Celtic Colours Wrap-Up: October 18-19, 2013

By Gary Whitehouse, on October 20th, 2013

The final two days of the 2013 Celtic Colours International Festival were a whirlwind of activity – for us, anyway. On Friday we took a short trip along part of the Cabot Trail and a tiny section of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park before having dinner at the Glendora Distillery between Mabou and Inverness, and then taking in a top-notch show that highlighted the Nordic-Celtic connection at the Inverness Academy.

In Good Company

Mikael Marin and Olov Johansson of Vasen with Dawn & Margie Beaton

Mikael Marin and Olov Johansson of Vasen with Dawn & Margie Beaton

The program was titled “In Good Company,” and although it wasn’t a sold-out house, it was quite close at nearly 500. In contrast to most of the other shows we saw this week, this one had a high proportion of locals in the audience. That was no doubt due to the presence of some popular local acts on the bill, including the sibling foursome Company Road. Mitch, Gordie, Brennan and Kelly Jean MacDonald hail from just down the road in Port Hood, and although they currently sing and play more of a contemporary country sound, they grew up on Cape Breton-style Celtic music and dance. They told some touching stories of growing up in a big family and sang a short set of mid-tempo country-folk. They got their parents, Cecil and Mary Jane MacDonald (herself a step-dancing legend on Cape Breton Island’s west coast) on stage to sing the sentimental “This Old House,” and did a nice, slowed-down version of “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

Half of the show was given over to Nordic acts, starting with Finns Antti and Arto Järvelä, who played fiddles and guitar (Antti) on a short set of Finnish traditional and contemporary folk music. The setlist included lots of polskas, some waltzes and a polonaise or two, in addition to a tango-influenced piece he wrote during a tour of South America – it was a woozy hangover of a tune that slid back and forth between waltz and double-waltz time.

The other half of the Nordic program was filled by one of my favorite folk acts from any part of the world, the Swedish trio Väsen. They electrified the crowd with their driving, rhythmic music and their high-volume, full sound created by Roger Tallroth’s 12-string guitar, Mikael Marin’s five-string viola and Olov Johansson’s modern nyckelharpa. Their set had several tunes from their 2013 album Mindset including the whimsical Hundlåten (“the dog song”) which Marin wrote while on a walk with his Spanish waterdog; and the “Carl Linnaeus Polonaise” from their 2007 Linnaeus Väsen disc. It was the fifth time I’ve seen these guys, and I’m not tired of them yet; this was their first trip to Celtic Colours but I suspect they’ll be invited back, judging from all the whooping and hollering during their set and the sustained applause at its conclusion from folks hoping for an encore – something that rarely happens at Celtic Colours.

The evening was anchored by the Beaton Sisters Band, helmed by the popular Margie and Dawn Beaton of Mabou. The two played only fiddle this night and did some step-dancing, although Dawn also plays piano and Margie mandolin. Piper Kenneth MacKenzie of Mabou and pianist Jason Roach of Cheticamp (also of Sprag Session) rounded out the sound behind these champions of Gaelic fiddle music. They played a strong set of jig-and-reel sets with the band and as a duo and also did a step-dance duet that had the crowd on its feet. Dawn, by the way, has been named artistic director of the festival for the 2014 season, after serving for a few years as assistant director. Here’s a good example of the way Dawn and Margie sound as a duet, on “Just Jigs” from their debut CD Dawn & Margie Beaton.

For the grand finale, all the musicians played a long medley of Finnish, Swedish and Celtic tunes and songs, including a hilarious rendition of Abba’s “Take a Chance With Me” sung by the kids from Company Road.