Some time ago earlier this summer I was looking at a map of Cape Breton and wondering where my best bets would be for hearing music. I shouldn’t have worried: the music there is as fundamental to the landscape as the rocks and deep blue water that define the bluffed coastline.
There are some recommended hot spots, which guarantee your visit will include some of the island’s traditional Celtic/French-flavoured music: the Red Shoe pub in Mabou, for one, is a locally famous pub with a long history tied to many of Cape Breton’s best fiddlers. I didn’t make it there.
Another couple of options are the Barn at the Normaway Inn in the Margaree Valley, and the notable Gaelic College, one of the homes of the annual Celtic Colours music festival and offering classes like Weaving, Highland Dancing, and Beginners Gaelic. I didn’t hear music at either of these two places either.
Instead, I caught part of a set with a fiddler and pianist at the Celtic Music Center in Judique. I ran across a ceilidh in Cape North and heard a local piper, tin whistler, and several singer/songwriters sharing a stage at the town’s small Church. I listened to the music of round stones, the polished remnants of an ancient glacier, on a cobble beach near Ingonish. As the waves came in and receded the millions of rounded granite rocks crashed and brushed against each other in a sound reminiscent of windchimes.
You don’t have to go out of your way to encounter music in Cape Breton: you just have to open your ears.