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Festival History

For nine days each October, Cape Breton Island is home to a unique celebration of music and culture when the Celtic Colours International Festival presents dozens of concerts all over the island, an extensive line-up of community cultural events, and a nightly Festival Club. Since 1997, the festival has featured hundreds of  artists from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Brittany, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Cuba as well as from across the United States and Canada to join the finest of Cape Breton’s musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers and tradition-bearers for the annual Autumn celebration.

One of the things that sets Celtic Colours apart from most festivals is that it isn’t limited to just one location. Communities around Cape Breton Island host concerts and workshops when the fall colours are at their most brilliant and traveling around the island offers one breathtaking view after another. These communities are the places where the culture has been nurtured for over 200 years, providing context for the roots of the music and celebrating each community’s contribution to our living Celtic culture.

In many of these communities, the local fire hall, parish hall or community centre has hosted musical events for generations, in some cases, literally moving the fire trucks out of the hall to accommodate a dance. Venues for Celtic Colours vary from an 18th Century reconstructed French Chapel to brand new state of the art performance facilities to community halls, but all venues share in common the prominent place each holds in the community it serves. The Celtic culture of music, dance and story telling lives on in these communities and provides foundation for the celebration of living culture that is the Celtic Colours International Festival.

With Celtic Colours International Festival’s ambitious schedule (as many as six concerts each day), it is simply impossible to see and hear everything. The organizers of the Festival realize this and take special care in the programming of each show so that it is possible to get a taste of all that the Festival has to offer on any given day. Whether it’s Gaelic singing you are most interested in, or Cape Breton fiddling, or local dance traditions, outstanding accordion playing, perhaps, or an afternoon of world-class bagpiping, Celtic Colours festival-goers can tailor their musical experience to suit their tastes.

Celtic music has seen a resurgence of interest in North America during recent years. Fueled in part by the success and popularity of entertainers like Natalie MacMaster, Buddy MacMaster, the Barra MacNeils, Ashley MacIsaac, the Rankin Family and Rita MacNeil, this interest has focused attention on Cape Breton Island, its music, its people and its culture. Celtic Colours offers the opportunity for visitors to go beyond simply listening to the music. Workshops, offered in many aspects of Celtic and Gaelic culture, allow visitors and residents alike to get the hands-on experience they desire. Host communities around the island present workshops in Gaelic language and song, components of tradition, instrument instruction and traditional dance, as well as offering cultural tours, ceilidhs and a lecture series. They also organize an extensive array of community events including meals and dances.

One of the most popular features of the Celtic Colours International Festival every year is the Festival Club. Located at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, the Festival Club opens as the evening concerts are closing, offering an opportunity for festival artists to perform in a more informal setting, or to get a session in with friends and colleagues from near and far. Performance is by invitation only and depends upon artist availability on any given night. Although the license only allows the bar to stay open until 3:00 am, the music has been known to continue well beyond that time.

The festival is held at the height of the island’s spectacular fall colours, allowing visitors to enjoy breathtaking scenery as they travel to their next event. Traveling to an event may take a visitor around the pristine Bras d’Or Lakes, Canada’s largest saltwater lake, or around the Cabot Trail, often called North America’s most scenic drive. Wherever you go in Cape Breton at this time of year, you are bound to find amazing scenery around every turn.

Celtic Colours International Festival is recognized as a world-class event, both locally and internationally. In 2011, the Canadian Tourism Commission added the festival to its Signature Experiences Collection and it received the Cultural Tourism Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. The festival has also been named the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s  Event of the Year (2007), has received four East Coast Music Awards for Event of the Year, (2005-2008), two Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia Crystal Awards (Events / Conferences 2002, the Golden Hospitality Award 2005), and was named American Bus Association’s Top Event in Canada and Attractions Canada’s Top Cultural Event in 2001. In recent years, Cape Breton Island has also been recognized by Conde Nast Magazine for its scenic beauty and friendly people (voted number one in the world by its readership) and by National Geographic Traveler as among the top travel destinations in the world.

Our Mission Statement

To promote, celebrate and develop Cape Breton’s living Celtic culture and hospitality by producing an international festival during the fall colours that builds relationships across Cape Breton Island and beyond.

Future Festival Dates

Future dates for the Celtic Colours International Festival:

10 – 18 October 2014
9 – 17 October 2015
7 – 15 October 2016

Call toll free for more information +1(877) 285-2321