Home is Where the Heart Is
at Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre,
Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton
(8 October 2010)

The opening concert for Celtic Colours is held in one of the bigger venues on the island, and people drive in from all directions to reach the Civic Centre in Port Hawkesbury. I had a quick trek up Route 19 along the Ceilidh Trail with the wide blue vista of St. George's Bay melding into the Strait of Canso on the sunset side of Cape Breton Island.

I was looking forward to hearing the familiar music of Rita MacNeil, Men of the Deeps and Bruce Guthro. For sure, Guthro was our songster before he was Runrig's and it's nice to see him appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic. As always, I also was looking forward to the members of Beolach, who are great either as a band or as solo musicians.

The evening began with Seudan (pronounced Shay-tan), from Scotland, led by Allan MacDonald (brother of Dr. Angus). His rich, deep voice of Gaelic song accompanied by pipes was a refreshing mixture. The blast from the pipes was a wonderful great sound under the high ceilings within the wide area of the arena.

Following this was a wide selection of vocal performances, beginning with Gaelic singing, leaping to Bruce Guthro and on to Madison Violet, whose act I found to be the most riveting of the evening, and ending with Rita MacNeil and the Men of the Deeps. Perhaps these names are not always recognizable in the genre of Celtic sound but connections are easily made, especially to the concert's theme of home and heart. Whose lyrics better express the love of home than Rita's? Likewise, Guthro and his son Dylan tuned us in to a vibrant guitar conversation between father and son.

The duo of fiddler Chris Stout and harper Catriona McKay, both artists-in-residence-from-across-the-sea, were another enjoyable and lively act with music that shared the crystalline tinkle and crackle of ice from the town of A (pronounced ur). They played a beautiful slow air called "Michael's Wood" in memory of the late fiddler, Michael Ferrie from the Shetlands. Catriona has an interesting technique with the harp and pulled some very intriguing sounds from its form.

More expressions of home came to life on the stage with the two fiddling acts of Beolach and the Liz Doherty Connection. Both of these bands played a very nice batch of Cape Breton tunes. Step-dancers included the Pellerins from over Antigonish way, the MacDonald sisters from New Waterford and the Beolach trio of Mac Morin, Wendy MacIsaac and Mairi Rankin, and they all clipped 'er off throughout the night. It was a special treat to see step-dancing and piping together.

There was a teeter-totter effect of vocal and instrumental throughout the evening that kept the flow interesting.

The concert covered a wide range of musical ground. The large screens in the arena kept the audience in close touch with what was happening and yet the stage was close enough for a good look at the whole picture. The concert emcees, Max MacDonald and Bruce Guthro, worked to make everyone feel at home and welcome. This was a very pleasant way to open the big festival that promises so much for the rest of the week.

review by
Virginia MacIsaac

16 October 2010

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