KitchenFest: Cape Breton Music, Gaelic Culture, and Summer

KitchenFest/Féis a’ Chidsin is back on Cape Breton. From 28 June through 7 July, good music and good cheer will fill the summer air on this island in the northern part of Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada.

Update: In case you are seeking information about KitchenFest 2020, here’s the latest news as of early April: “For just this year, we’re optimistically shifting our plans for KitchenFest! to September 4 – September 13, 2020,” says Rodney MacDonald, President of Colaisde na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic College and founder of the festival. Plans to return to early summer are in place for subsequent years. Meanwhile, read the story below to get a taste of what you may experience at KitchenFest.

You may know about — may have read stories I’ve written here — about Celtic Colours, the major international festival which takes place across Cape Breton Island each year in October around the time that Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada.

highland village cape breton kitchenfest

KitchenFest is equally musical. It is however a bit different.

You will find internationally known and respected Celtic musicians — and they will be performing close to home. The emphasis is on sharing music from Nova Scotia at KitchenFest. While there is plenty of that in the autumn, Celtic Colours celebrates connections with artists from other parts of Canada and other parts of the world. At KitchenFest, it’s especially about how these influences from Scotland, Ireland, and other places have been shaped by the landscape and day to day lives in Nova Scotia. The area’s strong Gaelic culture is recognized, as well, with each event having a Gaelic speaking host. “The hope is to present a slice of what life is like here, while also creating some new opportunities for areas elsewhere on the island to connect with the local music culture,” festival creator and Gaelic College CEO Rodney MacDonald told the Cape Breton Post.

nova scotia lobster traps canada stan rogers songwriter

You will find events in concert halls across Cape Breton — but you’ll find more of them in pubs and community halls. Pub sessions are a popular format at KitchenFest, whether they take place in an actual pub or in a community hall, or at concert hall or a church. Three or four (or maybe a few more) musicians get together and trade songs and tunes and stories in the round as an afternoon or an evening unfolds.

This recalls a long held tradition of community and connection on Cape Breton, and in other parts of the Celtic and Gaelic world. People get together — most often in the kitchen, so food and drink will be handy — to play tunes, sing songs, dance a few steps, and tell stories. The music and stories often go around a circle as each person joins in in some way. These gatherings are known as kitchen parties. KitchenFest takes its name and the ideas which guide the festival from this tradition.

The Gaelic College/Colaisde na Gàidhlig in Saint Ann’s is headquarters of KitchenFest, which is going into its sixth year this summer. Here’s a bit of what the festivities looked like a few years back. The soundtrack is from Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac.

MacIsaac will be performing at this summer’s KitchenFest. Other well known artists you may expect to see include Dave Gunning, Dawn Beaton, Bruce Guthro, Leanne Aucoin, Men of the Deeps, Beòlach, Còig, JP Cormier, Rosie MacKenzie, and Margie Beaton. There will also be rising stars, among them Nic Neil, Abigail MacDonald, and Beech Hill.

margie beaton cape breton fiddle kitchenfest

Gatherings will take place in venues as varied as the Great Hall of the Clans at the Gaelic College, the Doryman Pub in Chéticamp, the living history museum Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village in Iona, Governor’s Pub & Eatery in Sydney, Mabou Community Hall, the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, and the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. More than one hundred performances will take place all across the island through ten days’ time.

cape breton fiddler wendy macisaac by kerry dexter

There will be food on offer from local eating places, and if you find yourself hankering for those community meals which are a part of Celtic Colours in the autumn, there will be a turkey dinner on offer at Mackenzie Hall at the Gaelic College on one day. They will offer a traditional Nova Scotia codfish supper on another day, too, and eateries around the island are expected to feature local favourites on their menus during KitchenFest time.

Cape Breton is known as the Celtic Heart of North America, with good reason. Whether you visit in summer for KitchenFest, in autumn for Celtic Colours, or at another time of year, it’s a fine place to experience a unique Gaelic and Maritime culture.

If summer is your time to visit Cape Breton, make time to enjoy the music and good times of KitchenFest. Full schedules are available at the KitchenFest website.

Speaking of Celtic Colours, the fall line up has been announced and tickets will be on sale soon. The Celtic Colours website is the place to be for that information.

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