Celtic Colours: Celebrating Music and Community

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Sep 18, 2023 / 0 comments

As late summer shifts into autumn, it is a time for gatherings and festivals.

Celtic Colours International Festival is one such event. It takes place across nine days in early October every year all across Cape Breton Island in the north of the province of Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada.

Celtic Colours: Celebrating Music and Community

Cape Breton is a place of resilience. People from Mik’maw First Nations, French-speaking Canada, Scotland’s Highlands, Ireland, New England, and other parts of the world have brought their cultures and backgrounds and forged new communities across the years.

All these strands play out in the life of Cape Breton today. All are celebrated at Celtic Colours through music and through events, including learning experiences, arts, crafts, skills, stories, dances, nature walks, and more, as well as meals, which might include fishcakes and beans to Acadian soupe verte or Thanksgiving dinner with turkey (Canada celebrates Thanksgiving early in October).

Celtic Colours is a resilient festival, itself, marking its twenty-seventh year this October. Organizers have seen all sorts of challenges across those years, including keeping  this non-profit organization going ahead in the aftermath of hurricanes and going online during the pandemic.

You have met a number of musicians from Cape Breton along the way in this series. Artists who have appeared at Celtic Colours who come from from Ireland, Scotland, the US, and  many parts of Canada have been featured in our stories, as well.

Side note: if you’d like to make it up to Cape Breton, the Celtic Colours website is the place to find out details. Keep an eye out, too, during festival days 6 through 14 October, as usually one concert each evening is shared online. Details and links on that at the festival website, as well.

This video might get you making plans to travel, as it’s a showcase of what Cape Breton landscapes look like in autumn.

The soundtrack of it is from The Puirt Set: Che Tèid e Leam a Dhannsa /  Tha Bean Agam / Dòmhnall a Tighinn Gam Iarraidh. Josie Duncan is the singer. Backing her are musicians from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow and their tutor Jenn Butterworth, recorded in performance at Celtic Colours in 2015.

You may find the song recorded on the compilation album Celtic Colours Live volume 4. Keep an eye out for recent recordings and appearances by Josie Duncan and by Jenn Butterworth, as well.

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas offer the tune Farely Bridge, recorded live during Celtic Colours. Fraser, from Scotland and now based in California, and Haas, from California now based in Massachusetts, have brought their original tunes based on Scottish tradition and their insights into traditional music from Scotland to listeners across the world. Here they are joined by the dance steps of Nic Gareiss, who focuses on percussive dance to Celtic and Americana music. You will find the tune recorded on the album Abundance from Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.

Nuala Kennedy, flute player, singer, and composer, comes from Ireland; she’s based in Clare. For this song, Marguerite, she turned to a song drawn from Newfoundland, however. It is a powerful story of resilience. Kennedy has been an artist in residence at Celtic Colours, including a residence at distance during pandemic times. You will find the song Marguerite on Kennedy’s album Shorelines, where you will also find the tune Distant Colours, composed to mark that residence at distance.

Morgan Toney is of the Mi’kmaq First Nations people on Cape Breton. In his music, he honors and connects Mi’kmaq traditions and language with fiery Gaelic-based Cape Breton fiddle style. Here is his song Alasutamaqn. You may also want to see his album First Flight.

The Broomstick Set: The Broomstick / Tonn Chliodhna (Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich) / Man of the House / Matt Peoples' is one of the sets Margie Beaton, Rose Morrison, and Patrick Gillis chose for a Celtic Colours gig. You’ll not hear it in the tunes, but the three do not usually play together -- joining up for this is part of the spirit of collaboration and connection that runs through events at Celtic Colours. Each of the three grew up on Cape Breton a musical family, and you may catch each of them playing their own music and supporting other artists, as well.

You might look out for Rose Morrison’s album Atlantic and Margie Beaton’s duo album with her sister Dawn, called Taste of Gaelic.

You’ve met the work of the band Breabach from Scotland many times in this series. They've also appeared at Celtic Colours several times, including a stint as artists in residence alongside the Cape Breton-based group Beolach.

It seems right to include Breabach’s song Revolutions here to honor both past and present of Celtic Colours. It was written by Ewan Robertson, who sings lead. You will find it recorded on Breabach’s album Fàs.

Jay Ungar comes from New York City; Molly Mason grew up in the Pacific Northwest. For many years, they have made their home in the Adirondack region of New York state. They draw from varied strands of Americana to make their music. If you may not know their names, you will likely have heard Jay’s tune Ashokan Farewell and Molly’s pieces Snowstorm and Harvest Home. This autumn will be their first time to play at Celtic Colours. Here is their tune Blue River Waltz, from their album The Quiet Room. You can also find Jay and Molly hosting a weekly online session online called The Quiet Room.

In honor of the UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages, the theme running through Celtic Colours this year is language, both in lyric and in the universal language of music. May the work of these artists invite you to enjoy and explore a bit of that, and to explore the experience that is the Celtic Colours International Festival.



Thank you for staying with us through this journey. Below, you'll find a link that will take you to an article which has a bit more backstory on the series. It also has links to a number of the stories, including ones called Listening for Community, Music for Winter's Changes, and The Geography of Hope.

Music for Shifting Times

Music for Shifting Times



Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators. 

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site, Music Road.