Julie Fitzgerald (seated) fingers a pair of violins while tap-dancing as siblings Tom and Kerry provide the bow work during a novelty number in Saturday's concert by Everything Fitz at the Civic Centre.

Hard act to follow

Everything Fitz kicks off the concert season in style.

A review by

J.R. Rardon

PORT HARDY—Entering its 16th season of bringing acts to the area, the North Island Concert Society has welcomed Juno Award winners and internationally renowned acts. Some of them have drawn upward of 300 fans, and wowed local audiences with their virtuosity and songcraft.

Saturday night at the Civic Centre, a group of 20-something performers may well have relegated them to the shadows.

Everything Fitz, an Ontario-based family group featuring a trio of award-winning fiddlers and step-dancers, is hardly a household name on the West Coast. But the group blew away a crowd of about 150 in a memory-making show of music, dance and polished showmanship.

Siblings Julie, Kerry and Tom Fitzgerald, ranging from 20-24 years old, front the group with fiddles and custom-made tap shoes. But their show is far more than a night of jigs, reels and bluegrass.

All those genres that typically showcase the fiddle were on display, to be sure. Irish traditionals like Lynch Rock, Danny Boy and Brenda Stubbert’s Reel. American bluegrass standards, including Bill Monroe’s Big Mon, Alabama Jubilee, Fly in the Pudding and Bill Hicks’s Fiddle Patch.

But Everything Fitz ranged across a wide swath of the popular music spectrum, featuring well-known songs ranging from the Tennessee Waltz to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World to Bobby Darin’s Things to Orange Blossom Express, in which members of the group employed their violins to portray a cow, an ambulance and a diesel locomotive.

Oh, and there were “novelty” numbers that featured Tom playing a fiddle through his legs, Kerry playing upside down, Julie switching to left-handed fiddling, and then fingering two fiddles at once — while dancing — as Tom and Kerry worked the bows.

Oh, and Tom showed off a recently refined technique in which he reversed his bow to create a chorded effect on the Wizard of Oz classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

The family group, which also featured mother Pam Fitzgerald on keyboards, was missing two regular members for Saturday’s show. Older brother Tom (25) and father Paddy, who supports the rhythm section on bass, were, as Kerry explained in her introduction of the group, “at home working real jobs.” In their place, Everything Fitz employed two more 20-somethings, guitarist/vocalist Nate Douglas and drummer/violinist James Law (“My adopted children,” Pam joked) for their current tour of the western U.S. and Canada.

With all due respect to the Fitzgerald family group, the replacements provided the Port Hardy audience with an unexpected bonus. Douglas and Law are both members of an Ontario alt-Celtic combo, The High Drive, and that group’s influence was clearly on display when the two were joined by Tom Fitzgerald for an unlikely funk version of the Animals’ House of the Rising Son that drew whoops from the audience.

Douglas also stepped to the fore on vocals with the Pogues’ Dirty Old Town, as well as Darin’s Things.

But this was not simply a music concert. It was a visual event as well, with step-dancing numbers including a chair dance — with drumsticks — featuring all three siblings, a dance-off between Julie and Tom (“She won,” Tom admitted), and a solo dance by Julie that saw her continue speeding up the tempo until the crowd was roaring its approval, before she upped the tempo yet again.

The spirited dancing suggests that, in Everything Fitz, everyone’s fit.

Let’s be clear — this was not a show based on innovative instrumental improvisation or ground-breaking songwriting.  The players, steeped in the world of competition fiddling and dancing, delivered highly polished, tightly choreographed entertainment around established and beloved music. But it never devolved to the trite or the contrived.

For one night at the Civic Centre, everything fit(z) for the NICS audience.

The society’s next show features Vancouver-based guitarist and singer Paul Pigat and his rockabilly combo, Cousin Harley, Nov. 16. Check www.niconcert.ca for tickets and more info. To see Everything Fitz in action, visit www.northislandgazette.com and check the videos link.