-by John Gillis
It’s hard for many of us to believe that it’s been 11 years since the summer of 2008 when the entire county and Cape Bretoners across Canada rallied in support of a then 22-year-old musician named Mitch MacDonald who was in the running for the Canadian Idol music crown.
Mitch made a great run at it, finished second overall in the competition and went on to tour Canada with the other two top finishers that year. Mitch made excellent use of the opportunity presented to him. You could hear it in the musical chops he was honing, in his vocal ability, his guitar playing, and his commanding stage presence.
Mitch made the most of working with some pretty amazing musicians on the program: legendary mentors like Bryan Adams, Anne Murray, Tom Jones and John Legend in addition to the judges on the show which included talented Canadian singer, Sass Jordan.
Former Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald once noted that, “The key to Mitch’s success throughout the (Canadian Idol) contest was that he remained true to his musical roots.”
That he did.
The Oran spoke with Mitch MacDonald last week about a new scholarship that he has been instrumental in launching here at home in Inverness County.
“Thinking back on that period (Idol), I am still amazed at the support that I received from everyone. I guess I wasn’t even fully aware of it at the time. It’s always been in my mind to give back in some way. Now that I’ve moved home and I’m no longer going back and forth out west to work, I felt it would be a good time to try to launch this musical scholarship. It started out when I approached Patricia van Zutphen of the Clove Hitch Restaurant about holding a Friday night Open Mic and using the tips from the tip jar on stage to go towards a scholarship for young musicians. Patricia was on board with it right away and we started it out last summer. Some nights I might have a couple of musicians show up, some nights as many as six, and other nights it would be just me playing. However, we did well raising the money. As well, I contacted the head office of Long and McQuade and spoke with Sheri Katz and explained what I was trying to do. They came back to me with support for the proposal and offered to provide an additional $100 for every $500 spent at Long and McQuade, which really helped us have two scholarships in the first year. We were also fortunate the Municipality of Inverness County came on board to partner as well,” said MacDonald, himself a 2004 graduate of Dalbrae Academy.
MacDonald said probably the most difficult part was selecting the two winners from the six high-quality applications they received.
Keigan MacLennan of Mull River and Alasdair Cameron of Mabou, both Dalbrae students, were the first winners of the scholarships.
“I found out at our graduation ceremony that I had won. I felt super excited and I felt super happy for my friend Keigan! The money was in the form of a requirement to be spent on musical equipment or gear at Long and McQuade music store. I spent the $1000 on a Simon and Patrick luthier guitar. Winning the scholarship helped me realize that the hard work I’ve put towards being a musician has paid off thus far,” said Alasdair, one of the scholarship recipients.
Keigan MacLennan and Alasdair had the opportunity to jam recently with Mitch MacDonald at an Open Mic session at The Clove Hitch in Port Hood.
“It was loads of fun, we played a bunch of fun songs, most of them without any rehearsal! But that’s what made it fun, we were just in the moment and improvising,” said Alasdair.
Asked where he plans to attend university this fall and what he is planning to study, Alasdair said he has been accepted to St. FX University and he will be taking a Bachelor of Arts degree in Celtic Studies.
Alasdair is well on his way to being ready to attend St. F.X. having won numerous scholarships including the Daniel and Frances Anzelc Cordeau Scholarship, Marguerite Bourgeoys Bursary, Dr. Gordon and Mrs. Patricia Wadell Thomas Humanitarian Award, Mabou Knights of Columbus Award, Mabou Gaelic and Historical Society Bursary, the Bill and Loranna Chisholm Bursary, and the St. F.X. Alumni Scholarship Endowment.
This summer, Alasdair worked at the An Drochaid/The Bridge museum in Mabou.
“I was the summer student there. I talked to tourists, typed documents, and I held activities such as Gaelic Day camps for kids,” said Alasdair.
The Oran was unable to catch up with the other scholarship winner, Keigan MacLennan of Mull River, prior to press time, but Keigan is becoming well-known locally for his musical talents as well.
Keigan is equally adept on electric as well as acoustic guitar and has been a long-term student of Margaree guitar wizard, Brian Doyle.
He has been performing on school stages and local ceilidhs over the years and was a key member of the band in Dalbrae Academy’s last musical.
Keigan often performs with his friend Ben van Zutphen and together they will be performing this fall for a Celtic Colours concert. Keigan is equally as comfortable playing old-time or new rock ‘n roll as well as Celtic music on guitar.
This year, the Municipality of Inverness County was also proud to collaborate with Mitch MacDonald in launching this new award to graduating students at Dalbrae Academy. The Municipality made a $500 contribution that supported the two students with aspiring musical abilities. Both students received a $1000 gift card for Long and McQuade music store under the Small Towns to Big Stages Award.
Keigan MacLennan and Alasdair Cameron each submitted a video application to Mitch MacDonald meeting the criteria noted and they answered questions about their love of music and performed an acoustic piece of music of their choosing.
“While the pilot project, also presented with the help of the Clove Hitch Bar and Bistro and Long and McQuade, was available to Dalbrae students only this year, the intent is to work at making a similar award available to graduates at the other three Inverness County high schools next year,” The Municipality of Inverness County and Mitch MacDonald each noted.
Friday, August 30th, will mark the final Open Mic of the season with Mitch and Friends at the Hitch so be there or be square. Help fill the tip jar and help sponsor scholarships for more young and deserving musicians next year.
Mitch MacDonald wishes to thank everyone who helped support this initiative in any way, especially all the other musicians who came out to perform during the Open Mic sessions.
MacDonald says he’s looking forward to continuing the scholarships and expanding them to other schools in Inverness County.
“There are a number of our local musicians who perform in our local venues, pubs, and restaurants and I hope everyone will also keep them in mind and support them in any way they can,” MacDonald concluded.
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