Re-rockin’ the 902: Scandinavians in Cape Breton?Posted: October 13, 2013
First full day of vacation. Slept in late. I needed it, plus I kept waking up to look at the clock and automatically subtracting two hours. “It’s only 6:30 back home; I can sleep longer.”
Once up I got myself together, connected with some blogging acquaintances to let them know I’m here, and set out to town for a look around. Baddeck is a great town that relies heavily on an influx of Celtic Colours visitors as its last hurrah before winter sets in. Been here three times now, and the women at the Tourist Information Centre remembered me from before. That’s very nice.
As mentioned previously I’m volunteering at several of the concert venues. I’m an usher: I ush. A couple of hours of standing around interspersed with helping people find their seats, and I get to see great shows for free. Nice deal. Friday night was the opening concert of the festival, always a big event. I must admit, I was dapper.
The show was at the Convention Centre in Port Hawkesbury, the city just about exactly next to the Canso Causeway that connects Cape Breton to the rest of North America. The theme of this year’s festival is “North Atlantic Neighbours: Our Nordic Links.” When I read that, I was puzzled: why was there more of a theme necessary than what it already is? Then some mild annoyance: I traveled halfway across the continent from the land of Sven and Ole, and there they are waiting for me.
But on reflection, there’s some sense to it. There’s considerable overlap in the trajectories of the Gaelic and Nordic people. Not always very much in the favor of the Scots, in particular, who the Norse would regularly run roughshod over back in the day. One of the ancient Scottish traditions at New Years is “First Footings,” where it is considered good luck if your first visitor of the new year is a dark-haired man. Doesn’t take much to conclude that if your first visitor is instead a blond Norse plunderer, your year is pretty much screwed already.
Just the same, the music was phenomenal. There are significant similarities between Gaelic fiddle music and that played by the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish performers. The two artists in residence this year are Cape Breton fiddler Kimberly Fraser and Danish fiddler Harold Haugaard, who tore it up with an opening duet. The second half of the show belonged to The Barra MacNeils. another of a long line of Cape Breton performing families. They were amazing, not only on their own but when inviting the other performers to join them on stage.
Note: the Festival is still being rather ornery about civilians taking their own pics of the events. Even we chosen few, we who stand and ush, are not allowed to do so. I’ll keep trying. I know I’m your eyes and ears here at the festival. You’re welcome. So this will have to do: one of their showcase tunes that brought down the house.
After that a trip to the afterparty, the Festival Club. Readers from last year recall that the Festival Club led me to some unbelievably late nights. But here I was again, Kind of a sedate crowd for opening night, which was fine, and I believe many people were planning to attend on night two instead when the amazingly non-traditional Ashley MacIsaac was rumored to sit in. Saw a few bands and performers I remembered from last year, who were once again great.
Plus an added bonus. There’s a new microbrewery on Cape Breton called Big Spruce Brewing Company, and their brews were featured at the Festival Club. Wow. It’s like my own personal geekery trifecta: Cape Breton, Celtic music, and craft beer. Yup. I’m home.