Cape Breton and Music: Celtic Colours
Cape Breton is a place of silence and music, of quiet solitude and deep community. It is a place where mountain meets sea, and where home place is vital and stranger always given warm welcome. All of these are part of the mosaic of life on Cape Breton which is celebrated each autumn during the Celtic Colours International Festival.
Music is at the heart Celtic Colours, music that Cape Breton’s sons and daughters have drawn from deep Celtic roots taken across the world as well as songs and tunes and dance from across Canada, from Scotland where many Cape Breton traditions began, from the United States, from Ireland, and from other communities whose lives have intertwined with the landscape of Cape Breton, including the First Peoples of the Mi’kmaq and those who have come from Ukraine to live in Atlantic Canada.
This year, Celtic Colours begins on 10 October and winds through nine days and nights of music, fun, family, food, and community. Things begin this year in Port Hawkesbury at the southern tip of Cape Breton, with a concert celebrating The Ties That Bind, from family to friendship to tradition. It is an evening which will include music from Scotland’s Phil Cunningham on accordion and Aly Bain on fiddle, step dance and sean nos dance from this year’s festival artists in residence, Mac Morin of Cape Breton and Nic Gareiss from the United States, Gaelic song from The Campbell Family of Scotland, fiery fiddling from cousins Ashley and Wendy MacIsaac of Cape Breton.
As the festival time unfolds. there will be community events including meals, talks, nature walks, art exhibits, craft fairs, music sessions, blacksmiths, weavers fisher folk and historians all sharing their passions, and ceilidhs in addition to a full schedule of concerts across the island each night. Highlights include
a farmers’ market at Sydney River, and a community market with crafts and produce on offer as Isle Madame
Dusty Slippers, a class which invites former step and highland dancers to get back ion the swing of things, at Port Hawkesbury
a show of art along the waterfront at Whycocomaugh and an exhibit of colorful and whimsical folk art called Art for the Soul at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney
a family square dance at Glencoe Mills, an advanced fiddle class at Saint Peter’s, the Buddy Macmaster School of Fiddling classes at Judique, a traditional tunes session at Cape Breton University in Sydney, a Gaelic song workshop at the Highland Village Museum, the Aboriginal Art at Cultural Festival at Wagmatcook
and those community meals:
a celebration of Acadian food and music at Cheticamp
a taste of Ukraine at Holy Ghost Ukrainian Church Hall in Sydney
roast beef dinner in Port Morien, and fishcakes and beans for supper in D’Ecousse
corn chowder, fresh caught fish, crab, mussels, salmon, lobster, fish chowder and more fishcakes in all sort of locations from Bay Saint Lawrence to L’Ardoise to Mabou
a lighthouse sandwich for breakfast, a ceilidh along with your lunch, roast turkey and fixings for supper as Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada...
This year the festival is supported by Presenting Sponsor the Chronicle Herald, as well as Nova Scotia Tourism Agency, Seaside Communications Inc., Vibe Creative Group, TD Bank Group, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car, who are joining the festival’s ongoing sponsors, businesses which support the festival year after year. They, along with hundreds of volunteers, help make the range of festival events possible.
Evening concerts -- more than forty of them in venues all across Cape Breton-- remain the heart of these events. Most concerts at Celtic Colours, just as with that opener in Port Hawkesbury, are set up to feature three or more acts on a bill, who do sets on their own and then gather for a finale. This autumn, the concerts include
In Inverness, an evening featuring sister musicians, among them Brittany and Natalie Haas and Dawn and Margie Beaton
a tribute to iconic fiddle player Buddy MacMaster, who would have turned 90 during the festival, in his longtime hometown of Judique with musicians from across Cape Breton as well as musical friends from Scotland and the US, including top fiddler and composer Alasdair Fraser
Irish, Creole, and Acadian music intertwine on an evening in D’Ecousse, while musicians with a Touch of the Irish join up at the town of Lower River Inhabitants, and connections of traditional music and dance are the highlight at Mabou in a gig called Close to the Floor, featuring Nic Gareiss, Mary Ann Kennedy, Mac Morin, Mairi Rankin, and Dannsa Morin will spotlight his other love, piano, another night in Mabou when he’s joined by Erin Leahy, Troy MacGillvray, Tracey Dares MacNeil and others to celebrate Cape Breton piano
Ireland, Ontario, Cape Breton, and Scotland meet at Louisbourg Crossroads in the theatre in that city for song and tune from Tony McManus, Laura Smith and others while historic Fortress Louisbourg hosts several Celtic Colours events, among them Music of the Night. On that evening pub, dance hall, drawing room and street scene feature music at it might have been in 1745
Back in contemporary Cape Breton, Roots and Rhythms finds Irish multi instrumentalist Sharon Shannon sharing tunes with Quebecois trio De Temps Antan and Cape Breton Gaelic singers, fiddlers, and step dancers Anita MacDonald and Ben Miller. At another stage further north on the island family and friends gather to pay tribute to and play along with renown Cape Breton piano player Maybelle Chisholm McQueen
There’s more, of course -- on Cape Breton there is always more music and welcome. The formal concerts finish up on the evening of 18 October, though, with Together Again: Natalie’s Reunion.
Natalie MacMaster, who has taken Cape Breton music across the world and into collaborations from bluegrass to classical, comes home to share an evening of music with top musicians from Ireland, Scotland, and her own Cape Breton, on a bill that includes Sharon Shannon, JP Cormier, Tim Edey, and Beolach. It should be an evening, and a festival, to remember.
Not making it to Cape Breton in time for the festival? In past years several concerts have been available on the internet, usually announced quite close to performance dates. Keep an eye on the Celtic Colours web site to see if that will be happening this year.
You may also wish to see
sounds of Cape Breton: Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac
Music road trip: Cape Breton
another view of Celtic Colours, with video, at Wandering Educators
Natalie MacMaster's recent recording, Cape Breton Girl
Photographs of autumn leaves, Wendy MacIsaac, and Alasdair Fraser with Tony McManus are by Kerry Dexter and are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.