There are many wonderful reasons to visit Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton Island is at the top of the list. Depending on your taste you may say that the Cabot Trail or the Bra d'Or Lake or the historic interpretive centers are the reason to visit Cape Breton but if you love music then you will be immersed in a culture of traditional music all the time everywhere. Whether a Ceilidh or a "kitchen party", whether Gaelic or Acadian or Newfoundland, these music sessions will be a memory long after your visit is past.
As I said in an earlier post, we attended our first Ceilidh at The Baddeck Gathering. Jennifer Bowman was on the upright piano accompanying fiddler Donna Marie DeWolfe (and serving as musicologist for the tourists in the crowd). That was our introduction to up close Cape Breton fiddle and to Donna Marie who took up the fiddle 7 years before (at the age of 10) and she can really play. She has a wonderful sound and is very athletic - the heel and toe slapping of her leather sandals amount to a four piece rhythm section.
Our introduction to local music in Nova Scotia had come earlier at a restaurant in 5 Islands during the weekend of the Not Since Moses Run. There we heard the Halifax bar band "Celtic Rant". Compared to our Southern Appalachian Scotts-Irish music, they had added the keyboard to the fiddle, pipes, mandolin, and guitar but there was no banjo. We learned some great local favorite bar songs ("The Queen of Old Argyle") and a wonderful Irish closing time benediction from the 1600s, "The Parting Glass".
While we were camping in the Cape Breton Highlands Park, we walked into The Doryman Pub one night in Cheticamp and there was Donna Marie DeWolfe again. We recognized her parents and introduced ourselves. They were driving her around to performances several nights a week that summer and we visited with them that night. They are nice folks and very proud parents. When we saw Donna Marie again at a concert at the Judique Music Center (below), her mother exclaimed "Donna Marie is following you around". We said we were Donna Marie groupies.
On Sunday August 19, 2012, we attended the Kintyre Farm Benefit Concert in Judique Community Center next door to the Celtic Music Interpretive Center, Judique, Nova Scotia. The concert was about 2.5 hours and all of the performers volunteered their time.
Our rock star fiddler Donna Marie DeWolfe above in the center, the artist in the rear with long hair and big guitar is Tom Daniels from Newfoundland and is Gabrielle McLellan's accompanist, and the woman up front on the right is a very good fiddler but I am embarrassed to say that we didn't catch her name. It is important to note that all of these artists are fine musicians and performers.
The Grand Finale. On the far left is Shelly Campbell and in heels and short skirt is Gabrielle McLellan. Many of these performers are instructors at the Buddy McMaster School of Fiddling which is held during the week of the Celtic Colours International Festival. I am told that the Celtic Colours festival is musical reason enough for a trip to Cape Breton Island from anywhere.
The fiddler above is Shelly Campbell at the Beddeck Gathering on Tuesday, August 21, 2012. She is very friendly, as are most of the Cape Breton Islanders, and says she is ready to come to Asheville. The step dancer is a walk-on and one of the best we saw. The accompanist is Alan Dewar who is Music Director at the Judique Center, and accompanied Natalie McMaster on tour from 2000 - 2006; he likely played the Porter Center with her when she performed there.
During this Ceilidh I notice an old guy ('bout my age) come in wearing a cowboy hat. When the tea and oat cake break came I noticed him working the room and I read his lips as he asked people if they were the ones from NC - he had seen our truck with the NC tags parked on the street. He plays banjo (a rarity in Cape Breton) and played in NC for 20 years - jammed once with David Holt. His sister Laura Boosinger plays banjo in Asheville, sometimes with David Holt, and lives on Beaver Dam Road. His name is William Jr. "Banjoman" Johnson and he invited us to come next evening to the Wednesday night concert (dance starts at 10PM) in the barn at the Normaway Inn on Egypt Road in Margaree Valley. I wore my cowboy hat in his honor and he had us upgraded to reserved seats right down front. We heard Kyle MacNeil, Brenda Stubbert and Allan Cameron accompanied by Sheamus MacNeil. The MacNeils are brothers and are members of the Barra MacNeils, a well known band of six siblings. Kyle told me that they had played some gigs in a bar in Asheville.
We left Cape Breton the next morning on the ferry to Newfoundland.
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