Causeway Crossing
at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre,
Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton
(7 October 2005)

This was the first time Celtic Colours has held two official openings, one in Sydney and one across the island in Port Hawkesbury. "Causeway Crossing" honoured the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Canso Causeway, the grey ribbon of rock that joins Canada to Cape Breton.

The arena ice surface was covered and chairs set up. The seating area around the sides were about half filled, and I stood at the boards at one end of this long space and peered at the tiny figures busy playing on the stage at the other end. My eyesight's not too grand to begin with, but I was pretty sure this was Jerry Holland and Marion Dewar.

A movement at the other end, high to the left caught my eye, and lo and behold, there was a screen showing the little figures on stage. And one on the other side, too. It was indeed Jerry and his nimble-fingered pianist.

There were two seating choices at the civic centre today: sit on the floor facing the stage on a level surface, or sit in the theatre stands, but keep your head turned towards the corner to look at the screen. It was a compromise either way.

The first thing site manager Heather Richards said as I was entering was, "The sound is fantastic." And it was. Jerry and Marion lit up the big building with their awesome-sounding fiddle and piano. Jerry's piece "Tears" was simply beautiful.

Unfortunately, I had just missed Gaelic singer Jeff MacDonald -- I mean Goirigh Domhnallach -- from Kingsville, in the opening, but he was going to be up again later on.

I moved from the end up into the stands, getting a better view of the stage and the screen and watched both. At times the screen was a little too much like watching TV and I wanted to see all the action on stage. Audience appreciation after each set sounded like a soft patter of steady rain, and laughter was quick and plenty when the musicians talked to the crowd.

Hosts Ian MacNeil and Laurel Munroe welcomed everyone in Gaelic, Mi'kmaq, Acadian and English, indicating the main threads in the weave that is Cape Breton. Then Bruce Guthro, lead singer with Runrig, host of the "Songwriter's Circle" and a favourite local singer-songwriter came up next.

Guthro led the way through a series of songs that were light-hearted ballads about local places and people, with the extra-talented Ali Bennett jigging along on guitar or fiddle right by his side. The crowd was clapping along, laughing and everything was pretty relaxed.

Guitarist Kris Drever and fiddler Duncan Chisholm were icing on the cake when they joined Phil Cunningham. I'd heard about him, heard the name, but had never made an effort to see him. The accordion, you know. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Phil creates magic with his very first notes. Go out of your way, if you have to, to see and hear this fellow. He's a charismatic musician with a capital M, it's obvious on stage and on the screen.

The MacQuarrie dancers twirled and toed around the stage to gracefully interpret a piece Phil had created after an earlier Celtic Colours experience. I loved it and imagined in the sadness and sweetness that he was calling home all the lonely souls of Celtic blood who miss their native lands.

What followed next was just great. Joe Durrane and the Boston Edge played traditional tunes, and then he played one of his own compositions which, he said, "might have a little bit of a French sound in it." I thought it had a bit of the classic "Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do" and songs of that era. But the band is solid in its Irish ways. Durrane is a skilled accordion player who builds a good rapport with the audience. They tackled Dan R's "Trip to Windsor" with pizzazz.

The special treat of the night was the original Gaelic lullaby written by Goirigh Domhnallach and Brian O'hEadhra, who cast a spell over us with their hypnotic harmony of voice and guitar.

Except for the finale, Blazin' Fiddles filled the rest of the night with a variety of fiddling styles, going from a slow upstart to a quick tempo in a flash. Some tunes had us floating like a feather, weightless, others had us climbing the high ocean swells, and then sailing for home in a stiff, steady, breeze. At times it was a little high pitched, but that's probably part of the frenzy and energy they exude.

There wasn't much not to like. The artists were experienced and polished, the emcees were professional and the sound was fantastic. By the end of the evening, I grew accustomed to swinging my head from the screen to the stage. The black backdrop and the simulated starry night was fine, but my attention wandered at times, looking at the wiggling petri dish on the back wall.

I'll look forward to another opening next year at the Civic Centre.

by Virginia MacIsaac
12 November 2005