By the time you read this, the 2017 Celtic Colours International Festival will be in the books, and I will have – hopefully – recovered from one of my busiest-ever experiences with this 10-night extravaganza.
A lot has changed since Celtic Colours debuted 20 years ago. Believe it or not, during that first edition of the groundbreaking island-wide event, there wasn’t a single show in Richmond County. None. Zero. Nada.
Fortunately, things have dramatically improved in that regard, and Richmond now boasts a wide range of nighttime concerts and daytime cultural events that have dramatically heightened the Strait area quotient of this award-winning October-changer.
They’re incredibly inventive, too. For example, who would ever expect a lobster pound to host an afternoon ceilidh? And yet, that’s exactly what Lobsters ‘R’ Us in Little Harbour has been doing for roughly half of Celtic Colours’ existence, pulling dozens of people off the main highway on the second Tuesday afternoon of October for the wildly successful “Sounds and Supper By The Sea” event hosted by the L’Ardoise Men’s Club.
This year marked my first opportunity to MC and run sound for the event in addition to simply playing a few tunes, and it was also my first chance to have Cathy join me for the afternoon. We had a grand time, enjoyed some delicious lobster (and great tunes from fellow musicians Carol Martell and Hank Middleton), reunited with long-time friends and family, and made new friends from regions as diverse as Calgary, The Netherlands and Philadelphia. (In the latter case, we had a lengthy conversation with a young fellow who had heard about Celtic Colours only a few days before the festival actually began and decided to head north. No, I’m not making this up.)
I was also privileged to host two Celtic Colours evening concerts in Richmond County. The first came in D’Escousse, where the well-organized folks who run the northside Isle Madame community’s beautiful hall had that facility filled with delightful music from the likes of local favourites Decota McNamara and Cyril MacPhee, the high-flying Montreal trio Bon Debarras (literal translation: “Good Riddance”), and the Halifax-based Celtic supergroup The Narrows. We also had some prestigious company in terms of Nova Scotia’s new Lieutenant-Governor, Art LeBlanc, and his wife Patsy, who both received a hero’s welcome from the D’Escousse crowd.
Three nights later, I was back in L’Ardoise for my fifth straight hosting stint for the concert known as “A Full Slate” at the parish hall that holds so many memories for me. The evening’s talented performers added to this lifetime’s worth of special moments, with the Irish-American combo Cherish The Ladies bringing the house down in an hour-long set that followed a delightful blast of tunes from fiddler Andrea Beaton and pianist Joel Chiasson, as well as an opening set from St. Peter’s native Roger Stone. The veteran singer-songwriter surprised and touched me with an instrumental piece dedicated to one of the most important musical and cultural mentors I’ve ever had, Jane Martell, who passed away just a few months earlier.
That night in L’Ardoise also served to remind me that there are even more important things to consider than music. One of the community’s best-loved performers, Leona Burkey, was supposed to host the evening-closing Kitchen Rackets session at The Bras d’Or Lakes Inn in St. Peter’s. Instead, she barely escaped with her life after winding up in a three-car highway collision just outside of Truro. I was one of three musicians who wound up pinch-hitting in her absence that evening – hey, that’s what friends are for, and considering the horrific alternative endings to Leona’s harrowing story, I certainly didn’t mind adding one more item to my Celtic Colours schedule.
And I haven’t even told you about the music that filled Port Hawkesbury on the final day and night of this year’s Celtic Colours schedule. I’ll have that – and more – next week.