In the 1990s, Danette Eddy was almost a household name in Newfoundland. A fiddler since the age of six, Eddy was a constant on the local music circuit, featured at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival and Sound Symposium and on stage with the likes of Great Big Sea, the Irish Descendants, Natalie McMaster and Spirit of the West.
With two albums and a Music Industry Association (now MusicNL) award under her belt, Eddy was considered one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s best fiddlers, and was nationally recognized as one of the most accomplished.
And then she disappeared.
Although she’s been here often enough, it’s been almost a decade since anyone in this province has seen her perform live, and she hasn’t released an album since 2002.
Early next month, she’ll perform two shows in St. John’s alongside an old friend, Sandy Morris, and a new one: Emilia Bartellas of The Dardanelles.
“This is the first summer in a while that I’ve actually gotten my head together enough to do a show,” Eddy said with a laugh.
Eddy started playing violin in 1983, when she began an introductory class for children at the Mews Centre in St. John’s.
She was a natural, falling in love with the instrument right away and performing her first recital just six months later.
A year later, she performed at the LSPU Hall, introduced by renowned fiddler Kelly Russell, and in 1987, at age 10, she landed on the main stage at the folk festival for the first time.
She went on to be featured in a major advertising campaign for General Motors, a Newfoundland and Labrador tourism campaign, performed for the Queen and Princess Anne during a visit to Ottawa, and was a special guest performer on board The Matthew in this province and in England during the 1997 Cabot 500 celebrations.
As a little girl, Eddy released a short casette tape called “Fancy Fiddling,” and in 1999 she released “Motion Potion,” an album of original tunes, earning herself the MusicNL award for Instrumental Artist of the Year. She was also nominated for the East Coast Music Award in the same category.
After completing a bachelor of music degree at Memorial University, Eddy, wanting to continue her education, moved away.
“MUN had a really good ethnomusicology professor who encouraged a number of her students to go on and do ethnomusicology. You couldn’t do it here at the time, and I wanted to go somewhere that had really good culture to study it.”
Eddy moved to Ireland, where she completed a master’s degree in ethnomusicology, writing her thesis on fiddler Rufus Guinchard and the effect of the folk revival of the 1970s on his music.
She returned to St. John’s and released a second album, “Traces,” with the Danette Eddy Band in 2002, earning a second MusicNL award.
After that, Eddy said, she was faced with one of the toughest decisions of her life.
“I got offered a job back in Ireland that I couldn’t refuse. I had to leave the band just after we released the CD, but there were a lot of factors — student loans and other things involved — and a steady job was what I was looking for.”
Eddy took up a position on the faculty of Clare Music Markers, a music conservatory in Ennis, County Clare. She’s still working there, teaching violin and conducting junior and intermediate string orchestras.
“If I had planned to teach, I would have paid attention a lot more to certain things at university,” Eddy said with a laugh.
She wasn’t a stranger to teaching, though: when she was just 16, Eddy asked John Hutton to give her a job teaching violin in his St. John’s music store. Thinking she was too young, he agreed to post her name and give her any interested students. She began teaching nearly right away.
One of Eddy’s current string groups, a 13-member ensemble of students age 11-18 called The Sweet Pickles, recently won an opportunity coveted by young musicians all over Ireland: they were featured on the 2010 “Late, Late Toy Show.”
“I don’t know if anyone would get over here how big the toy show is,” Eddy explained. “The ‘Late, Late Show’ is Ireland’s national weekly program, and every Christmas they have ‘The Late, Late Toy Show.’”
After Eddy sent in an application, the Pickles were narrowed down to one of 35 acts among the thousands that had applied, and were invited to go to Dublin to audition at the TV studio.
Playing the Super Mario theme song on their violins and dressed as the Nintendo character, right down to the mustaches, the Pickles were selected to play during the opening of the show, which aired Nov. 26.
“It’s absolutely massive and the kids went crazy. They couldn’t sleep beforehand,” Eddy said. “They were really excited. It was a big, big honour.”
Eddy also performs in Ireland, as first violinist for the Limerick Choral Union, at weddings and conventions with her string quartet Classic Strings and as a solo freelance musician.
Now married with a two-year-old, Eddy, who comes home every summer, decided this year to arrange a couple of gigs while she was in town.
Those attending her shows won’t see the Danette Eddy who left St. John’s a decade ago. Although she still considers herself influenced by Guinchard and Emile Benoit and other Newfoundland and Labrador musicians, her interests have grown.
“I’ll be doing some of the pieces from my albums, but not a lot,” Eddy said. “Bluegrass is something I’ve never done before, so I’m trying a little bit of that. I’ve also been very influenced by French-Canadian music, and I’m going back to some of the old-time fiddling. Of course, I’m sticking to my roots, too.
“I’ve always had an open ear for lots of different styles, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be what I’m immersed in at the time. Obviously, over there I’m immersed in a lot of Irish music, but that’s not exactly what I’ll be playing at the shows. It’s kind of ironic, actually.”
While she hopes to come back to St. John’s to release another CD — “I would love to do one and I think I have enough material; it’s just finding the time and money,” she said — she doesn’t see herself moving back home any time soon.
Of course, things always change, she said.
“There are so many great musicians here that I can work with. It really seems to be the place to be right now for music.”
Eddy will perform at a Folk Arts Society event at the LSPU Hall’s Second Space July 3. Bartellas will hold an intermediate-level fiddling workshop for all ages at 1 p.m. before performing with Eddy and Morris at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the Hall or by calling 753-4531, and are $20 for the workshop only, $10 for the concert only and $25 for both. There is a limit of 12 participants for the workshop, and 50 patrons for the concert.
On July 6, Eddy and Morris will perform with Billy Sutton at The Ship with Jenny Gear as the opening act.