various artists,
The Heart of Cape Breton:
Fiddle Music Recorded
Live Along the Ceilidh Trail

(Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)

Being a fan of Cape Breton fiddle music, I always enjoy hearing performers in concert. The energy of a live show just can't be matched as a fiddler's performance is greatly influenced by the audience, the venue, the atmosphere, etc. There are numerous fiddle CDs on the market, yet it's difficult to capture that live sound in studio when recording. Well, there's now a CD available that was recorded live in Cape Breton, known around the world as one of the best places to hear fiddle music. It's called The Heart of Cape Breton: Fiddle Music Recorded Live Along the Ceilidh Trail.

The Ceilidh Trail is also known as Route 19, along the west coast of Cape Breton in Inverness County. There are probably more musicians in this area's population than anywhere else in the world. Natalie MacMaster, the Rankins and Ashley MacIsaac, among others, were all born and raised in this area.

In the summer of 2000, Burt Feintuch and Pete Reiniger spent a week in Cape Breton recording musicians at dances, arenas and concerts in Inverness County for a Smithsonian Folkways Recording. The venues include the Ceilidh Trail School, the Port Hood Arena, Mabou Hall, the Broad Cove Scottish Concert, Glencoe Mills Hall and the Brook Village Hall. The recordings include the sound of audiences dancing at Glencoe Mills and the sound of a caller at Mabou.

We hear some of the best known and admired Cape Breton fiddlers as well as the Cape Breton style of piano and guitar accompaniment. Performers include Brenda Stubbert, Brian Doyle, Richard Wood, Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac, Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, Jerry Holland, Allan Dewar, Buddy MacMaster and Joey Beaton.

The rhythm, drive and energy of these musicians comes across in this wonderfully compiled recording. For those unfamiliar with the island and its history, there are extensive notes in the CD booklet, which is quite rare to find these days. As well as the history of the island, the musicians background is included and a list of the tunes played in each set.

Reels, strathspeys, jigs -- this is dance music at its best. You can even hear the dancers feet in the background. In the summer you can find a dance every night of the week in the communities around the island -- some people even pack in more than one dance a night!

One of the venues recorded at was the Ceilidh Trail School. This school is located in Inverness and every summer offers instruction in the Cape Breton style of fiddle, piano and guitar. In this particular week, Brenda Stubbert, Richard Wood and Brian Doyle were the teachers.

The Port Hood Arena is a relatively new venue for dancers and Wendy MacIsaac and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac were the performers on this evening. We hear them first in a set that was played while visitors were coming into the venue and then later on we hear them performing for the dancers.

It used to be in Cape Breton that there would be callers for the dancers but nowadays it's usually just the musicians on the stage and the dancers on the floor doing the sets that are ingrained in their feet. However, for the recording we hear Owen D. Gillis prompting a dance at the Mabou Hall with Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton performing.

Besides the summer dances, there are also annual concerts. One of these is the Broad Cove Scottish Concert, just outside of Inverness. Jerry Holland and Allan Dewar were captured live in this setting. Starting off with a lament, composed by Jerry, the energy then picks up with some strathspeys and reels.

If you're a fan of the music, you will recognize many of the tunes, as they can be heard being played on the world stage by performers such as Natalie MacMaster. But they can also have the same energy on the small stages back home.

One of the most popular dance venues in Cape Breton is the Glencoe Mills Hall, which for people from away, seems like it's in the middle of nowhere. If you saw Natalie's recent CBC TV special, she describes how to get to this hall and they show her performing there. On this CD, her uncle Buddy MacMaster is featured on fiddle along with Joey Beaton on piano.

Over 70 minutes of live music, this CD is a brief, accurate look at what you'd hear if you spent a summer on the west coast of Cape Breton. This CD is the real thing -- the real music in its real setting.

[ by Kimberley Marie ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002

Buy it from