Music for All at Canadian Celtic Fest

Reprinted from

River Inhabitants, Cape Breton Island – The journey by road on this
most picturesque isle in the Canadian Maritimes is considerably easier
these days than it would have been for generations of Irish people who
settled this part of the world down through the years as part of the
Celtic tribes up here. Some of the history and sentimentality was
captured in one of the series of extraordinary concerts that make up
the annual Celtic Colors International Festival that I am attending for
the very first time.

Billed as the “A Touch of the Irish,” the
Monday night event brought together three distinctive acts that signify
the diversity of talent assembled for this impressive gathering of the
clans, so to speak, up here at the festival.

The Riverdale
Community Center rests obscurely but conveniently near Route 104, a
high grade Canadian highway down a dirt road, and like many a facility
on the island provides a hospitable locale and intimate setting for
enjoying a night of music or dance.

On the card this night was
the Karan Casey Band from Ireland, Ron Hynes from Newfoundland and
Fiona and Ciaran MacGillivray from Cape Breton Island themselves and
you may be more familiar with them from their group the Cottars. All
share an Irish heritage though raised in different Celtic climes that
receive maximum exposure at this unique Festival.

The teenage
MacGillivrays were up first, not necessarily in deference to their
teenage years on a school night but more likely because as Cape
Bretoners their act would be very familiar to the mostly local audience
on hand this night.

The children of Cape Breton legend Allister
MacGillivray, who toured with Ryan’s Fancy for years, are really well
schooled in performance technique which enhances their multitalented
singing and musicianship. Ciaran played keyboards, guitar, bouzouki,
flute and sang as did Fiona, who also showed a powerful tin whistle
prowess and could handle the bodhran as well as the keyboards which
seems second nature to Cape Bretoners.

Ciaran offered a bit of
edge with a passively aggressive song he wrote called “If I Had a
Rocket Launcher” evoking the pacifists’ reaction to violence in the
world, but the duo finished with a more predictable sentimental song
they’ve recorded called “The Briar and the Rose.”

They were
followed by Ron Hynes, who was described as the “man of a thousand
songs” from the very Irish enclave of Newfoundland that has served as
an Irish reservoir similarly to the way the Scottish culture held fast
here in Cape Breton. He is a classic singer songwriter whose view of
the world often churns out songs that run the gamut of emotions from
humorous to melancholic.

Even I was not aware that he wrote the
oft-recorded “Sonny’s Dream” recorded by so many Irish performers like
Mary Black, Christy Moore and one of my favorites, the trio of Black,
Delores Keane and Emmy Lou Harris for the Bringing it All Back Home TV

His original material can be comedic and poignant
even in the same songs as we learned from a song he wrote about “A Good
Dog Lost” or a parody about returning Yanks to Newfoundland who
tiresomely made everyone aware of their experiences working in New York
on the dangerous construction trades for tall buildings like the World
Trade Center, as they threw their new found wealth and tales around the
remote but tight-knit island community.

The Waterford songstress
Casey took over after the interval, mixing her contemporary Irish and
Scottish repertoire on her very first visit to Cape Breton.
Accompanying her were Robbie Overson on guitar and Caoimhín Vallely on
keyboards and special guest Liz Knowles on fiddle on her third and
final appearance as part of the Celtic Colors extravaganza.

are many Irish settlers on the island and many would be familiar with
her work through a weekly one hour radio program called The Music of
Ireland hosted by the emcee this evening, Paul Davis, originally from
Larne, Co. Antrim who founded the show 25 years ago

Casey performed “Distant Shore,”
“Another Day,” “Chasing the Sun” and Robbie Byrnes’s “A Fond Kiss”
among other selections. Very much a staple of her performances are
anti-war songs in the folk-song tradition, and she gave us two in
“Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya” and “The King’s Shilling” penned by Scotsman
Iain Sinclair some 30 years ago.

As usual, she was dismissive of
the current occupant of the White House — which didn’t seem to bother
the crowd at all -– for his military escapades. She indicated that she
is headed towards D.C. later this week where she can engage President
George W. Bush in closer proximity, though it will have to be from the
safety of the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday,
Wednesday, October 10.

She also will appear at the National Folk
Festival in Richmond, Virginia on October 12 and 13 and finish with an
upstate New York gig in East Meredith, New York (

show closed with a finale with the performers singing the
aforementioned “Sonny’s Dream” written over 30 years ago as one of
those signature songs for a singer-songwriter like Hynes.

audience easily took over the chorus depicting the loneliness of a
sailor’s wife and son who are left to fend for themselves in times less
rosier than now in Atlantic Canada, especially in the autumnal glow of
Celtic Colors.

© 2007

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