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. This festival is the present day successor of the first Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling, held in 1973 in Glendale. 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.
- On Saturday from 14h-17h, workshops in fiddle (three levels) and step-dance (two levels) were conducted by some of the Association’s finest performers and instructors.
- A cèilidh/square set from 19h-22h in the evening completed Saturday’s offering.
- On Sunday from 14h-19h, the Gala Concert took place on the stage of the Gaelic College’s Great Hall of the Clans.
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!
Over the past few years, directors and members of the Association have worked hard planning a trip to Boston and, by holding concerts all across Cape Breton Island, to raise the monies needed to bus more than sixty of its members there and back. They left on the Tuesday after the gala concert and spent a week on the road. Fine ambassadors of Cape Breton and its music, those on the trip made memories for a lifetime as well as many new friends as they attended a ball game; explored the city and its surrounding area; jammed; played concerts and cèilidhs; and conducted workshops. Check the Association’s Facebook page for photos and video clips of this trip.
Today, the weather was perfect for the outdoor concert on the Gaelic College’s stage in the natural amphitheatre overlooking St Anns Bay. Admittedly, it was hot under the sun, but the thermometer in my car only read in the upper 20’s (high 70’s and low 80’s) and a fine breeze off the water made the humidity bearable. With a good coat of sunscreen and a sun hat, it wasn't too bad at all. And towards 17h, the sun was no longer fierce and it was very pleasant sitting in the breeze.
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.
The thrilling sound of massed fiddles is reason enough to hold this Festival. But it is also important as it provides opportunities to many of the members to demonstrate their skills as fiddlers and pianists and dancers. Moreover, the Festival provides a gauge of the health of the music, featuring, as it does, the upcoming youth players and many of Cape Breton’s best players. This Gala Concert again revealed that the music is in very fine shape, though the number of very young players in attendance was smaller than one would like: the youth of a few years ago have now taken their rightful rôle as sought-after, experienced performers of the music.
The Gala Concert concluded the 42nd Anniversary celebrations at the Festival. Emceed by Wendy Bergfeldt, hostess of CBC Radio’s Island Echoes and Mainstreet Cape Breton, the Gala Concert began shortly after 14h on the stage of the Gaelic College’s natural amphitheatre (seen above before the concert began). I had an excellent spot in the front row of the seating in front of the stage; in addition, Frank MacInnis gave me permission to photograph from the area above the stage, which I did during the group numbers—this allowed me to get photos of those that were hidden by those standing in front.
I am not a professional photographer, so take the photos for what they are: my best attempt to capture what was going on at a live event. Inevitably, microphones get in the road and the angle from which I was shooting means that some may be obscured by others. With those caveats, I hope you will nevertheless enjoy the photos presented here.