Cape Breton, day 1: Music in the air from Port Morien to St. Peter’s

I visited Cape Breton on a blogging trip from October 11th to 13th for Extreme Group and Destination Cape Breton. They gave me a couple ideas of what to see and full editorial control – so what you’ll read here is no-holds-barred travel blogging fun.

Cape Breton is a bigger place than you’d expect. Maybe that’s a subjective call, but my GPS was giving me an unusually high number of instructions on the way from Eskasoni to Cow Bay. And while the looping, switchback roads might contribute a bit to the sense that you’re not getting anywhere quick, I think the main fault lies with the scenery. I blame the scenery for making time – and my pace – slow down. It’s tough not to stare when the ocean extends from sharp cliffs to mingle with the sky on the horizon. Hell, it’s hard to stay in your lane.

After a bit more than an hour (plus obligatory Tim Horton’s stop), I made it to Port Morien for the Cow Bay Ceilidh. A few local and international artists would entertain the occupants of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 055. Unfortunately, as with most events at the Legions of Canada, the crowd was fairly advanced in their years. Honestly, the average age was about 60. Dancing and raucous celebration were to be replaced by polite clapping and soft humming. The downstairs location of the bar might have had something to do with that, too.

Fortunately, the music and the acerbic wit of Celtic performers would make up for the graying audience. Cleverness started at the outset (“the emergency exists are wherever you want if you’re big enough”) and continued throughout. The MC opened the evening with a couple classic songs, and the audience participation was serene: a couple hundred calm voices and mistimed claps led the way through Irish Rover. Another song about a woman and her breasts led into the next act: John Ferguson and Roger Stone.

They’re damn talented musicians, I tell you. They also give a bit of a sense for the themes of traditional Celtic music. I’ve already mentioned the song about the woman and her breasts; by the end of the evening, there would be more than a few songs whose prevailing theme could best be described as “women doing what they shouldn’t” (like the song about a nun who was implicated in brewing moonshine). The ‘women’ leitmotif was second only to references about age and mortality. Most of the jokes were about this – about graying hair and poor eyesight. It occurred to me that the songs and the genre haven’t changed much in the lifetime of this crowd.

Anna Massie and Mairearad Green (closest pronunciation: Moira) are on stage next. They are Irish and Funny. My notes, at this point, are more scribbles about how bad the audience is. Though the venue is at capacity, the right half of the room is absolutely silent. Then the music starts, and the subject matter of their songs is shockingly different. There is a song about friendship, another about food, and there are nearly as many “tunes” (re: instrumentals) as proper songs. I note the awesomeness of the accordion, and leave.

There was still one more event to catch before the close of the night: the Kitchen Racket Jam Sessions were being held at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn, which sits on the south end of the lakes at St. Peter’s. I decided I would bring my fiddle along for this trip, so a kitchen party was just where I could get my jamming fix. Hit the video below to see some of the acoustic goodness of the night:


2 thoughts on “Cape Breton, day 1: Music in the air from Port Morien to St. Peter’s

  1. Thanks for your little video of the Kitchen Rackets. As it turned out, we had over 400 people drop by the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn during Celtic Colours week for late night jam sessions, and music workshops in the afternoons featuring instructors Dwayne Cote, Paul Davis, JP Cormier and Johannes Sturm. We’ll be doing it again next year, for the 4th year in a row. Hope to see you there again.

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