He may have started as a classical violinist, but his heart was always devoted to the fiddle.
Twenty years later champion fiddle player Scott Woods has carved out a niche for himself with the Scott Woods Jubilee, a Don Messer tribute show coming to Swift Current on June 25th.
“My mom’s grandfather and I don’t know how many generations (going) back on her side were old-time fiddlers, and same with my Dad’s side. His dad played the fiddle and it goes back three or four generations there,” Woods said, when asked about his transition to fiddle. “I guess it was kind of inevitable that I was going to end up playing old-time fiddle. It was a natural transition.”
Woods said classical music was always a means to an end, and that end was the fiddle. Since his early days performing in Kiwanis Music Festivals he has become a Canadian Open and Grand Master Fiddle Champion, while heading up his own group called the Scott Woods Band.
The band tours extensively around the country, doing around 150 shows a year, almost all of them for charities and church groups, and every one featuring a musical tribute to Canadian fiddling legend, Don Messer of The Don Messer Jubilee.
“It’s important, I think, for the younger people to understand the huge impact that Don Messer’s show had, especially on rural Canada,” said Woods, who calls Messer “the gold standard” for fiddlers. “The farmers across the country, the west especially, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, they loved Don Messer.”
Messer originally started on the radio in New Brunswick before moving to Charlottetown. CBC Television later picked up his variety show, where it was incredibly successful until it was cancelled in 1969. Messer played mostly traditional Irish and Scottish folk tunes, but in his own unique style.
“It was a very unique sound and I think that’s why it was so popular,” Woods explained. “People tried to capture that same thing.”
Woods clearly reveres Messer, and he loves to perform. He first started touring professionally in 1986, starting as a guest artist at festivals. After he spent some time with the show “Memories of Don Messer’s Jubilee,” Woods’ father died of a heart attack. Afterwards, as his mother began to devote herself to charity and aid work, he began performing more for churches and charities, using his gift for entertaining to help financially support her and others like her.
“I said, ‘okay, that’s good. I’m not in a position in my life that I would want to do that just yet, but maybe one day,” Woods remembered. “I said, ‘if it was me I’d probably just play a show, raise some money to help the people at the church who are going to do this mission and build a school or whatever they’re doing over there,’ and she said, well, why don’t we take the band and go and do some shows.”
That was 2003, and for most of that year he played in churches and halls in southern Ontario. Now he performs in up to 150 concerts a year around the country, and this time he’s bringing some members from the original Messer tribute show.
“It’s a smaller version of what we had done before, but basically it’s a loving tribute to the stars of Don Messer’s Jubilee,” he said.
Cape Breton singer Tommy Leadbeater and vocalist Lynda Lewis will join the show, singing the songs made popular by Messer’s partners, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osborne. Another Messer contemporary, television announcer Don Tremaine, lends his voice to the show, providing the opening introduction.
“I actually went to his house in Halifax in February and had a great chat,” Woods said. “He recorded the introduction to our show for us, and I have his picture up on the screen, so it’s a real fun couple of hours.”
Woods and his guests do mix things up a little bit each time they play to give audiences a reason to come back. He also still does his trick fiddling, which earned him the nickname “The Flipping Fiddler” thanks to the summersaults he does while still playing.
“Several people have seen us in the past and they often ask if I’m still doing my trick fiddling routine, and the answer is yes, I still do,” he said. “It’s a departure from Don Messer for sure, but near the end of the show I play behind my back and under my legs with the fiddle and I do a backwards summersault… it’s kind of a fun moment in the show.”
Woods is no stranger to Swift Current, having performed here multiple times before, and he said he’s looking forward to making the trip thought town again. Currently, the performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion on June 25th. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children and are available at the Legion.