Messer. In Pembroke, if you played the fiddle, theirs was the music you played. But I've learned the nuances of other styles - fiddle music is incredibly diverse. Not that everyone knows the difference. At some of the festivals we do, particularly bluegrass festivals in the US, the people in the audience are almost all accomplished fiddlers with a deep understanding of regional styles.
"Other places they've heard very little fiddle, and you just have to win them over, explain things as you go. I write a lot of my own material as well, and would like to include more in our show. But you need the traditional material to satisfy the fiddle purists."

About the step dancing, she said, "It's part of the tradition where I grew up, and it adds something that a lot of fiddle players don't have. At most of the festivals we play, we're the act that's different."

The new album consists of 16 tracks in a number of styles, tempos and instrumentation, including traditional Canadian dance music, Gypsy and Klezmer flavors, swinging Brazilian jazz, bluegrass, Hot Club jazz, western swing, original tunes, and even the Old Rugged Cross. It's doing well and she's already at work on the next one.

She appears with us at the Shea Center of Performing Arts here in Buffalo with her touring band: guitarist Clint Pelletier, keyboardist Benoit Legault and percussionist Marc Bru.

A writer and truck driver, Russ Ringsak has been with A Prairie Home Companion since 1974.

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