By Chris Connors – Cape Breton Post
Staff, volunteers do behind-the-scenes work at Celtic Colours
ST. ANN’S – Poster boards line the walls surrounding Blair Brown’s
corner of the Celtic Colours headquarters in MacLeod House at the St.
Ann’s Gaelic College.
As the festival transportation co-ordinator, he uses the large white
placards to organize the comings and goings of some 30 drivers, 16
vans, four cars, cargo truck, more than 100 musicians and loads of
equipment needed to pull off the nine-day musical celebration. But the
schedule, carefully plotted in blue and black marker, isn’t immune to
sudden changes, notes Brown, who in the course of 15 minutes Wednesday
dispenses advice on the best way to transport soup, scrambles a vehicle
to pick up a performer and arranges to retrieve some furniture.
“Throughout the day, you think you’ve got everything organized, but
there’s those little bumps in the road that need to be dealt with,”
says Brown, a stationary engineer at Nova Scotia Power’s Lingan
generating station who, along with his wife Gerardette, takes a 10-day
vacation each year to volunteer with Celtic Colours.
While the musical riches are shared across the island, with 44 shows
and 43 workshops taking place in 33 communities throughout the
festival, the single large rectangular office that staffers share with
Brown and other key volunteers is the nerve centre where all the
behind-the-scenes work comes together.
Seated a couple of desks down from Brown, first-year production
coordinator Judy Landry oversees airline reservations and
accommodations for the visiting artists. She also compiles the
performers’ itineraries, handles contractual details such as tax
waivers and, in her few spare moments of free time, tracks lost luggage
and missing CDs for her charges.
It’s more work than the travel agent-turned school teacher anticipated, but she plans to return as a volunteer.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the time off to do this job, but
I’ll definitely be back in some capacity next year,” she says.
For technical director Nigel Kearns, the festival essentially consists
six or seven concerts spread out over a wide geographic area every
night. And since each venue and artist presents its own challenges,
making sure there are no technical snafus is no small task.
“Through the day you catch all the different surprises: artists who
can’t attend sound check, lost equipment, changes that may be coming up
in a few days,” says Kearns, who has also served as technical director
with the ECMAs in 1995 and 2000.
“I like to plan for 150 per cent, and if you get 80 per cent correct,
you’re successful and it’s up to your skills and resourcefulness to get
through the other 20 per cent and make it happen.”
Dave Mahalik’s job is no less demanding. As information officer for the
festival, he helps compile artist profiles for the Web site and
programs. But come festival time, his attention turns to the stream of
journalists who pour into Cape Breton to report on the movements of the
Thanks in part to his efforts, the festival has gotten play in
high-profile publications like the New York Times and Women’s Weekly.
Still, balancing media requests with an artist’s need for some downtime
can require a delicate touch.
“There’s a fine line: you want the guy to get the shot, but you don’t
want him knocking on Natalie’s (MacMaster) door on Thanksgiving morning
to get the shot.”
Another cog in the Celtic Colours wheel is Web master Ralph Dillon.
Since about 50 per cent of the ticket holders come from off-island –
and in many cases from outside Canada – the expansive Web site
(www.celtic-colours.com) is one of the most important and widely-used
lines of communications between festival organizers and fans.
This year, the site registered more than four million hits from some
53,000 visitors who went online to check out artist profiles, buy
tickets and share opinions in the newly added live chat room.
“It’s a virtual community,” says Dillon, who also volunteers as site
manager as some festival events. “That’s the reason why it works,
because its interactive and people can communicate their feelings and
listen to other people. It’s like a whole society built around the
Celtic Colours continues through this week, ending with the World’s
Biggest Square Dance in Baddeck Saturday. For more information about
the festival, phone 562-6700 (local) or 1-877-285-2321 (toll free) or
Visit the Cape Breton Post online