A Nova Scotia birthday
Just like yesterday, I’m doing more than one post today. Photos will be in the later post. Entertaining stories go here.
So, before we even left on this trip, Pamela had said that on her birthday, she wanted to go to a proper Maritimes pub with a celtic or Irish band. We asked around, and it was unanimous: “No problem, just walk into basically any pub, and you’re set.”
Today is Pamela’s birthday. (Happy birthday, Pamela!) We’ve made it to Sydney, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island — I think it’s the easternmost major population centre in the province. Just to make sure we knew what we were doing, I asked the girl at the Sydney tourist information centre if she could recommend a decent pub with traditional music, and she said “Actually, yes – The Governor is having a ceilidh tonight from five ’til nine”. Perfect!
Around 5:30, we wandered over to said pub. It was fantastically Celtic. Classic Celtic knot designs figured prominently in almost all of the decor, from the windows to the wall designs to the light fixtures. Gaelic phrases were written on the wall and on the menu (Pamela apparently knew some of them, which impressed me). The pub was also clearly Nova Scotian (is that a word?). Featured beers were Alexander Keith’s and Garrison. The menu – this is a pub, remember – included lobster, calimari, shrimp, and mussels. This was a promising place – loads of atmosphere.
The stage had a couple guitars on it, one bearing a celtic knot design. But it had no musicians, and thus, no live music. The piped-in music was decent: some fiddle tunes, some Irish Rovers, some Great Big Sea; but we wanted a live band. We asked the waitress about music, and she said “yeah, it’s going to start at 5:00”.
This perplexed us.
After a bit of conversation and checking, it turned out that the band was late, they were at that table over there, and they were going to start just as soon as they finished their meal. It was after 6:00 by this point, so, umm, ok.
Around 6:30, the band finally got up on stage and announced “We’re intimidated by Irish bands.”
This concerned Pamela and I.
Then they started playing…a series of covers of ’70s and ’80s pop tunes. We heard “I Don’t Like Mondays” (by Boomtown Rats), “Sixteen Tons”, something by Bruce Springsteen…decent songs, really, and the band wasn’t half-bad, but this was not what we were looking for.
After our second round of drinks, and about the fifth song, we paid the bill and headed across the street, to a bar called “The Crown & Moose”. It didn’t look particularly Celtic, but the sign outside suggested that the band for the first half of the night was “Highland Mermaid”, so that seemed good.
When we went in, the guy was up on stage singing “Chasing Cars”. A great song, but not what you might call Irish.
We then walked up and down the two main streets in Syndey, Nova Scotia, a nice harbour town, and located…zero other pubs. We went back to the hotel, and I asked the receptionist for a recommendation, and she instantly suggested The Governor’s Pub, where we just came from. When I described the situation there, she was aghast – “My friend goes down there all the time and plays fiddle, that’s the kind of music they normally have!” She then called another hotel, described what we wanted, listened to the response, and said, “Yeah, they just came back from there”.
So apparently, we came to Cape Breton Island, birthplace of essentially an entire genre of music, home of so many great Celtic bands, on the one day that no one was playing any Celtic music.
Pamela and I went back, had supper, and listened to the band apply their country-folk style to Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Coldplay, and all sorts of other songs that had nothing in common except a complete lack of any Celtic influence whatsoever.
And that was Pamela’s traditional Nova Scotia birthday pub crawl.