Monday, October 04, 2021

Celtic Colours: Community beyond Geography

Home: that is a theme that has run through the more than two decades that people have been celebrating the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

That celebration is carried through music, both the unique Cape Breton style that arises from meetings of culture, and connections to those places and histories which have found home on Cape Breton. Scotland is a very strong presence -- Cape Breton is one of the few places outside the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where you may encounter Gaelic as an everyday language.

The Mi’maq First Nations were already on the island before the first Scots set foot, and they continue to share their lives with those whose ancestors came from Ireland, France, New England, and other parts of Canada and the world.

For most of its 25 year history, the Celtic Colours International Festival has celebrated across the island with music at its heart, alongside events including farmers’ markets, community meals, workshops, storytelling, nature walks, and many other events. In 2020 for health and safety reasons, the decision was taken to move the festival online.

That will also be true this year in 2021. It’s once again Celtic Colours at Home.

“I will never forget the generosity of the artists and cheerleaders from the community that were only positive and helpful when we let them all know we couldn’t do the festival as we would normally have done, “ festival artistic director Dawn Beaton remarked as staff adapted to planning how to move the festival online last year.

This year, they are building on what’s been learned. There will be live streamed concerts, along with a series of concerts recorded in venues across the island. These will include the century old Saint Peter’s Church in Ingonish, the chapel at Fortress Louisbourg, the Community Centre in Judique, and the Boisdale Volunteer Fire Department Hall. Those recorded concerts had small invited audiences of people who often volunteer during the festival, as a way to give back to both volunteers and artists.

Having been a television producer myself, I will point out, too, that the people of festival producing partners NovaStream, Sound Source Pro Audio + Lighting, and Soundpark Studio, who handle the audio, video, and recording for the events, really know how to present music in a way that creates and sustains community. They have been live streaming one concert from the festival each evening since 2011, and they’ve well met the increased demands of presenting nine days of music.

In addition to the evening concerts and the matinees, there will be a late night concert one evening, in a nod to the ever popular after hours festival club tradition. The pre show broadcasts at the evening concerts, an unexpected hit of 2020, return also. These are conversations between Dawn Beaton and her sister Margie, both top class musicians as well as professionals working in the Cape Breton arts community, Dawn at Celtic Colours and Margie at The Gaelic College.

“The Pre-show was an unexpected surprise for us both,” Dawn says  “I give full credit to NovaStream for the idea.  They saw the value of being in one spot for all nine days, and creating a spot to nestle in to before the show began.  We have a few ideas on what we will present this year, but you’ll have to tune in to find out!” Conversation about the concerts, musical traditions, and places on Cape Breton, laced with lively humour and the appearance of occasional special guests informed last year’s shows, so it will be interesting to see what the sisters have in store this time out.

All that said, this will not be quite the twenty fifth anniversary celebration anyone at Celtic Colours had anticipated.

“Like last year, it was about adapting to the changing landscape at every turn.  It was about continuing to present and employ artists, that was my priority,” Dawn Beaton says. “As a staff, we have been discussing ideas for the 25th for a few years now, so like 2020 when I was well on my way to programming, it was about letting go of those plans.  Hopefully I can come back to some of those show concepts, but right now it’s about doing the best we can with the hurdles ahead of us.”

All this may prove to have unexpected benefits, though. People who could not ever attend the festival in person will be able to see rising stars and well known artists from Cape Breton as well as guest artists from other parts of Nova Scotia, the US, Scotland, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Manitoba, and Prince Edward island.

Audiences from time zones around the world can join in, and people who are unacquainted with the music of Cape Breton and those places the guest artists represent will be able to explore the music and along the way learn a bit about Cape Breton as well.

There are 18 concerts over nine days. Once a concert has aired, it will be available to watch through the end of October at the festival’s website and through its YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Events I am especially looking forward to include

Festival founders Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald will return for the opening concert, where they will be joined by percussive dancer Nic Gareiss, a former artist in residence at the festival, alongside banjo player Allison de Groot. Coming in by video from Scotland will be the band Capercaillie, who played at the first Celtic Colours and are world renown for their work in both English and Gaelic song as well for as their tunes.

Rosie MacKenzie on fiddle, Margie Beaton on piano, and Patrick Gillis on guitar will make for a lively matinee from Riverdale Community Centre in Lower River Inhabitants. They will be joined by multi-instrumentalist and singer Dècota McNamara along with fiddler Jeremy Finney.

The Chapel at Fortress Louisbourg will be the atmospheric site for another afternoon performance, as Delores Boudreau brings Acadian songs and the trio Papilio adds a mix of Celtic and international instrumentals, original compositions, and folk songs.

Close to the Floor will be an evening where connections between music and dance take the spotlight. Mac Morin, Harvey Beaton, Melody Cameron, Dawn and Margie Beaton, Jenny MacKenzie, and a roster more of players and dancers will be on hand.

There are many more events and artists to enjoy at the Celtic Colours international Festival this year,day and evening and afterwards. Note, if you plan to watch live, Cape Breton is in Atlantic Time, which is how the times are listed at the web site.

Thinking about the festival’s online situation, artistic director Dawn Beaton reflects

“Our priority was protecting all artists, staff, and technicians and I think that was the right approach [last year].That said, our online audience was incredible and didn’t feel too far away. They came through in a magnificent way and made those nine days fly by.  We still have folks coming up to us almost a year later speaking to the event and what it meant to them.”

Will you be part of the online audience for the Celtic Colours International festival this year?

Festival photographs by Corey katz; phootograph of Dawn Beaton by Ryan MacDonald

Celtic Colours at Home is presented by TD Bank Group, with the support of ACOA, Canadian Heritage, the Province of Nova Scotia, and its many other partners

You may also wish to see
Capercaillie’s album At The Heart of It All
Celtic Colours at Home 2020
A tune from Dawn and Margie Beaton is part of this story Geography of Inspiration Music and Place, at Wandering Educators
want to learn a Gaelic song yourself? Here is a place to begin.

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