On the side at Celtic Colours
(October 2006)

Many people come to Celtic Colours just to attend concerts and to see the beautiful landscape of the island that the festival takes place on. However, there are many other opportunities as well. I decided to take a trip to the west side of Cape Breton to experience some of these.

First, I went to a dance workshop with Sabra MacGillivray at the Celtic Interperative Center in Judique. I wanted to see how the Cape Breton steps fit with the tunes I play. What I ended up learning is that it takes a lot of skill, practice and coordination to do what Sabra can do. She taught a basic strathspey step, which was going fine and dandy for me, but it got increasingly more complex (and fun!), so I decided that I'd need a lot of practice before I ever perform the taps, hops and kicks at full speed in front of anyone outside of the class. We also learned some reel steps (which add shuffles to the mix) and finished with the Inverness set dance, which one can participate in at the various dance halls in Inverness County. This was a bit easier for me because it didn't require as much coordination and concentration. It allowed everyone to let loose and just have some sweaty fun. The group dance was a great way to finish the class. Well done, Sabra!

While drinking a bottle of water and catching my breath, I walked over to a session led by Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton to play some of the music that goes with the steps I learned. For those of you who have never heard this couple play, I highly recommend giving them a listen because they're amazing. Kinnon is a brilliant left-handed fiddler and Betty Lou is wonderful on the piano. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play tunes with them. It was also great to play tunes with local musicians and fiddlers from away in such a non-intimidating setting. I really enjoyed the sets of lively strathspeys and reels that Kinnon introduced for everyone to join in on and even if people didn't know the tunes, their toes were tapping, so they must have enjoyed the music as well. If you're ever in Cape Breton, on the west side of the island, go see the new Interperative Center. It was the perfect setting for the session.

After a trip to Walmart and a bite to eat at The Mull in Mabou, I made my way to the famous Red Shoe Pub to hear my good friend, Kimberley Fraser, share some tunes. As always, she was brilliant. You might think I'm a bit biased, but seriously, she gets better and better every time I hear her. I'll take a little commercial break here -- if you want to hear Kimberley play, pick up a copy of her new CD, Falling on New Ground, which came out this week! It will show you what I'm talking about here. Many of the tunes that she played for this performance are on the album, so check it out.

Hearing Tracey Dares accompany Kimberley on the piano was a treat as well. The two of them complement each other beautifully, with the high tones of the fiddle and the bass runs in Tracey's playing.

After being spoiled for a couple of hours of hearing the amazing talent, Kimberley invited me up to play a few sets with her. It was so much fun to hear her piano playing, again, and the crowd was really nice. (Thanks to all who were there! You made me feel like a star.)

I'm really glad that I had the opportunity to attend all of these events and I hope that others get to experience what I did. To all who are thinking about coming to the festival in the future, make sure you check into all the other happenings on the island. Although you may have to miss the Festival Club for one night, I doubt you'll regret it.

by Kaitlin Hahn
25 November 2006