Though I have travelled many places in the world, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in the autumn takes my breath away. As each hill comes into view, with trees lavishing colors that appear almost ethereal, you can almost hear the hues in musical tones. Or maybe… it’s Celtic Colours time.
Celtic Colours is an international music festival that draws visitors from across the globe. For nine days in October, Cape Breton Island is alive with music, energy and excitement, as people dance, drink, eat, sing and play music until dawn.
Though I originally come from this island, I had never attended Celtic Colours before, and the concerts I saw in 2018 made my heart full with pride for my culture.
My first night, The Men of the Deeps, a choir of former miners, made me softly weep with their pure, honest voices singing of hardship and hope in the mines as audience members softly stomped their “Amens” to the beat.
Next, it was some Acadian flavour in the community of L'Ardoise, where bands such as Cy mixed traditional and progressive styles of music, with a wink of Acadian humour garnishing each song.
Corey Katz | Picutred: Mary Jane Lammond
The soaring sounds of Mary Jane Lamond’s Gaelic tunes, accompanied by fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, had everyone clapping along at my next concert, followed by a Piper Ceilidh where the sounds of Scotland came alive in New Scotland (which is what Nova Scotia is called).
Then, it was the stunning Grand Finale Concert at Sydney’s Centre 200, which featured, among other fierce and talented acts, the humor, wit, and gorgeous voice of England’s Kate Rusby.
Celtic Colours also features community cultural events, including learning opportunities with a variety of workshops, presentations, demonstrations and lectures on Celtic history, music, dance, art, craft and community heritage. You can also join in a square dance or milling frolic, or view some exhibits of local artists and artisans. There are also community meals and farmers markets for local products, such as locally-grown food, honey and handmade goods.
Festival-goers who pack their hiking boots might take part in guided walks, tours and hikes. One of its local guides and musicians, Angelo Spinazzola, who owns North River Kayak Tours, has also opened River Nest Wilderness Cabins, nestled in the Cabot Trail. These gorgeous hand-built cabins are right on the water and evoke the spirit of being enveloped in art and music. In each cabin, a guitar is mounted to the wall, along with simple chords to a song that might make you happy. Each cabin also has a theme. Mine was the Cardinal Cabin, and I happily plonked out Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” on my cabin guitar after a night of dancing.
The overall feeling of Celtic Colours is one of belonging. The music of many cultures and many eras blend beautifully on each stage. At community suppers, everyone talks to everyone, and you are in a room full of new friends. And then… there is the Festival Club.
Corey KatzCorey Katz
After a day and night full of music, food, laughter, and gorgeous scenery, everyone spills into the Festival Club, which is located at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s. It opens as evening concerts close, and this is where the true fun and magic happen. On the stage, musicians sing and jam until they are sweaty, while, on the dance floor, people from ages 19 to 94 (and above!) are hootin,’ hollerin’ and havin’ a grand old time as they step dance, twirl, and toast those behind the instruments. The ever-charming Kelly Peck and Buddy MacDonald have led the festivities for years, and those fellas know how to rile up a room so everyone is “havin’ a time.” The Festival Club closes at 3 a.m., and it is packed and alive every minute until then. Everyone leaves with new friends, tired feet from dancing, a belly sore from laughing, to go home for a sleep to do it all again the next day.
Celtic Colours 2019 takes place October 11-19. For more details, please visit celtic-colours.com