Celtic Colours Festival

The Celtic Colours Festival is held in Cape Breton in October of each year from the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving through the Saturday following Thanksgiving; this year, its tenth anniversary edition ran from 6–14 October. Attendees came from every Canadian provice and territory and every U. S. state, as well as from more than twenty other countries from all over the world.

This time period often coïncides with the height of the fall colours on the Island, hence the second part of its name. The festival primarily celebrates the Island’s Celtic heritage and culture and emphasizes the Gaelic language and musical culture, hence the first part of its name; it invites world-class musicians from the Celtic diaspora to participate in the festival along with the equally world-class Cape Breton musicians. However, it does not exclude other cultures, so one will also find, e.g., musicians from the Island’s Acadian culture. It is unique in my experience because it is spread out over the entire Island with, this year, forty concerts in thirty-five different venues. Many workshops and community events (dances, dinners, cèilidhs, etc.) are also offered either under the festival’s auspices or independently by local community groups; private establishments such as the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, the Doryman Tavern in Chéticamp, and the Normaway Inn and Barn in the Margaree Valley offer fine musical entertainment as well. See the festival’s web site for a full description of the festival’s goals and a listing of this year’s official programme.

I will not repeat that information here; instead, what you will find is:

[1] I took a lot of scenery photos as well; those are not here, but will appear in future photo essays.

[2] Two of the concerts I was at this year did exceptionally allow non-flash photography. That was of no help for me as my camera usually doesn’t do well at a distance under low-light conditions even with flash.


Photos of the Canadian-American Club dance on 2006 September 30 are posted here.

Karen Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboards
at the Cèilidh at the Creamery in Port Hawkesbury on 2006 October 3

Jason Roach on keyboards accompanied by Donnie Campbell on guitar
at the Cèilidh at the Creamery in Port Hawkesbury on 2006 October 3

Wendy MacIsaac receives the Order of the Creamery award
at the Cèilidh at the Creamery on 2006 October 3

Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboards
at the Cèilidh at the Creamery in Port Hawkesbury on 2006 October 3

Stan Chapman on fiddle accompanied by Gordon MacLean on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

Buddy MacMaster on fiddle
accompanied by Genevieve MacMaster Whelan on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

Wally Ellison on bagpipes accompanied by Gordon MacLean on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

John Donald Cameron on fiddle
accompanied by Genevieve MacMaster Whelan on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

Brandi MacCarthy on fiddle accompanied by Gordon MacLean on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

Andrea Beaton on fiddle
accompanied by Genevieve MacMaster Whelan on keyboards
at the Pastoral Aires concert at St. David’s Church in Port Hastings on 2006 October 4

Howie MacDonald on fiddle
accompanied by Joey Beaton on piano and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 6

Dave MacIsaac on fiddle accompanied by Mary Jessie Gillis on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 6

Natalie MacMaster on fiddle accompanied by Andrea Beaton on piano
at Glencoe Mills on 2006 October 7

Ian MacDougall on fiddle accompanied by Robbie Fraser on piano
at West Mabou on 2006 October 7

Robbie Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Melissa Emmons on piano
at West Mabou on 2006 October 7

Glenn Graham on fiddle
accompanied by Allan Dewar on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 7

Dale Gillis on fiddle accompanied by Allan Dewar on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 7

Glenn Graham on fiddle
accompanied by Robbie Fraser on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 7

Dwayne Côté on fiddle accompanied by Doug MacPhee on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 8

Kinnon Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards
at the Glencoe Mills dance on 2006 October 8

Buddy MacMaster in his doctoral robes on fiddle
accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards
playing a march by Wilfred Gillis as his “response” at the extraördinary convocation
in St. Andrew’s Church in Judique on 2006 October 9
at which the University of Cape Breton awarded him a doctorate honoris causa

Kinnon Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards
at the Brook Village Dance on 2006 October 9

Troy MacGillivray and Dara Smith
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 9

Troy MacGillivray on fiddle
accompanied by Allan Dewar on piano and Sabra MacGillivray on bodhràn
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 9

Ryan J. MacNeil on bagpipes accompanied by Mac Morin on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 10

Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle
accompanied by Tracey Dares on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 10

Mac Morin on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 10

Unknown Gaelic singer
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 10

Goiridh Dòmhnallach (Jeff MacDonald) singing
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 10

Dara Smith on fiddle accompanied by Adam Young on piano
at the Glencoe Mills dance on 2006 October 12

Jerry Holland on fiddle accompanied by Marion Dewar on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 12

Glenn Graham on fiddle accompanied by Mary Graham on keyboards
at the Book Release Party for The Cape Breton Fiddle
at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique on 2006 October 12

Glenn Graham Reading from The Cape Breton Fiddle
at the Book Release Party
at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique on 2006 October 12

Andrea Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards
at the Book Release Party for The Cape Breton Fiddle
at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique on 2006 October 12

Dancing a Square Set and Socializing to the Music of
Kinnon Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboards
at the Book Release Party for The Cape Breton Fiddle
at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique on 2006 October 12

Glenn Graham on fiddle accompanied by Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboards
at the Square Dance in West Mabou on 2006 October 12

Kolten MacDonnell on fiddle accompanied by Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboards
at the Square Dance in West Mabou on 2006 October 12

Robbie Fraser on fiddle accompanied by Joël Chiasson on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 14

Rodney MacDonald on fiddle
accompanied by Joël Chiasson on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 14

Rodney MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Joël Chiasson on piano
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 14

Patrick Gillis on guitar
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 14

Rodney MacDonald stepdancing while playing fiddle
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 14

Marc Boudreau on fiddle accompanied by Andrea Beaton on keyboards
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 15

Kinnon Beaton on fiddle
accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton (obscured) on keyboards
at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou on 2006 October 15

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2006 October 26)[3]

Once again I’m late finishing my review of the recently completed Celtic Colours 2006 festival, the tenth in its run and my fourth. It was for me the best so far, not least because of the unprecedented superb weather that just added icing to an already very rich cake. What follows are my reactions to two weeks of great music; I hope it stirs up further enlightening discussions on this list, from which I have learned so much. Others have already reported on some of the events I have attended; to date, I have not seen reviews here or elsewhere on the others.

I left for Cape Breton on Saturday, 30 September, so that I could stop in Boston to catch Andrea Beaton’s CD Release party and square dance at the Canadian-American Club in East Watertown, Massachusetts.[4] With Troy MacGillivray on piano, it was a fabulous evening of music. Andrea, resplendent and wearing bright red shoes, began by playing some selections from her latest CD, The Tap Session. It wasn’t long before the floor was crowded with dancers, impelled by the great music flowing from these two masters of their instruments. As is customary at the Canadian-American Club, the dancers used both the Inverness set and the Boston set, the former unprompted as usually in Cape Breton today and the latter prompted as in days gone by in Cape Breton. A lady with “clappers” (similar to spoons in sound, but made of hinged wood) accompanied a few of their numbers. Troy and Andrea switched instruments and demonstrated their mastery of the other instrument. Janine Randall and Doug Lamey spelled Troy and Andrea towards midnight and sounded very fine together. Janine remained on keyboards while Troy and Andrea both took up their fiddles. Step dancers were in abundance in the large crowd and a spate of strathspeys and reels sprang from their instruments in an attempt to satisfy the insatiable step dancers. Andrea, who had kicked off her red shoes late in the evening, finished it by laying down her instrument and giving us some very fine steps barefoot. I spoke with them both afterwards and they said they had had a great time, given the large, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable audience. I certainly hope they’ll come back again soon!

Since it made no sense to drive back to New Jersey only to repeat the five-hour drive a couple of days later in the week, on Sunday morning, I continued on towards Cape Breton, spending the night in Moncton. Monday morning, the skies opened up in Moncton, dropping rain propelled by a strong gusty wind, but, as I arrived in Cape Breton Monday noon, that had turned into just overcast skies, though the clouds were low enough to brush the summit of Creignish Mountain as I drove up Route 19, detouring here and there to catch sight of one favourite view after another along the way. By mid-afternoon, it was beginning to clear considerably, so I drove on to Chéticamp and arrived at the Corney Brook Trail a minute after 17h. Although there were still lots of clouds, blue sky was now visible and the sun was out, so I decided to see how far down the trail I could get. The closer I got to the end of the trail, the louder the brook sounded, gorged with water spilling over huge boulders on its way to the Gulf. Forty-five minutes after leaving the car, I was gazing at the beautiful cascades that tumble down the cliff at the end of this trail. Since dark comes early in October and the sunlight on this trail is filtered through the forest and often blocked altogether by the physical proximity of the mountains, I regretfully didn’t linger long at the falls, but made my way back to the car, enjoying the colours of the leaves as the sun shone on the sides of the mountains high above the trail. This hike is quite easy and I highly recommend it; I am truly sorry I hadn’t learned of it until this year. Le Gabriel’s marvellous seafood chowder (creamy and chock-a-block with seafood), a fine salad, and coquilles St-Jacques in an exquisite mushroom and wine sauce with rice and al-dente vegetables put a marvellous end to what had turned into a lovely, clear evening with a moon that would be full on Thursday.

Alas, the clear sky had disappeared by Tuesday morning and it was again heavily overcast. The wind was raging—it was sometimes difficult to stand upright along the shore—and the water was accordingly in a seething boil, rising 15 m (yd) or more when the waves hit the cliffs along the Gulf as I drove south from Chéticamp. The weather began to moderate in the afternoon, which I used for visiting rather than hiking, and, as happened yesterday, yielded a clear sky by nightfall. The Cèilidh at the Creamery, perhaps the last in that building, was a fine night of music. Karen and Joey Beaton opened the proceedings with some fine sets of tunes. A step dancer and some highland dancers, whose names I didn't catch, followed. Donnie Campbell sang, accompanying himself on guitar. A young lady then performed a sailor’s hornpipe. Jason Roach (with Donnie Campbell on guitar) gave us one of his amazing keyboard performances—the notes fly fast and furious from his fingers, creating an aural landscape of incredible beauty and complexity built from traditional Scottish tunes. A trio formed of local musicians Hank Boucher, Russell Webb, and Ross Broughm, performed some popular music on bass, guitar, and vocals (I’m not sure which musician performed on which instrument). Wendy MacIsaac was awarded the Order of the Creamery for her contributions to the cèilidhs over the years, after which she beautifully played some blasts of tunes with Joey Beaton on keyboards. The second half was much the same as the first half, though with the performers appearing in a different order. The rousing finale had nearly everyone on stage and drew the audience to its feet for a well-deserved ovation.

Wednesday, I had hoped to hike in the Cape Mabou Highlands, but the morning’s weather again featured overcast skies and fog in some areas. By the time I got to the Cape Mabou Trail Head above Glenora Falls, it was obvious that the views from Beinn Bhiorach would be limited at best, so I decided instead to hike the Cape Mabou Road from the trail head out towards Broad Cove Banks south of Inverness, a distance I take from a map to be about 7.25 km (4.5 mi) one way. Most of this road is relatively level on top of a plateau, but it passes through a deep ravine carved by White Brook and, at Broad Cove Banks, descends precipitously to the Sight Point Road. The last time I had attempted to drive this road in this direction a few years ago, I had had to turn around before reaching the White Brook ravine, as the road had become too narrow, rocky, and rutted to be practical for a car. This time, however, I found a road which seems to be drivable along its whole length: although there are a couple of spots on the switchbacks near White Brook that have some erosion, they didn’t seem to trouble the three cars and one truck which passed me while I was on this hike. The views from this road are of pastures, hay fields, hills, and forest and would have been considerably improved given a more coöperative sun; as it was, it was still a very enjoyable hike, enlivened by yellows, oranges, and greens of all hues. I didn’t hike all the way to the end of the road: it was getting late when I got to the Broad Cove Banks end and I was tired enough and facing a steep climb at the White Brook ravine on the return, so I quit 0.8 km (0.5 mi) before the end of the road (a distance I measured by car the following morning). I was still treated to a view of Margaree Island and the Broad Cove area of the coast that would have been spectacular given a clearer, sunnier day. After a quick shower and supper, I drove to Port Hastings for the Pastoral Aires concert mounted by the Port Hastings Historical Society at St. David’s Church. It was my first time there and it took me a bit of driving about to finally locate the church. Its acoustics are excellent and the music, except for the keyboards, was unamplified and didn’t need to be. Stan Chapman on fiddle with Gordon MacLean on keyboards opened the concert and were followed by Buddy MacMaster on fiddle with Genevieve MacMaster Whelan on keyboards; both played gorgeous sets of music. Wally Ellison on highland bagpipes with Gordon MacLean on keyboards followed with a rousing set of pipe tunes. John Donald Cameron on fiddle with Genevieve on keyboards, Brandi MacCarthy (a local student attending St. F. X.) with Gordon on keyboards, and Andrea Beaton with Genevieve on keyboards all gave us fine performances of traditional Scottish music played superbly. The second half of this very fine concert was quite similar to the first, except that Stan had to leave and so did not perform a second time. As on the two previous days, there was a gorgeous moon shining bright in a clear sky on my very contented return drive from Port Hastings.

The weather pattern of the two previous days repeated itself on Thursday: rain and overcast skies in the morning with some clearing in the afternoon and clear weather by the evening. I spent much of the day driving around back roads and along the shore, where there was still considerable surf. I found lots of yellows and oranges but no reds to speak of; although some trees were already bare, there were lots of trees that were still sporting their summer greens, so it didn’t look as if the colours had yet peaked. The cancellation of the Pipers’ Cèilidh at the Strathspey Place, scheduled for the Thursday before Celtic Colours opens the two previous years, left me with a night with no traditional Scottish music, so, after a fine meal at the Mull in Mabou, I went to bed early.

Friday, breaking with the pattern of the previous days, the morning dawned with sun, blue sky, and clear air, ideal for photography. There were lots of clouds and a bit of a chill breeze, but the surf was gone and the seas were much calmer than the previous days. Visits to some of the gorgeous vistas in the Port Hood and Mabou areas (Marble Hill, the Colindale Road, and Hunters Road) and short hikes in the Port Hood Day Park and West Mabou Beach Provincial Park filled the morning and afternoon. Friday evening was the opening concert of the tenth Celtic Colours Festival at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre. Titled Bringing the World Home, it was conceived and organized by Natalie MacMaster and featured her band, banjoist extraordinaire Béla Fleck, opera singer Hayley Westenra (from New Zealand), and Galician piper Carlos Núñez, who, thanks to a cancelled flight, had only just arrived on the Island and without luggage. Stephen Cooke’s excellent article in The Chronicle Herald (which, alas, seems no longer to be on the internet) describes this concert in more detail than I have space for here. Suffice it to say that the entertainment was top notch, as one would expect of such world class artists. It was pretty light on traditional Scottish music, unfortunately, with only the music for the step dance by Minnie MacMaster and Julie Leahy, the Anniversary Waltz played by Donnell Leahy and Natalie, and the set which Buddy MacMaster and Natalie performed together, joined half way through by the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, being played in the traditional manner. The rest was the music Natalie and her band typically present on the road—fine music that is mostly roots based but arranged for a high-energy five-piece band: not the music one normally hears in the Red Shoe on a Sunday afternoon, in cèilidhs, nor at dances on the Island. I had not previously heard of Hayley Westenra, who truly has a most marvellous voice, although I didn’t care for much of the varied repertoire she chose. Béla Fleck was impressive on banjo; I’ve been listening to his music for many years now and have always admired both his ability and his music, though I find meshing a banjo into traditional Scottish music rather jarring, to say the least: it just doesn’t fit well. Carlos Núñez was his usual unbelievably energetic self, tired though he must have been, giving us music on the Galician pipes that was hauntingly beautiful and, at the end of his set, blazingly fast. The television filming was intrusive; given my seat, I didn’t find it overly objectionable, other than as it interfered with and slowed down the evening’s programme, but those who were seated elsewhere clearly found it unacceptably intrusive: it was a recurring subject of conversation and complaints for much of the following week. After the concert was over, I drove back to the Red Shoe Pub, where Howie MacDonald on fiddle, Joey Beaton on piano, and Dave MacIsaac on guitar had been playing since 22h. Their music that night featured many Winston Scotty Fitzgerald tunes, with all three musicians playing at the top of their form. Robbie Fraser did a fiddle set before I arrived and ably relieved Joey on piano after I got there. Dave MacIsaac also did a beautiful fiddle set, accompanied on piano, if memory serves, by Mary Jessie Gillis. This was the music I had come to Cape Breton to hear live and it made me regret not having been at the Shoe from the start—the music there spoke much more directly to my heart than that at the opening concert had, fine though it was in its own way.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, with a frost in the morning. Picture taking was irresistible, with the views of the Mabou River, the mostly golden leaves seen from the Smithville Road, and the glorious Cape Mabou Highlands at Broad Cove Banks remaining strong in my memory. The afternoon’s matinée was Celtic Couples at St. Matthew’s United Church in Inverness, emceed by Derrick Cameron, whose dry wit and sly humour made him a perfect choice for the rôle. Melody and Derrick were the first couple to perform, playing beautifully the traditional music they do so well. J. P. Cormier and Hilda Chiasson-Cormier came briefly to the stage and provided the music while Melody gave us some blazing steps. Then, Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton gave us several traditional sets as only they can play them; it was wonderful music that was over far too soon. David Milligan on keyboards and Corrina Hewat on harp, the only performers from outside Cape Breton in this concert, played next and, for once, I enjoyed their music, as it was much more traditional than I have heard from them in past years. Paul MacNeil on bagpipes and Tracey Dares on keyboards gave us more traditional music, lovingly played from the heart. J. P. and Hilda closed the concert, with J. P. on guitar; incredible playing and musicianship are the hallmarks of both these musicians and they did not disappoint this afternoon. This concert provided great helpings of traditional music from some of the best musicians on the Island and left both me and the capacity audience well pleased. As the Oran’s account aptly concluded, “As the concert ended, the smiles on Church Street and Forest Street rivaled the blazing colours of autumn.” After dinner in Inverness, a drive out the Broad Cove Road to the overlook provided a fine vantage point from which to observe a gorgeous sunset over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Then, I went to the Inverness County Centre for the Arts to see a documentary titled Reading Alistair MacLeod on the life and work of Alistair MacLeod, who was in the audience; the film started later than I thought, so I had to leave early to get to Glencoe—yes, a once-in-a-blue-moon Saturday Glencoe dance with Natalie MacMaster and Andrea Beaton (it had to be on Saturday, instead of the originally scheduled Sunday, because no film crew was available for Sunday). Again, the filming was excessively intrusive and I sincerely hope that the inclusion of Béla Fleck and Hayley Westenra as performers does not mislead those who view the resulting footage as to what a Glencoe dance is really like. Disappointed that I was unlikely to hear the unadulterated “real thing” that Natalie plays so well when she wants to, I left after the first set for the West Mabou dance, where Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Robbie Fraser on piano played their hearts out in an authentic Cape Breton dance. Robbie did one set on fiddle, accompanied by Melissa Emmons. After the dance was over, I went to the Red Shoe in Mabou, where Glenn Graham on fiddle and Allan Dewar on piano had been performing from 22h onwards. Dale Gillis was relieving Glenn when I arrived and Robbie ably relieved Allan shortly thereafter; Pat Gillis on guitar then joined Glenn and Robbie and stayed on when Allan came back to the piano. Pat’s great guitar work and Glenn’s driving fiddle with Robbie’s and Allan’s fine accompaniments made me wish I could have been in two places at once: I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed Ian and Robbie’s great playing at the West Mabou dance, but I sure wish I could have heard more of Glenn and Allan’s fine playing at the Shoe. Oh, well, such are the impossible dilemmas one encounters every day at Celtic Colours!

Sunday continued the streak of fine weather: three days in a row! Again, I was out searching for reds, which I found to be in short supply. I drove over the back roads to Glencoe Mills and Whycocomagh, expecting to find the reds in the places where they had been in previous years and was disappointed in my quest. While I did find a few trees with red leaves, they were rare, and more prevalent in the Mabou area than in the back country around Glencoe, where many of the trees were already partially bare. But the views from the back roads are beautiful in any season, so I still enjoyed myself thoroughly. I had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at the Mabou Community Hall, one of the Mabou parish’s annual Sunday events there celebrating Thanksgiving (the other is the parish concert Sunday evening, featuring the stellar talent that resides in the Mabou area). In the afternoon, I drove out Mabou Harbour Road and up Mountain Road, turning around at the top and getting more pictures of the beautiful views there. Then it was off to the Red Shoe, where Dwayne Côté on fiddle and Doug MacPhee on piano (spelled by Janine Randall), gave us an afternoon of memorable music. This was by far the longest time I had heard Dwayne at a single sitting, and I found him amazing, playing a number of tunes that sounded Scottish, but that I had not previously heard played, employing glissandi and pizzicati as ornamentation and, at points, often sounding like a positively Baroque classical violinist; he switched in and out of Scottish traditional music, ornamented in the normal Cape Breton style, blending the two into a beautiful whole. Doug must have often played with Dwayne before, because his accompaniments followed the music with aplomb—a real feat given the unpredictability of Dwayne’s music. In response to a request for some Cape Breton step dancing from a group of Scots from the outer Islands who were attending Celtic Colours, Dwayne asked for locals to demonstrate their steps and then launched into some strathspeys. When no one got up, he put his fiddle down and, while Doug continued alone on the piano, gave us a tremendous set of steps, easily lasting five minutes, and ending with an acrobatic manœuvre I had never seen done before in this context: the “split”, where the dance is completed with the dancer’s legs in a straight line horizontal on the floor, one extended in front and the other in back, after which the dancer returns to his feet without the use of his hands! (I was later told by one with roots in the area that Dwayne's steps were very old style and that “the split” was sometimes performed as part of this older tradition.) All told, it was one incredible performance! I had to leave early, as the Whycocomagh Gathering concert in Whycocomagh was next on the schedule. I had debated between going there and staying for the parish concert, but the pull of Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain, the latter of whom I had never seen live, but had been listening to since the 1990’s, was too strong, so it was off to Whycocomagh. They opened the concert, playing two gorgeous fiddle/accordion sets I had heard on the CD’s of theirs I have (The Pearl (1994), The Ruby (1997), Another Gem (2000)—all stellar recordings) and one stunning new piece, A Bright Star in Cepheus that Phil Cunningham recently wrote in memory of his late brother, Johnny, which appears on their latest CD, Roads Not Travelled ((August, 2006), which I don’t yet have, but soon will). J. P. Cormier and Hilda Chiasson-Cormier next took the stage, J. P. again playing guitar, along with a new multi-instrumentalist I had not previously encountered, Darren McMullen (see here for a biography). Blazingly fast, as usual, J. P. first gave us an instrumental number and followed that up with some songs. One I had not previously heard, Great Harbour Deep, was an emotional denunciation of the betrayal and destruction of a small Newfoundland coastal village by government bureaucrats, J. P.’s angry reaction to a news story he had heard. After intermission, A Crowd of Bold Sharemen (from Newfoundland) took the stage and delighted the audience with a sequence of songs and sea chanteys. This was my first time hearing them live and their vocal harmonies are outstanding. Singing both a cappella and accompanied by guitar, flute, and bodhràn, they made a strong impression on me—I would definitely enjoy seeing them again. Beòlach then gave us three numbers, each one finely played and, of course, showcasing the group’s three superbly talented step dancers. The finale brought everyone back on stage and included a very fine step dance by Hilda Chiasson-Cormier. This concert was definitely one of the best I saw at this year’s festival and a real tribute to those who put together this winning blend of music and musicians. After the concert, it was off to Glencoe for the usual Sunday-before-Thanksgiving dance. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton played one perfect set after another all night long, a real feast of traditional music, pure Glencoe to its core!

Monday, Thanksgiving Day in Canada, arrived as beautiful as the preceding days. I took the opportunity to again drive the back roads, again finding the reds very bashful. On the suggestion of a friend who had seen gorgeous reds in Eskasoni the previous week, I then decided to make a grand tour of the Bras d’Or Lake from Whycocomagh to Little Narrows (always a gorgeous drive) to Iona (likewise) making an exploratory detour out to Red Point, which I had not previously visited and yielded no reds in spite of its name, to Grand Narrows and on to Eskasoni, where indeed brilliant reds were visible, especially in the Islands off shore in East Bay. More reds were to be seen along the East Bay shore from Route 4 as I drove back towards St. Peters, stopping at Rita’s Tea Room near Big Pond for dinner. I continued on along Route 4 to its end and arrived in Judique in time for the Cape Breton University convocation held in St. Andrew’s Church at which Buddy MacMaster was awarded a Doctor of Letters honoris causa for his contributions to Cape Breton culture. It was a simple ceremony at which Buddy’s “response” was to play a march composed by Wilfred Gillis accompanied by his sister, Betty Lou Beaton. After the reception for Buddy at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre following the convocation, it was time to get in line for the evening’s concert, The Judique Flyers. That concert opened with Ferintosh (David Greenberg on fiddle, Abby Newton on cello, and Kim Robertson on Celtic harp), who played traditional Scottish music in their unique and beautiful chamber music style. Sabra MacGillivray performed a dance she had choreographed to one Ferintosh set. Liz Carroll and John Doyle gave us some Irish music; her playing was technically brilliant and more pleasing to me than what I heard in Portland this spring, but it still didn’t draw me into the music, which again seemed to go nowhere. John Doyle’s guitar playing was outstanding, providing a marvellous accompaniment to Liz’s fiddle. Buddy finished off the first half of the concert, playing three sets with Marion Dewar on piano; while every performance this evening got a standing ovation at its end, Buddy’s was unique in that he got one an additional one as he walked out on stage; humble man that he is, he remarked that we might walk out after he started playing! Not a chance! The man Cape Breton University had just honoured as the “Dean of Cape Breton Fiddling” greatly pleased his audience who would have gladly listened to as much as he wanted to play for them. After the intermission, Haugaard and Høirup, a duo from Denmark, took the stage, demonstrating incredible playing on fiddle (Harald Haugaard) and guitar (Morten Høirup), interspersed with original humour that had everyone laughing. Their repertoire was unfamiliar to me, of Danish or Scandinavian provenance, I suppose, with an admixture of some Celtic bits, but I very much liked what I heard, along with the rest of the audience; if ever you get a chance to see this pair, don’t pass it up as you will surely be amazed by the technically astounding feats this duo pulls off so playfully and so beautifully. The concert closed with Jerry Holland and Marion Dewar playing a set in honour of Buddy and other selections requested by the audience. Needless to say, this also was playing of the highest calibre that went straight to the heart. This concert is always a favourite of mine and this year’s was no exception. Too late to get a seat at the Shoe after the concert, I went off to Brook Village where Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton were again providing their top-notch music for the dance. I left a half hour before the dance was over to get back to the Red Shoe, where Troy MacGillivray and Allan Dewar were playing. Joined at various points by Dara Smith on fiddle and Sabra MacGillivray on bodhràn, the glorious music poured forth to the delight of the audience, enticing a large number of step dancers to the front of the pub where they shared their steps with us. What a memorable day of music this was!

Tuesday unbelievably continued the streak of perfect weather—five days in a row is unprecedented in my Celtic Colours experience and unusual even in summer! I had agreed to meet a friend staying in Baddeck who was interested in hiking to some of Cape Breton’s scenic spots; on the way, I discovered a fine deli and bakery in the Herring Choker near Nyanza—I had passed by it many times before, but stopped for an early lunch and was delighted with what I found there. I had initially proposed that we hike the Uisge Ban Falls trail outside of Baddeck. It was, however, so fine a day that I proposed we instead hike Salt Mountain in Whycocomagh and he agreed. After a slog up the mountainside which had us both panting, we were treated to the gorgeous panoramas I remembered from hiking this trail this summer, but this time cloaked in fall colours; my friend agreed that the effort required was much more than adequately rewarded by the outstanding views of all four of Cape Breton’s counties. After a shower and dinner, it was time for Orain: An Snaithlean Ceangail (Songs: The Connecting Thread) at the Strathspey Place. Emceed by Mary Jane Lamond, this marvellous show had three screens above the stage featuring beautiful scenes of the Scottish areas from which Cape Breton’s settlers originated and of Cape Breton itself together with photographs of those settlers and their homes; many of the photographs shown were supplied by Wally Ellison. The show’s music was coördinated with the photographs, forming a magnificent whole. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle, Matt MacIsaac on pipes and whistles, Tracey Dares on piano, and Catriona McKay on harp provided musical accompaniment (as well as some purely instrumental pieces) to the songs of Mary Jane Lamond, Mairi MacInnes, Cathy Ann MacPhee, and Goiridh Dòmhnallach (Jeff MacDonald), many in Gaelic. This show illustrated extremely well the musical thread that connects the two geographical areas and their Gaelic speakers. It was filmed by BBC Scotland, a fact I didn’t realize until after the concert had concluded, so unobtrusive was the filming. Perhaps the Strathspey Place is better suited to filming than the much larger Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, but there would still seem to be much that PBS could learn from BBC Scotland about not interfering with the event being recorded. After the show was done, it was off to the Red Shoe (no dance was scheduled for this evening), where Ryan J. MacNeil and Mac Morin were the featured musicians. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle, Tracey Dares on piano, and Patrick Gillis on guitar performed some sets. Goiridh Dòmhnallach and another singer whose name I didn’t catch also sang some Gaelic songs as the evening progressed. It continued some time past closing, as everyone, including the musicians, was having too good a time. Another marvellous day in a string of marvellous days!

Wednesday, can you believe it, was as perfect a day as the preceding ones. Six in a row! Unbelievable! Since tonight’s concert was in Dingwall, it made a perfect day to drive the Cabot Trail! With a detour through the Margaree Valley to Portree for the beautiful views from the overlook there and then along the Margaree River to Belle-Côte and thence along the Gulf shore to St-Joseph-du-Moine, Grand-Étang, and Chéticamp, the coastal views were perfect under a nearly pure blue sky and bright sun. After a stop at Flora’s and another at Charlie’s Down-Home Music, Chéticamp, of course, required stopping again for the marvellous chowder at Le Gabriel; I also got a supply of pastries at La Boulangerie Aucoin and visited the book store at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park building at the park entrance, where I found a new edition of The Nova Scotia Atlas available. Then, it was a very slow drive along the coast from Chéticamp to French Mountain, savouring all the gorgeous views that line this part of the Cabot Trail. On over French Mountain to Pleasant Bay—it was so clear one could see the Magdalen Islands (Îles-de-la-Madeleine) in the distance from the look-off above Fishing Cove—and then over North Mountain (where a moose was browsing above the road) and down to Aspy Bay and out to Bay St. Lawrence—the views everywhere were gorgeous in their fall colours. By the time I returned to Dingwall, it was near time to queue for the concert but, to my surprise, the doors were already open and the best seats filled (last year, I remember having to wait in a fine mist until the doors were opened); while my seat wasn’t good for watching the action on stage, it didn’t interfere with the sound, which was excellent. Old Friends proved to be another top-notch concert, with only fine traditional Scottish music traditionally played to be heard from Jerry Holland, Brenda Stubbert, and Sandy MacIntyre on fiddle, Dave MacIsaac on both guitar and fiddle, and Doug MacPhee on piano. During the first half of the concert, Doug accompanied each of the others on fiddle in turn, with each fiddler playing two or three sets. In the second half, the pairings were more fluid, as Brenda played piano to Jerry’s fiddle, Jerry played piano (a first for me) to Brenda’s fiddle, and Dave added guitar accompaniment to many of the performances. Doug did two piano solos, one in each half. Brenda’s daughter Tracey, if I heard correctly, gave us some steps. Multiple fiddles closed the show. This was indeed the kind of music that old friends produce when playing for each other and it charmed the audience with its informality and from-the-heart sincerity. I would love to have a recording of this marvellous concert so that I could hear it again; hopefully, it was not lost to the ages, but preserved for posterity, though I saw no indication that it was. In any case, I hope a concert conceived in the same way as this one will be on next year’s schedule—it’s just too marvellous to be missed! Given too many close encounters with moose on night drives through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park the last two summers, I reluctantly missed Kimberley Fraser’s session at the Red Shoe that I desperately wanted to attend. I would have gladly yielded up the extra sleep I got for that, but sanity prevailed and I stayed the night in Cape North.

Thursday morning started as overcast, but the sun pierced through in the early morning for a while—just long enough for a trip to Meat Cove, where the sun was mostly coöperative, although there were sufficient clouds that the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence appear grey rather than blue in my photographs from that day. Capstick was especially resplendent under the sun and fall colours, with reds clearly visible on the mountainsides. I drove back by the Atlantic side of the Cabot Trail, taking a detour to White Point, Winston Scotty Fitzgerald’s birthplace, which I’d not previously seen (though I had driven the coastal route from South Harbour to Neils Harbor, which passes close by). At Neils Harbour and Black Brook, the strong winds had raised spectacular surf, which was being blown across the road after it crashed on offshore rocks. The further south I went, the darker it got, which dimmed the many bright reds that were visible along the Trail south of Cape Smokey. After an early dinner in Mabou, during which it began raining, it was off to Judique for The Original Guitar Summit, a Celtic Colours annual tradition that is as old as the festival itself. Begun by J. P. Cormier, who received a special tribute for conceiving it, it has proved one of the most popular concerts each year and this year continued that tradition, as a capacity audience jammed the Judique Community Centre. The core formed by J. P., Scott Macmillan, and Dave MacIsaac was augmented this year by Gordie Sampson and John Doyle. A lot of non-Celtic music poured forth from the guitars, starting with an incredibly fast piece from J. P., but much of the music was drawn from old Celtic fiddle and pipe tunes that were recombined and transmogrified into deeply complex music, sometimes veering off into jazz. The three core members each demonstrated their high art, both on the guitar and as improvisationalists, in strikingly different ways; they are the reason this concert is always on my schedule. But, this year, I was most struck by how Gordie Sampson created a piece of great beauty from simple tunes overlaid one on another to form almost a meditation on the music; this piece was one of the few slower ones of the concert, but hardly slow by its end! John Doyle proved once again that he, too, is a fine player with total command of his instrument; it was a delight to hear him play. Both John Doyle and Gordie Sampson also sang selections to guitar accompaniment, but most of the evening was pure guitar music. With five consummate masters of the guitar on stage, trading licks back and forth, this concert delighted the audience and left us all wanting more. As I left the concert, I found the earlier rain had turned into a gully-washer of a downpour. That made the drive to Glencoe for the Thursday night dance an adventure, as the sheets of rain coming down made it hard to see the road and presented the risk of wash-outs, which, fortunately, failed to materialize. Dara Smith on fiddle (from Antigonish but now living and teaching in Mabou) and Adam Young on piano played their hearts out to a small crowd, which only danced a couple of sets the whole evening long. Doubtless discouraged from coming out by the very foul weather, most of the regulars were not to be seen. The dance folded about midnight, by which time all but the die-hards such as myself had left. I then drove back to the Red Shoe, where Jerry Holland on fiddle and Marion Dewar on piano were playing. And what music! The two complement each other so beautifully that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In spite of the adverse turn in the weather, this was yet another marvellous day of music!

Friday reverted to the weather pattern when I arrived on the Island—overcast and rainy in the morning and improving in the afternoon, though it was warm and humid, rather than chilly and damp. After a visit to the Chestico museum outside of Port Hood, which a friend had arranged to visit on a genealogical quest and invited me along, I repaid the favour by visiting the two pioneer cemeteries in Mabou (one along the Mabou River and the other off the Rankinville Road). After dinner in Inverness and a brief walk along the boardwalk above the beach, during which a beautiful sunset coloured the sky red, it was time for the Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours concert at the Strathspey Place in Mabou. This was essentially a repeat of the 2004 concert, with the Barra MacNeils and most of Beòlach again supplying a core that was supplemented with many additions from the festival’s performers (e.g., Daniel Lapp, Allie Bennett, Jamie Gatti, Matt MacIsaac, etc.), though also with some changes in personnel (e.g., Mairi Rankin was missing and Anna Massie appeared on fiddle (I had previously only known her as a guitar player)). It was a rather more subdued affair this year than in 2004, with the horn section seated rather than dancing and clowning around, but for all that still quite enjoyable. Hearing the traditional music in a large band setting is always a very interesting experience: it’s like seeing someone familiar in a totally different light that makes one sit up and take notice. After the concert, I debated driving to Southwest Margaree to hear Andrea Beaton and Troy MacGillivray, but it was a foggy night and I was staying in Mabou, so would have had to drive back. I decided instead to go to the Red Shoe where Scott Macmillan and Brian Doyle were on the bill; I couldn’t get a seat inside—the place was jammed—but did sit outside on the patio next to an open window through which I could hear the music. It was warm enough, though a bit damp, that sitting outside was not a problem. The music veered rather more into jazz than I was comfortable with, so I left about midnight and got to bed early for the second time this week.

Saturday was again warm and humid, but had some blue sky and sun. I drove to Northeast Mabou and found some gorgeous individual red trees, but the bulk of the colours were oranges and yellows and greens. Mabou Coal Mines was still very foggy when I got there, with Fair Alistair playing hide and seek amid the clouds. Green Point and the Mabou River mouth were a bit better, but still grey-looking because the sun couldn’t penetrate through the fog, though a bit further inland the sun was shining bright in a mostly blue sky. The last concert of the festival was the afternoon matinée of Close to the Floor, another annual tradition which this year focussed on youth. Derrick Cameron was again emcee and Melody Cameron was the stage manager. Robbie Fraser on piano, Kyle MacDonald on fiddle, and Keith MacDonald on pipes, alternating with Dawn and Margie Beaton, provided the music for the dancers as well as a number of instrumental selections. This show always concentrates on dance, as its name implies, and we were treated to a considerable variety: step dances, square dances, highland dances, and ensemble dances. The most endearing performance was certainly that of the Junior Mabou Dancers, a group of 5-7 year olds, resplendent in white shirts and blouses and black trousers and skirts, who very professionally danced the third figure of an Inverness square set, complete with a prompter (Neil MacQuarrie) of the same age! (The cleanness of their execution was outstanding—considerably better than what one often sees adults with many more years of experience achieve at, say, Brook Village!) La Swing du Suête, a group of high schoolers from Chéticamp, performed in both halves of the show and were astounding. I had seen them several summers ago at Whycocomagh and was greatly impressed by them there; their stunningly beautiful costumes, changed for each number, and the intricate choreography of their dances yield performances that would do credit to dancers twice their age. The troupe’s personnel had, of course, changed since I last saw them, but the quality of their dances, often spiced with sly humour, was at the same very high level I had remembered. They are a great credit to their community; they often travel and, if you ever get a chance to see them, take it—you will not be disappointed! Once the concert was over, I ate at the Mull and then drove to Judique where Glenn Graham released his book, The Cape Breton Fiddle: Making and Maintaining Tradition (ISBN-13: 978-1-897-009-09-3; ISBN-10: 1-897009-09-7), at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. The book is a reworking of his Master of Arts thesis for St. Mary’s University in Halifax, which I had the privilege of reading on rainy days at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center the year he finished it. Don’t think this is dry academic reading: on the contrary, Glenn’s clear and fluent writing broadly covers the history of traditional Scottish fiddle music in the Maritimes and contains perceptive comments on and analysis of the various fiddle music styles now prevalent, drawing deeply on Glenn’s family history and musical environment. The book includes a CD in the back of “mostly home recordings” illustrating the points he makes in the text, making it even more valuable. This is a must read for anyone who loves Cape Breton music! The release was very similar to a CD release party, with music throughout provided by Rodney MacDonald and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac, Glenn and Mary Graham, Andrea and Betty Lou Beaton, and Kinnon Beaton and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac. Of course, where there’s music in Cape Breton, there is also dance and several dancers treated us to their steps and a group composed mostly of Glenn’s relatives danced an Inverness square set as well. Remarks by Bob MacEachern of 101.5 The Hawk and by the publisher, congratulations from Premier Rodney MacDonald to his first cousin, and a brief reading from the book by Glenn rounded out the festivities, accompanied by a fine assortment of refreshments. Then it was off to the square dance at West Mabou, where Glenn Graham and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac provided the music for an enthusiastic crowd of dancers; Kolten MacDonnell spelled Glenn for one set. Once the dance was over, it was down the hill to the Shoe, where Rodney MacDonald and Joël Chiasson were the night’s performers. Robbie Fraser relieved Rodney for a couple of sets and Pat Gillis added his beautiful guitar accompaniments as the evening progressed. We even got steps from Rodney as he played the fiddle. The eventful day was all too soon over! What another wonderful day!

Sunday saw a return to fine weather, though much cooler than the two previous days. The colours around the mouth of the Southwest Mabou River were gorgeous, though lacking reds for the most part, and the views from Hunters Road were as stunning as always. The rain storm on Thursday had taken its toll on the trees however, and a lot of the leaves were now down in the back country, where the trees were definitely past their peak. The Southwest Mabou River at Upper Southwest Mabou was higher than I had ever seen it before, even higher than the pictures in the August photo essay, whereas it had been back to its rocky normal before the rains. I did find a few red trees here and there as I wandered the back roads, but denuded trees were now dominant there, though not closer to Mabou, where the colours were still brilliant. After a magnificent dinner to which kind friends had invited me, it was off to the final Red Shoe cèilidh, where I arrived too late to fit inside: the Shoe was jammed and I ended up sitting on the patio outside again, listening to Kinnon and Betty Lou through an open window, bundled up against the cold, until, as night fell and it got too cold to remain outside, I came inside after some of the crowd had left. What gorgeous music they gave us throughout the four hours they played for us! Since it was the last live Cape Breton music of this season, it was a bit bittersweet, but ever so enjoyable while it lasted. As always, Kinnon and Betty Lou put their hearts into their music and they played on well past the official end at 20h. When Betty Lou finally packed up the keyboards, I assumed that the festivities were over and went back to my room not long after she and Kinnon departed. Alas, I later learned that the music resumed shortly after I left with a closing party that lasted into the small hours of the night; I really regret having missed out on it!

Monday continued beautiful, so after another drive out the Colindale Road, I spent the rest of the day hiking in the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park, walking to MacLeod’s Point and back along the shores of the Mabou River. From a distance, the Cape Mabou Highlands now appeared to be clad in a green and heather cloak, with yellows and oranges remaining mainly as accents along the shore line, though not far inland in the park I still found several bright red trees. After another fine dinner to which I had been invited and a most interesting postprandial conversation relating to earlier times in Glencoe, I returned to Mabou where I attended the departure party/cèilidh of the group of Scots from the outer Islands who had been visiting Cape Breton for the Colours. The Gaelic flowed freely and accordion and harp music enlivened the evening, accompanying song and dancing. A skit in Gaelic was most interesting to watch; I wished I had even a glimmer of the language to better understand what was being enacted, obviously full of targeted jokes that had the audience in stitches. I understand that the party resumed at the inn after I had gone to bed and that it again lasted to the wee hours, with the music and song flowing freely. Another miss! Drat!

Tuesday we were again granted a beautiful day. I used it to hike the Cape Mabou Highlands trail system, spending nine hours there. The views were spectacular from the summits and worth all the effort I expended in reaching them—clear air meant I could readily see Prince Edward Island from any of them and the blue sky was gorgeous on the Gulf. But the favourite part of the hike for me was the Bear Trap Trail, a gradual 2 km (1.25 mi) climb from MacKinnon’s Brook Lane to the ridge above on which the MacEachen trail runs; it follows MacIsaac’s Glen Brook along nearly all of its course through the sun-filtered forest, with no panoramic vistas at any point. I cannot find words to convey the magic of this beautiful place: the brook’s joyous song; the ever-changing light through the trees as the breeze played over the remaining leaves (many littered the trail and the forest floor but there were still lots of trees in oranges and yellows and even some greens); the birds that were chirping, the jays that scolded me for intruding, and the curious owl with a huge wingspan that watched me from a safe distance and then flew off as the trail brought me close to his perch; the joy of a beautiful fall day; all combined to elate my spirits beyond euphoria! Tired though I was when I finally reached the car in waning light, it was a marvellous end to a year of great Cape Breton hikes.

Wednesday was overcast, so I sought out other excuses to stay on the Island in the hope that things might improve enough to get in another hike. I drove to Baddeck to seek out Kimberley Fraser’s newest CD, Falling on New Ground, again paying a visit to the Herring Choker on the way, and exploring New Harbour beyond Baddeck, which I had wanted to check out—I will definitely go back, as it has fine views of Boularderie Island and the Great Bras d’Or Channel. I then drove back to Whycocomagh and one last time up the back roads to Glencoe to investigate another site on Morans Road that I had learned about on Monday where the Southwest Mabou River can be seen. But the weather hadn’t improved any and the day was far less than ideal for photography, so I reluctantly crossed the Causeway at noon and started the long trip back to New Jersey, thus ending this year’s Celtic Colours.

If asked what I would do to improve this festival, I would answer as follows:

I fully realize that a number of these suggestions are non-trivial and some impossible to realize: solving the “how to be in two places at once” dilemma, for example, is certainly one of them. But one can wish anyway…

Those of you who have made it this far will know that, for me, Celtic Colours is much more than just the concerts that make it into the official programme. Having taken in one official concert each of the nine days of the festival (out of the forty offered), parts of nine Red Shoe performances, as well as five dances, the Cèilidh at the Creamery, and the Pastoral Aires concert at Port Hastings, I count the musical part of this festival as a resounding success. While I was delighted to hear the likes of Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain, John Doyle, and Haugaard and Høirup, it is Cape Breton’s own that I come for. I remain amazed at the sheer quality of talent that exists on the Island; Cape Breton’s traditional Scottish musicians are second to none and they play their hearts out at the cèilidhs, the concerts, and the dances that take place before, during, and after the official events. My heartfelt thanks go to them all for the consistently great music that they give so tirelessly to those who love the music.

By being spread out to communities all across this spectacular island, the festival necessarily incorporates the magnificent scenery available everywhere on Cape Breton Island; this year’s marvellous weather allowed me much more enjoyment of the gorgeous fall colours that are the basis of the festival’s name than that of past years and encouraged me to drive and hike more than in previous years.

But most of all, it’s the wonderful people one meets, both Cape Bretoners and those from away, with whom I share a love of Scottish traditional music. It’s a tremendous pleasure to be able to renew and strengthen friendships and to learn each time something more that adds to my knowledge of the music.

It takes an army of volunteers to mount a festival of this high quality year after year. The sound was generally excellent and a tribute to the technicians who made it so. The unsung folks who help with the parking, drive the musicians about, work offstage, check tickets and usher us to our seats, provide refreshments, clean up after we are gone, and cheerfully do the thousand and one chores that keep the events on track are a tribute to the Island’s wonderful spirit of community and coöperation and they deservedly have my sincere thanks for their vital rôles in this year’s festival.

I know many of you whom I met at the festival will have attended different concerts, taken part in different activities, and seen different aspects of the Island and its culture than those I have sketched above; I hope you will share your experiences with the list so that we all may learn from them. Finally, I hope that this long posting will serve to inspire others to take in this festival next year. You will most certainly not be disappointed!

[3] This version is a very slightly modified version of the original posting: I have used a richer character set, made typographical embellishments HTML text allows that pure text does not, changed references to web sites to embedded links, inserted an inadvertently omitted word, corrected a misspelling, added a footnote, etc., but have not changed the meaning of the original.

[4] Photographs of this event are found here.

Daily Schedule

A whole host of events takes place during the Celtic Colours festival, many of them official festival events and a number occurring on the periphery that are not. It is always very hard to choose among the events occurring concurrently. I earlier published this schedule so that those who would like to know where I could be found would find my then current plans. This version reflects where I actually was and tracks quite closely the earlier version; changes occurred when events were cancelled or I learned of events I didn’t know about when the earlier schedule was published. In addition, the weather necessarily dictates which activities are possible during the day when no events are scheduled, so I didn’t know what I would be doing at those times when the earlier version was published. The rubric “roaming”, which appears frequently here, refers to my driving about, often on back roads, usually with no fixed destination, looking for opportunities to take pictures and just enjoying the Island’s beautiful scenery. Where two times are shown, the first is the event’s time and the second is the time during which I was present; events spanning midnight are shown on the starting day.

Date Time Where What
Week 1
30 September
12h-17h on the road Drive to Boston
19h-24h Canadian-American Club
East Watertown, MA
Cèilidh Release Party and Square Dance
with Andrea Beaton
and Troy MacGillivray
1 October
all day on the road Drive to Moncton
2 October
morning on the road Drive to Cape Breton
afternoon roaming leisurely drive to Chéticamp with lots of detours to see favourite views
17h-19h Corney Brook Corney Brook Trail to the falls and back
3 October
8h-16h roaming Cabot Trail from Chéticamp to French Mountain and return and then south along the Inverness coast to
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park and via back roads to Aberdeen
20h-22h30 Creamery
Port Hawkesbury
Cèilidh at the Creamery
4 October
10h-16h Cape Mabou hike Cape Mabou Road almost to Broad Cove Banks and return
19h-21h30 St. David’s
United Church
Port Hastings
Pastoral Aires Concert—
Stan Chapman, Gordon Maclean,
Buddy MacMaster,
Genevieve MacMaster Whelan,
John Donald Cameron,
Brandi MacCarthy, Wally Ellison,
and Andrea Beaton
5 October
9h-17h roaming back roads behind Mabou and along the Inverness shore
6 October
9h-16h roaming and hiking revisiting the gorgeous vistas at Marble Hill, the Colindale Road, and Hunters Road plus hikes in the Port Hood Day Park and the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park
19h30-22h30 Civic Centre Arena
Port Hawkesbury
Bringing the World Home
Natalie MacMaster and Band, Béla Fleck, Carlos Núñez, and Hayley Westenra
23h15-2h Red Shoe Pub
Fiddle Night—
Howie MacDonald, Joey Beaton,
and Dave MacIsaac
Week 2
7 October
9h30-13h roaming Mabou Harbour Road, Smithville Road, Foot Cape Road, Broad Cove Banks
14h-17h St. Matthew’s
United Church
Celtic Couples
J.P. Cormier and
Hilda Chiasson-Cormier,
David Milligan and Corrina Hewat,
Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton,
Paul MacNeil and Tracey Dares, and
Derrick and Melody Cameron
Inverness County Centre for the Arts Reading Alistair MacLeod
documentary film
Glencoe Mills Square Dance—
Natalie MacMaster and Andrea Beaton
West Mabou Square Dance–
Ian MacDougall and Robbie Fraser
Red Shoe Pub
Fiddle Night—
Glenn Graham and Allan Dewar
8 October
9h30-12h30 roaming back roads to Glencoe Mills and Whycocomagh
Mabou Community Hall Thanksgiving Dinner
13h-15h roaming Mabou Harbour Road and Mountain Road
Red Shoe Pub
Cèilidh with Dwayne Côté
and Doug MacPhee
19h30-22h30 Whycocomagh Education Centre
Whycocomagh Gathering
Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain,
J. P. Cormier,
A Crown of Bold Sharemen, and
22h-1h 23h-1h Glencoe Mills Square Dance—
Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton
9 October

9h-16h30 roaming back roads to Glencoe Mills and Whycocomagh, TCH to Little Narrows, thence to Iona with detour to Red Point, to Grand Narrows, to Eskasoni, to East Bay, route 4 to St. Peters, route 104 to Port Hawkesbury, and route 19 to Judique
17h15-18h St. Andrew’s Church
UCB Convocation for the conferral
of an honorary Doctorate of Letters
to Buddy MacMaster
18h15-19h30 Celtic Music Interpretive Centre reception for Dr. Buddy MacMaster
19h30-22h Community Centre
The Judique Flyers
Buddy MacMaster,
Jerry Holland and Marion Dewar,
Haugaard and Høirup, and
Liz Carroll and John Doyle
Brook Village Square Dance—
Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton
Red Shoe Pub
Fiddle Night—
Troy MacGillivray and Allan Dewar
10 October
10h-12h30 roaming Route 252 to Whycocomagh, the TCH to Baddeck, and Baddeck village and harbour
13h-16h Salt Mountain in Whycocomagh hike the Highlander Trail to the Salt Mountain Loop Trail and return via the Highlander Trail
19h30-22h Strathspey Place
Orain: An Snaithlean Ceangall
Mary Jane Lamond,
Mairi MacInnes and Catriona McKay,
Cathy Ann MacPhee,
Goiridh Dòmhnallach,
Wendy MacIsaac,
Tracey Dares, and
Matt MacIsaac
Red Shoe Pub
Pipes Night—
Ryan J. MacNeil and Mac Morin
11 October
roaming upper part of the Cèilidh Trail to Margaree Forks and on to the Margaree Valley overlook near Portree then to the Cabot Trail to Chéticamp and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park to Cape North to the Cabot Landing Provincial Park and Bay St. Lawrence and return to Cape North
19h30-22h Octagon Arts Centre
Old Friends
Brenda Stubbert,
Dave MacIsaac,
Doug MacPhee,
Jerry Holland, and
Sandy MacIntyre
12 October
roaming Cape North to Meat Cove and return to Cape North then the Shore Road to White Point and Neils Harbor then the Cabot Trail through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and on to Ingonish, Cape Smokey, the Atlantic Coast to Englishtown, the TCH to Whycocomagh, and Route 252 to Mabou
19h30-22h30 Community Centre
The Original Guitar Summit
J. P. Cormier,
Gordie Sampson,
Scott Macmillan,
Dave MacIsaac, and
John Doyle
Glencoe Mills Square Dance—
Dara Smith and Adam Young
Red Shoe Pub
Fiddle Night—
Jerry Holland and Marion Dewar
13 October
10h-18h roaming back roads to Port Hood and the Chestico Museum to the two pioneer cemeteries in Mabou and the Smithville Road to the West Lake Ainslie Road to Inverness
19h30-22h Strathspey Place
The Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours
Red Shoe Pub
Guitar Night—
Scott Macmillan and Brian Doyle
Week 3
14 October
9h-13h roaming Northeast Mabou, Mabou Coal Mines, and Green Point
14h-17h Strathspey Place
Close to the Floor
La Swing du Suête,
CapeLand Dance Company,
Dawn and Margie Beaton,
Keith and Kyle MacDonald, and
Robbie Fraser
19h-21h Celtic Music Interpretive Centre release party for Glenn Graham’s book The Cape Breton Fiddle: Making and Maintaining Tradition
22h-1h West Mabou Square Dance—
Glenn Graham and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac
Red Shoe Pub
Fiddle Night—
Rodney MacDonald and Joël Chiasson
15 October
10h-13h30 roaming Hunters Road to Southwest Mabou to Glencoe Mills to Mull River Road to Mabou
Red Shoe Pub
Cèilidh with Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton
16 October
8h-10h roaming West Mabou and Colindale Road
10h-14h West Mabou Beach Provincial Park hike the Old Ferry Road Trail to
Whale Cove, the Acarsaid Trail to
MacLeod’s Point and return to
Sam’s Cove, the Moonshine Trail to Whale Cove, the Acarsaid Trail to the Old Ferry Road Trail and return
via Johnny Bans Pond Trail
Convent at Mabou cèilidh held by the group of Scots from the outer Islands who had been visiting Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours festival
17 October
9h30-16h30 Cape Mabou Trail System Mabou Post Road Trail Head to Fair Alistair’s Look-Out, thence to the MacPhee Trail and Beaton Trail to MacKinnon’s Brook Lane to the Bear Trap Trail to the MacEachen Trail to the Highland Link Trail to the MacArthur Trail to the Highland Forest Trail to the Beinn Bhiorach summit to Beinn Bhiorach Trail to MacKinnon’s Brook Trail to Fair Alistair’s Trail to Mabou Post Road Trail Head
18 October
8h-12h roaming Whycocomagh to Baddeck to New Harbour and return to Whycocomagh thence to Glencoe Mills, Upper Southwest Mabou, Morans Road, to Judique, to the Canso Causeway
12h-19h30 on the road Drive to Bangor
19 October
6h-15h45 on the road Drive to Jackson