BADDECK — The artistic director of the Celtic Colours International Festival says keeping Cape Breton’s culture alive is vital.
“Culture — it matters. Art matters, language matters,” Dawn Beaton told people at the festival launch last week at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.
“This festival is a platform that has a responsibility to give a stage to voices, to all of the stories, the many wonderful stories, that we have here on this island and that’s really important.”
Beaton has been with the 22-year-old festival since 2009, in addition to her own music career as a fiddler. She will be playing concerts across North America this summer and even had a gig at Mabou’s Red Shoe Pub after the Friday afternoon launch event in Baddeck. Along the way, she also earned a business degree, giving her a unique skill set that’s key in keeping the festival successful.
“I’ve been performing since I was six years old so it’s not a big leap to do this — like most musicians, we have more than one skill set and we bring a lot to the table. I was an auditor in a past life, so I have a skill set and a business degree that also lends itself well to this particular position.”
That pride is the reason behind the festival’s continued popularity, which has led to further spinoff and economic benefits for the island, says Mary Tulle of Destination Cape Breton.
“It has actually been the reason that Cape Breton Island has the strongest tourism season in Atlantic Canada for the month of October,” said Tulle. “While the festival started increasing extended visitation into the early part of October when it started, it’s now very easy for us to say that it has truly extended it right through the end of October and into early November, so it is that primary motivator that brings people to Cape Breton Island and many of them stay and continue to return as Celtic Colours research indicates as well.”
What’s key now is to not expand it too much, says festival executive director Mike MacSween. The number of concerts the past two years and this year remains constant at 49, and it will remain a nine-day festival. However, thanks to the keen participation of community groups, the number of cultural experiences has expanded to more than 300.
“This is a festival that has grown over time and we’re very careful not to expand so far that we lose sight of what it is all about.”
Cape Breton’s Natalie MacMaster and Scotland’s Blazin’ Fiddles kick off the festival in Port Hawkesbury on Oct. 5.
One of England’s best-known folksingers, Kate Rusby, will wrap up her first visit to Celtic Colours in The Grand Finale at Sydney’s Centre 200 Oct. 13.
In between those concerts, hundreds of performers will take part in concerts across Cape Breton, including Phil Cunningham, Dave MacIsaac (Nova Scotia), Dave Gunning (Nova Scotia) in a duo with J.P. Cormier, Véronique Plasse (Quebec) with Andrea Beaton, Calvin Vollrath (Alberta) and Ray Legere (New Brunswick).
Locally, expect to see J.P. Cormier, Dwayne C?té, Mary Jane Lamond, Wendy MacIsaac, Doug MacPhee, Brenda Stubbert, Howie MacDonald, Ronald Bourgeois, Sarah MacInnis, Joe MacMaster, Maybelle Chisholm McQueen, Joanne MacIntyre, Beòlach, Richard Poulette and the Denny Family Dancers, who will be among the hundreds of Cape Breton singers, players, dancers and culture-bearers, young and old, scheduled to perform.
In addition to the music, workshops, hikes and more than 70 community meals will be offered as well.
Celtic Colours tickets go on sale July 10 at 10 a.m. For the full schedule and lineup of artists, visit celtic-colours.com.