Searching for Abegweit
Review by Jan Cox
If you don't do anything else this summer, see Searching for Abegweit — the Island Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant, presented at the PEI Brewing Company, Kensington Road.
The venue is superb. And although billed as a musical, this is more than that. This is one man's love for Prince Edward Island. This is a production that satisfies all your senses — you hear Lennie Gallant and his amazing band, you see a screen show created by Karen Gallant in the background, you feel the spirit of the first Mi'kmaq people and with your eyes closed, you can smell and taste the ocean at Rustico harbour.
The show begins with the voice of a nine year old (Lennie Gallant) being woken up early by his dad because the "Abbey" is coming. What follows is a breathtaking description of the Abegweit ferry by the same boy along with wonderful photos and film of the Abbey projected on a large screen behind the band. Award winning Lennie Gallant takes us from that point, using his songs and stories, through the history of Prince Edward Island. His first guitar was strapped on top of a huge load of logs being trucked to PEI aboard the Abegweit. He has shared his passion for the Island, his community and his music unselfishly for several decades, culminating in this musical.
His four piece band, made up of Patricia Richard, Jeremy Gallant, Jonathan Gallant and Sean Kemp, at times, sounds like a full orchestra and had the audience clapping, toe tapping and on their feet. Lennie invites audience participation — everything from being the horn section to making eerie ghost noises. There are special guest artists featured on the screen, Hubert Francis, Mi'kmaq chanter and the Lone Cry Drummers adding a haunting dimension to the production. The show is peppered with Island humour and personal stories of the Gallant family, especially Lennie's dad — showing his obvious affection and respect for his father. Those in the audience with little knowledge of island history, came away knowing the beginnings...going back to when, according to Mi'kmaq legend; when the great Glooscap finished creating the world, he took all of the most beautiful colours, mixed them together and painted PEI. The original Mi'kmaq name for the Island was Abegweit and it means "cradled on the waves." Searching for Abegweit pays homage to our proud Scottish heritage with the song, "Lord Selkirk's Land". We learned of the sad and cruel deportation of the Island's Acadians in 1758. To honour these Islanders, there are several French song selections played, rich in spirit and alive in the music. It wouldn't be a concert about PEI if it didn't feature a few ghost stories and a couple of kitchen party tunes — this production has both. In fact, "Tell Me a Ghost Story" sees the band members drop on stage literally, as they "die". But no worries, they are brought back to life. The closing number, "The Band's Still Playing" has you wishing that the band and Lennie were still playing.
This production, besides featuring a unique multi media format, lets the audience see and hear the soul and heart and the creative genius of Lennie Gallant.
Sitting at our table was a couple from Orlando, Florida, Dennis and Kathy Lacey. When asked at intermission what they thought, these were their comments, "Awesome". "Fantastic". "Spectacular". That about sums it up.
Searching for Abegweit runs from now until September 14 at the PEI Brewing Company.