by Jill Ratchford
In Cape Breton it’s always been said that the music is in the blood. The people of Cape Breton delve into their rich cultural roots to express their feelings through fiddle, dance and stories, flavouring their daily chores and making unique a way of life.
Recent years have seen an explosion of Celtic culture and Cape Breton music has expanded to all different parts of the world. But not long ago, it was feared that this musical tradition was disappearing. In response to a television documentary in the 70’s, gloomily called “The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler”, the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association was formed. This August, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the association, a Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling was held on the grounds of the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts at St. Ann’s.
The weather couldn’t have been better for the Sunday afternoon concert that closed the festival. It was under way by 2pm with the Gaelic College Pipe Band priming the crowd for the many outstanding performances yet to come. I watched with great adoration and the performances never ceased to amaze me as the line up of entertainment seemed endless.
Ashley MacIsaac made several appearances throughout the day, adding his footstomping energy to Jeff MacDonald’s Gaelic song storytelling. At one point, three generations of Stubberts shared the stage: Robert Stubbert and daughter Brenda on the fiddle while his granddaughter Tracey stepped to the tune. It was invigorating to see such unity as they played ‘family style’. Another act that won the crowd over were Morning Star singing songs from their native culture. The crowd called for an encore and they responded with their great rendition of Calajah. The highlight of the day was when 202 fiddlers took the stage by storm. I was overwhelmed as Carl MacKenzie lead the group playing marches, jigs, strathspeys & reels that were sure to put a tear in the eye or get any toe tapping! Among the group were Brenda Stubbert, Wendy MacIsaac, Jackie Dunn, Howie MacDonald, Kyle Gillis and many more coming from all over to take part in the celebration. Fiddler number 202 was 6 year old Kyle MacDonald from Chimney Corner, Inverness County.
To accommodate the overwhelming number of performers, the concert was held over two hours. Overall, the concert proved to be a huge success due to the community and performers who put forth their time and effort. I’m sure the up & coming talents of Cape Breton will keep this tradition alive for many years to come.