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Celtic Colours ends on high note with tribute to Rita

By Laura Jean Grant -The Cape Breton Post

Rita MacNeil thanks the crowd and all the performers who took part in the Home She’ll Be: A Tribute to Rita MacNeil show, Saturday at the Sydney Marine Terminal as part of the Celtic Colours International Festival. Laura Jean Grant – Cape Breton Post

Rita MacNeil thanks the crowd and all the performers who took part in the Home She’ll Be: A Tribute to Rita MacNeil show, Saturday at the Sydney Marine Terminal as part of the Celtic Colours International Festival. Laura Jean Grant – Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — A talented and diverse group of musicians came together on the final night of the Celtic Colours International Festival to pay tribute to a woman who transcends musical boundaries.

Home She’ll Be: A Tribute to Rita MacNeil took place Saturday night at the Sydney Marine Terminal with an eclectic and star-studded mix of performers taking the stage, from composer and musician Scott Macmillan to blues rocker Matt Minglewood.

“When they contacted me about doing this I said ‘I’m not exactly Celtic,’” said Minglewood with a laugh when he came on stage. “But when they said it was about Rita I said ‘I’m in.’”

And that was common theme throughout the evening as performers including MacNeil’s nephew, Ryan J. MacNeil, fellow Big Pond native Gordie Sampson, Raylene Rankin, The Men of the Deeps and J.P Cormier took their turn on stage, sharing their personal memories of the beloved Cape Breton singer and the impact she’s had on their lives and careers. Each performed a mix of their own material and “favourite Rita songs.”

Cormier, who went on tour with MacNeil in 2002, said he was “inspired by the genius of Rita’” and that she taught him to put everything he has into each song and each performance.

“I learned from Rita that nothing matters but the song,” he said.

Throughout the evening, and much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, MacNeil took the stage several times performing with her band some of her biggest hits from a career that has spanned more than 30 years and produced 22 albums.

She closed out the show with a performance of Home I’ll Be and returned for an encore group performance of Working Man.

“This has been an incredible evening,” said MacNeil, thanking all the artists for their touching tributes.

For Joella Foulds, artistic director of the Celtic Colours festival, the tribute show was a “full-circle moment.”

Foulds, who hosted the show and performed with Rita in the evening’s opening song, played with MacNeil from 1979-1986 and said that experience played a huge role in giving her the confidence and courage to take on a project as big and daunting as Celtic Colours.

“I really feel Celtic Colours is part of Rita’s legacy,” said Foulds, who co-founded Celtic Colours with fellow festival director Max MacDonald.

Foulds said this year’s nine-day celebration of Celtic music was another success story with 47 shows and more than 265 events taking place in communities across Cape Breton.

“It’s been a great festival,” she said. “We really feel the community support and buy-in has grown and grown. I think that the festival really has reached into the communities more than ever before.”

In fact, while on stage, Foulds took time to thank the communities and people who make the festival the event it is.

“I personally want to thank all of you for coming and being a part of the festival and sharing your enthusiasm for this festival. We hope to keep doing it with your help,” she said, noting approximately 1,500 volunteers help out each year and are key to the festival’s success.

So, it’s all over for another year. The 13th edition of the Celtic Colours festival will take place Oct. 9-17, 2009.

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