Festival Club Highlights
(October 2006)

One of the main attractions of Celtic Colours International Festival is the Festival Club, an after-hours club where people gather to see spontaneous music and dance by the performing artists of the festival. It is a very relaxed atmosphere and one never knows who will be playing on a given night. It always turns out amazing -- this is definitely the place to go if you really want to see performers show what they can do.

One performer that is there every night is Cape Breton singer-songwriter Buddy MacDonald. Every year, he acts as the emcee for the club and he always does a wonderful job. This year was no different. He opened the club with some of his greatest songs, including "Dark Again." I'm always amazed at how many people from "away" know his songs, and the number seems to get bigger every year. It is great to hear them singing along and to see them having fun. Buddy really does a wonderful job of emceeing, with his great stories and sense of humor.

There were some new things happening at Festival Club this year. One was that Shane MacDougall took over for Kelly Peck as stage manager. He, too, did an amazing job. No offense to Kelly, but because of Shane's choice of musicians and scheduling, this was the best Festival Club ever for me. There was never a gap between performances and the combination of musicians was wonderful. I never heard a musician questioning Shane about when the would be going on stage and this was the most relaxed I have ever seen Buddy. I would definitely nominate Shane for the job again next year because he really did a good job.

The admission price went up this year, from $5 with a ticket stub from a previous concert and $15 without to $10 with and $20 without. However, because of this, the line to get in wasn't nearly as long as it has been in the past and the crowd size wasn't overwhelming. It was big, but there was room to move and breathe. I think raising the price was a good choice.

There were many highlights as far as the performances, as well. The biggest highlight for me was when Buddy MacMaster made his debut at the Festival Club! He received a standing ovation as he walked onto the stage. Then, he went to the microphone and said, "People kept saying that in all the years of the festival, they've never seen me play at the after-hours club, so here I am." After another round of applause, he played a set of jigs. I was overwhelmed by the amount of respect in the room. Everyone just stopped talking and watched Buddy as he played and this went on for almost 30 minutes! Every time Buddy finished a set, Betty Lou Beaton (who accompanied him on the piano) would think he was finished and would get up to leave the stage, but then Buddy would start another set, and each set got better and better as he played on. When he finished, there were explosive applause and I looked behind me to see that not one person was sitting. They were on their feet clapping for the legendary fiddler. It was really special.

There were two CD release parties at Festival Club this year. First was Colin Grant's, with his self-titled debut album. He did a wonderful job and was accompanied by a lot of the Cape Breton Lyrics & Laughter gang, who also released an album this summer. The second CD release party was by Kimberley Fraser, who was celebrating her sophomore album, Falling on New Ground. Various people from her album got up to accompany her, as well as a couple people who aren't on the album, such as Brenda Stubbert (on piano), Paul MacDonald (on guitar) and Catriona McKay (on harp). Both CD release parties were really fun and showed how wonderfully talented these artists are. It is great to see how young artists are carrying on a long-standing tradition.

In speaking of young artists, another highlight was seeing fiddlers Rachel Davis and Roseanne MacKenzie (formerly of the Cottars) play a couple sets together. Both girls are still in high school and are extremely talented. I first met Rachel last year at a house party, and I was blown away by how much she has grown as a musician in just a year! It was neat to see Roseanne show her stuff, as well. I see a very bright future for both of these young fiddlers.

I also enjoyed the various combinations of musicians that occurred this year. One night, Jerry Holland, John Doyle and Albert Alfonso lit up the stage. I could tell Jerry was really having fun because he had a smile that never left his face. Another night, Sandy MacIntyre and Anna Massie played together. Troy MacGillivray, Kimberley Fraser and Nuala Kennedy were another great combination. On one of the last nights of the festival, there was an entire horn section on the stage and people were dancing in the hallways. All of the combinations kept Festival Club interesting.

Overall, this was the best year of Festival Club I have ever experienced. I had no disappointments and I can't wait for next year!

by Kaitlin Hahn
25 November 2006