Each year, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, presents a two-day festival of Cape Breton Fiddling, now held at the Gaelic College at St Anns. Since 2013 marked the 40th Anniversary of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, the festival’s organizers decided to commemorate the the historic founding concert in Glendale in 1973 by scheduling this year a three-day extravaganza, preceded by a meet-and-greet session with BBQ on Thursday. Quoting from the Association’s history web page:
In February, 1972, a CBC documentary entitled The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler was produced by Ron MacInnis. The premise of this film was [that] the traditional Cape Breton violin music was in a state of decline, and that it would soon disappear entirely! Reaction to this documentary was swift and disbelieving. The most notable achievement of the film was that it shook Cape Bretoners out of their complacency, and it made them aware [that], quite possibly, the Cape Breton Fiddle was facing extinction.
Father John Angus Rankin was one of the key people who vowed that this would never happen! A group composed of Frank MacInnis, Father Eugene Morris, Burton MacIntyre, Archie Neil Chisholm, Father John Angus Rankin, Rod Chisholm, Judge Hugh J. MacPherson, Anne Marie MacDonald, Jeannette Beaton, Joey Beaton, and Ray MacDonald met as a result of a letter sent out by Frank MacInnis. This group discussed the possibility of forming some kind of a fiddlers’ festival. This dedicated group of people decided to proceed with the concept; thus, the very seed of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association began. Because of the efforts of this determined group, the first Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling was held in Glendale in July 1973. Over one hundred and thirty proud Cape Breton fiddlers arrived in Glendale that weekend and gave one of the greatest concerts ever witnessed in Cape Breton. Several thousand people made up the audience.
Preparation for the successful 1973 festival gave birth to the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, and its work continues today. The Association’s main mandate has been to preserve and promote traditional Cape Breton fiddle music. Since its inception, it has provided workshops and opportunities for its members to learn new tunes and techniques, it has published tunes written by its members, and it has provided venues for musicians to perform for thousands of people. It has nurtured and supported its members to excel; as a result, many of our wonderful members are now performing worldwide. Our membership has increased to include both local, national, and international members. We have been included in several publications, and we have some wonderful recordings to our credit. Cape Breton fiddle music is alive and flourishing both on the Island and throughout the world; and the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association is proud to have played a significant role in this resurgence.
- The Thursday session was informal, though groups of fiddlers and individuals did perform on Thursday, the main intent was that of a picnic and a chance for people to meet and chat with like-minded friends and fans of Cape Breton fiddle music.
- Friday’s session, Come Learn New Tunes!, was an opportunity to learn new tunes written specifically for the festival, taught by Eddie Rogers, Leanne Aucoin, and Ian MacLeod (Glengarry); it was followed by a square dance that I did not attend and, I understand, the music continued informally on into the wee small hours of the night.
- Saturday saw a lecture series and workshops, which I did not attend, followed by a concert and a square dance, at both of which I was present, though I left the square dance mid-way through. Again, I understand jam sessions continued long after the dance was over.
- Sunday began with a continuation of the lecture series, which I did not attend, and concluded with Celebrating Forty Years: Finale Concert, which I did attend.
Click on the links in the subtopics section of this page’s header to view the photos for that day.
The weather this year was unusually coöperative, with sunny weather and good breezes throughout the entire festival. Both concerts were held outside in the Gaelic College’s natural amphitheatre and both ended with a bright moon overhead.
The canteen, in addition to the usual cold drinks, tea, and coffee, featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, and home-cut fries; ice cream and fresh stawberry shortcake were available for dessert. CD’s, DVD’s, books, tee-shirts, and other similar materials were also on sale during the concerts. Staffed by volunteers, the proceeds from all of these activities help support the work of the Association.
These festivals are important as they provide a gauge of the health of the music, featuring, as they do, the upcoming youth players and many of Cape Breton’s best players. The concerts revealed that the music is in very good shape. The youth of a few years ago have now taken their rightful rôle as sought-after, experienced performers of the music (indeed, some were unable to attend because of performance commitments elsewhere). This year, a large contingent of fiddlers from Glengarry (Ontario), Ottawa, and Prince Edward Island took part in the festival; more fiddlers took the stage during the finale concert than I had ever seen perform together before. It was a most amazing sound to hear!
Like so many on Cape Breton, this festival could not have been mounted without the commitment and perseverance of the many volunteers, whose support is crucial to this festival’s continued success. To the Association’s directors, stage managers, emcees, canteen crew, chaperones, those staffing the ticket tables, maintaining the membership lists, selling merchandise to raise funds for the Association, ferrying youth players to and from practice sessions and concerts, and carrying out the many other functions all year long that are necessary to make this festival the success it is year after year—to all of them we owe a huge vote of thanks and appreciation for their time, work, and dedication. Cape Breton’s fiddle music would not be the same without them.