The 27th Celtic Colours International Festival, presented by TD Bank, opens on Friday, October 6 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre with The Universal Language. This exciting opening concert features a multilingual array of artists exploring the theme of “languages”. Nine whirlwind days later, the Festival wraps up in Sydney at Centre 200 with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy welcoming some friends on stage in the closing concert, No Boundaries.

Throughout the nine-day “week”, Celtic Colours 2023 will welcome back some Festival friends from Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., the U.K., Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario including Blazin’ Fiddles, Le Vent du Nord, John Doyle, Allan MacDonald, Maggie MacInnes, Màiri Chaimbeul, Ray Legere, and Cathy Ann MacPhee.

We’ll also have a number of familiar faces returning in new or different combinations. Celebrated American banjo player Béla Fleck will be featured with his long-time duo partner Abigail Washburn; Tim Edey is accompanying traditional Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird; Canadian and American fiddling champion Shane Cook is teamed up with The Woodchippers; and Mary Frances Leahy—who’s performed at the Festival before with her parents Natalie and Donnell—will be making her solo debut. We will also welcome back Tara Breen (Nuala Kennedy, The Chieftains) and Jim Murray (Sharon Shannon) from Ireland who are playing in a trio with Pádraig Rynne. Fiddler Jocelyn Pettit was here with Ùr: The Future of Our Past and returns with cello player Ellen Gira. Gaelic singer Rachel Walker was part of the Scottish group Cruinn and is back in a duo with Aaron Jones. And members of beloved Prince Edward Island groups Vishtèn and the East Pointers will make their way over to our island in their new group 6 Hearts.

Among the artists playing at Celtic Colours for the first time this year are Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (USA), Diane Cannon (Ireland), Vrï (Wales), Mama’s Broke (Nova Scotia), Ruth Keggin and Rachel Hair (Isle of Man/Scotland), and The Woodshed (Alberta) who aren’t just making their Celtic Colours debut, but are playing for the first time as a duo at the Festival.

Plenty of Cape Bretoners will also be on hand to celebrate the Island’s roots including J.P. Cormier, Mary Jane Lamond, Howie MacDonald, Heather Rankin, Dwayne Côté, Brenda Stubbert, and Béolach, along with some of the finest traditional singers, players, dancers, and culture-bearers from right here at home.

The Festival focus this year is “languages”, and you will hear Mi’kmaw, Scottish Gaelic, and French as well as Irish, Welsh, and Manx in the opening concert celebrating Indigenous languages and the universality of music. That theme will carry through to a very special concert, Cainnt is Ceathramhan: Language and Lyrics, featuring Mary Jane Lamond, Màiri Britton, and an impressive lineup of Gaelic singers from Cape Breton, mainland Nova Scotia, and Scotland on Monday night at the Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney.

Every year, Celtic Colours pays tribute to Cape Breton culture-bearers. This year, two concerts will honour four women who have had an important impact on the Island’s music and culture, and we’ll celebrate 50 years with the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association. On Wednesday night, Betty’s Key Players will bring family, friends, and admirers of Betty Beaton together in the heart of Mabou for a special tribute to the inspirational piano player. On Friday night, the spotlight turns to the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay for Rita! Rita! Rita!. This tribute to Rita MacNeil, Dr. Rita Joe, and Sr. Rita Clare will feature the Cape Breton Chorale—founded by Sr. Rita Clare 50 years ago—and the Men of the Deeps who were inducted into the Cape Breton Music Industry Hall of Fame earlier this year. The closing weekend will see the Fiddlers’ Association take the stage at Colaisde na Gàidhlig / the Gaelic College in celebration of their 50th.

With more than 200 community cultural experiences happening in every corner of the Island, there’s plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture between concerts. Step your way into a square dance, join a milling frolic, or play in a session. Take a workshop in dance or fiddle, or enjoy a guided walk or hike with a magnificent view. And there’s nothing like sharing a home-cooked meal. This year there are more than 30 community meals to choose from in your travels.

And, of course, there’s the Festival Club, where the true spirit of Celtic Colours never sleeps. Brought to you by Big Spruce Brewing, the Celtic Colours Festival Club is open late, and you just never know who might show up to play. The 2023 Celtic Colours International Festival is scheduled for October 6-14. Tickets go on sale July 11 at 10AM (ADT). For the full schedule and lineup of artists, visit The Festival appreciates the support of ACOA, Canadian Heritage, the Province of Nova Scotia, and its many other partners.

Back to Top