By Bertha Ann MacLean
Perhaps the most memorable times I recall about the week-long Celtic Colours celebrations, were when I was given the opportunity to hear and meet many of the musicians at informal gatherings. The mood of the talent and the audience allowed for frivolity and cheer. There was an abundance of warm welcomes and pleasant introductions. Good company bears a good time and great music makes it a grand time. Just the mix, the air of new bows jostling on stage, with voices swelling three to a mic, created a wave of anticipation. Faces and talents, familiar and new, mingling, but remaining separate, a chorus strengthened with each tuning of an instrument, each clicking of heels, each trip for refreshment.
I didn’t partake in any of the festival’s sites that required planning an away trip, but I did get to hear many of the artists who entertained and enthralled us all; the people there, in a basement bar, with no windows overlooking the harbour.
The Festival Club, the rec room of the party, the first, or maybe last stop of our visiting guests, changed with every arrival, every fond fare-well. Imagine the chance to see Buddy MacDonald and John Allan, each singing the other’s tunes. Or to see Gordie Sampson playing his rasta beat, whilst a trio of Irish Bumblebees weave their own rhythm into the fray. The sweet humour and je ne sais quoi of Barachois, Acadian musicians from another Canadian maritime island, introduced another culture into the unfolding batter, and added an ingredient needed for the mix. A fog of nights, spent drinking in the performances, blur into one. Those who occupied and shared the stage in the bottom halls of the Holiday Inn that week in October, those who played back stage long after the bar staff had called it a night, rallied to the momentum the Celtic Festival served to provide. I could not possibly recount all the musicians and instruments that made the event so memorable for me; Freddie, the exceptional piper in his bright red pants, half of the Scottish duo The Cast who sang alone one night a cappella, an Irish dancer taking a young ingenue under her wing leading the way to the floor, and old friends, upon meeting in the door, began to sway as one.
It is with deliberate clarity that I choose to see my memories as jumbled, undefined, unnamed moments to relish with time. What moved my feet and sang to my soul, compiled and conjoined into an overall image, overlapping and blending until the light of daybreak broke the spell, and called me to my bed. All who I met, all to whom I listened, coloured the week that was magnificent in its richness. Gathering a tapestry of performers and patrons, like leaves that blew from boughs and limbs, the Festival Club offered a display of boundless melodic energy. With a nod to our Irish neighbours, it was agreed, the craic was grand.