By Laurel Munroe – Cape Breton Post
ST. ANN’S – One of the magic things about the Celtic Colours festival is that it brings people from different cultural backgrounds together – both on stage and off.
Take George Seto and Ross Smith: a Cape Breton native of Asian-Canadian heritage and an American with Irish-Scottish family roots in North Dakota, respectively.
I found the two chatting at festival headquarters at the Gaelic College Tuesday and sat down to chat with them about their unique perspectives on the culture and the event.
Seto is a fixture at Celtic Colours. He has attended every year since its inception in 1997 and he is well-versed in both the Gaelic lauguage and the music.
Growing up in Sydney in the early 1960s, Seto listened mainly to country and rock music, but he was intrigued by the traditional programs CJCB Radio would air for tourists each summer.One year, he began seeing the Gaelic phrase Ciad Mile Failte (100,000 Welcomes) on tourism literature but could find no one to teach him how to pronounce it.
“I was working at the Diana Sweets restaurant in Sydney and this girl from Big Pond finally taught me how to say it, and a few other phrases,” Seto recalls.
His interest in the language was piqued, but Seto’s family decided to move to Vancouver and he lost what little Gaelic he had been taught.But he moved back to Nova Scotia in the late 1980s, on the eve of the explosion of Cape Breton Celtic music on the international stage.
“I remember hearing the Rankins on CBC’s Atlantic Airwaves and Raylene and Heather and Cookie singing Gaelic and I knew this was for me,” Seto says.
He began taking Gaelic lessons in Dartmouth in 1989 and he now reads and understands the lauguage in depth.
The Gaelic lessons led to an interest in the music and the culture and when Seto heard about the first Celtic Colours festival in 1997 he booked his vacation immediately.
Interestingly, Seto does not drive, which some may see as an impediment to getting around a festival that is spread over some 30 communities across Cape Breton.
“I’ve been lucky in hitching rides and getting to go everywhere I’ve wanted to go,” he says, adding he once paid a taxi driver $80 to drive from North Sydney to Baddeck to pick him up and take him to a show in Big Pond.
“I just have the best time here; I wouldn’t miss it.”
A few short months ago, Ross Smith, who works in the wine industry in Napa, Calif., had never even heard of Cape Breton.
He was sitting in a kitchen making coffee one morning at 4:30 when the Sunday New York Times fell open to the travel section and an article freelance writer Dirk Van Susteren wrote about last year’s Celtic Colours festival.
“Between the coffee and in this kind of dream state I realized I had to come to this paradise,” says Smith, who finalized his decision after visiting the Celtic Colours Web site.
Smith has Irish and Scottish roots in his family tree and had been exposed to some storytelling tradition but he is amazed by how much the Cape Bretoners he’s met are influenced by traditional music.”I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.
So far, Smith has attended shows in Whycocomagh, St. Ann’s, North River, Boularderie and Baddeck and seen artists including Scotland’s Phil Cunningham, Cliar and Simon Thoumire and Cape Breton’s Howie MacDonald and Gordie Sampson.
“Gordie Sampson has probably been my favourite; he’s just amazing.”Smith also sat down for lunch with the ‘Godfather of Cape Breton Cetic Music’ John Allan Cameron, and legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Archie Fisher.
“I love the fact that there’s no barrier between the musicians and the people.”Seto and Smith plan to attend several more shows before Celtic Colours wraps up Saturday with the World’s Biggest Square Dance in Baddeck.
This year’s festival features more than 300 artists from six countries performing in some 30 Cape Breton communities.
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