Festival Adapts: Celtic Colours At Home

A festival steeped in and celebrating the culture, landscape, and music of a beautiful albeit rather remote place: this is Celtic Colours.

The festival usually has more than 50 official concerts, along with many community events, including meals, walks, talks, art exhibits, storytelling, step dance classes, weaving workshops.

Things will be different this year.

The changes, however, may have a silver lining: they may open up more of the culture and music of Cape Breton, and the atmosphere of the festival, to those at a distance, whether that distance is down the road in Atlantic Canada or far across the world.

Celtic colours festival beolach

Decisions about changes to festival programming and logistics had to be made far in advance of its mid-October scheduled date. “Like most festivals, this has been a very different year for us,” says festival Artistic Director Dawn Beaton. “The timing of the quarantining for much of North America was both good and bad for us; bad in the sense that much of the 2020 festival had been plotted, planned and in some cases, contracted, but good in that tickets had not gone on sale and we had some time to evaluate our options and plan a few scenarios to keep the festival alive this year.”

Celic colours festival piper joe macmaster

What festival staff came up with was a generous and creative plan that required — and gained — collaboration among artists based in many different locations, support from technical and financial partners, understanding from local community groups, and resourcefulness from staff.

“While we can’t deliver the festival in the way we’ve done and love, we can adapt and find a way to keep that lifeline out to artists, patrons and the greater community.  That’s a lifeline that goes both ways too,” Beaton added. “We needed that as much as what we’re creating will create for others.  I will never forget the generosity of the artists and cheerleaders from the community that were only positive and helpful when we let them all know we couldn’t do the festival as we would normally have done.”

celtic colours festival dancer sabra mcgillivray

Culture, heritage, music, and dance, are lifelines in times of uncertainty, That is something everyone connected with Celtic Colours realizes. “We could have closed up shop and not continued for just 2020, but through financial supports and a collaborative staff, we keep trying to think outside of the box and continue artist development and most importantly, celebrating culture and making sure that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle,” Beaton pointed out.

The results of all this will allow people all across the world, and the just down the road folk too, ways to experience what the festival has been offering through its more than two decades of history in ways both new and familiar.

On each night from 9 through 17 October, there will be an online concert, and on the two Saturdays during this span there will be a late night concert as well, continuing the festival tradition of the after hours festival club.

There will be a chance to honour the festival tradition of Community Cultural Experiences on line as well, even though they’ll not be taking place in person this year. ”We wanted approach this year as a chance to tell some of the stories of the island and what we love about it.  Each night of the festival, our Outreach Coordinator Yvette Rogers takes us around the island to focus on a different region and speak to the history, the scenery, and of course the people,” Beaton said.

celtic colours festival mary jane lamond

Music is always the center of things at the Celtic Colours International Festival, though, and Celtic Colours At Home continues that. There will be live performances from the stage at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre in Cape Breton, as well as artists joining in remotely from locations in Ontario, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. Though there will be no in person audiences, there’s likely to be connection felt as people all across the world tune in.

There will be plenty of Cape Breton musicians and dancers taking part. You could experience the fiery fiddle playing of Ashley MacIsaac, Rachel Davis, Kolten MacDonell, or the members of Beolach, dance steps from Harvey Beaton and Sabra MacGillvray, Gaelic song from Mary Jane Lamond, piping from Joe MacMaster, or guitar work from JP Cormier or Old Man Luedecke.

Celtic Colours At Home continues its tradition of showcasing rising artists with among others We’koma’q First Nation fiddler Morgan Toney and Mik’maq singer Emma Stevens.

Including artists from outwith Cape Breton is also a longtime aspect of the festival, one Beaton knew it would be important to include.  “In some cases, it was looking at who I had originally contracted, and in other cases it was what can we do virtually to keep these visiting artists a part of the festival, “ she said. “Sometimes the plans didn’t work out, but we have such a great group of artists that love the festival and wanted to do whatever they could to make it happen.” Visiting artists for Celtic Colours At Home include Kaia Kater and James Keelaghan from Ontario, Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan from Scotland, Vishten from PEI, and Mec Lir from the Isle of Man.

celtic clours festival corrina hewat harp

Flute player and singer Nuala Kennedy will be joining in from her home in Ireland, too. She shares Artist in Residence duties this year with fiddle player Troy McGillivray from Antigonish County; they have been collaborating on line on their projects for this year’s festival.

“It’s showing others, be it folks that always came to our live performances, or new folks that have never ever heard of the Celtic Colours International Festival what Cape Breton is all about, what shared ancestry we have, and to celebrate the differences amongst us too,” Artistic Director Dawn Beaton says.

Schedules and other information about Celtic Colours At Home are at the festival’s web site.. Video from the festival will be available on line through the month of October.

Photographs of Wendy MacIsaac and Mac Morin, Joe MacMaster, Sabra MacGillivray, Cathy Peterson and Mary Jane Lamond, and Corrina Hewat by Corey Katz and courtesy of Celtic Colours International Festival.


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