“The Acadia Festival of Traditional Music & Dance is dedicated to promoting education and appreciation of traditional music and dance by producing a week-long summer festival composed of intensive classes, workshops, concerts, and dances. The festival’s goal is to build community, celebrate artists, and carry forward traditions using music and dance of Acadian, Cape Breton, Irish, Québécois, Scottish, and other origins to build bridges between generations and cultures.”
A Brief History of Acadia Trad
The Acadia Trad Festival was born of the idea that traditional music and dance strengthens our social fabric by building bridges that cross the divides of politics, religion, age, gender, race, and culture. These bridges create lasting bonds between people who otherwise might not ever interact.
In 2011, Festival founder Chuck Donnelly linked up with members of the PEI Acadian band Vishtèn at a late night gathering after a gig in Maine. Fueled by BBQ sausage, beer, and good craic, ideas began to emerge of how to bring this idea to life. The following year, Donnelly reached out to Vishtèn to find out if they were still interested in helping launch this venture —the answer was unequivocal, “yes”.
Money was scarce, but the energy levels were high. Donnelly’s friend Ric Pomilia joined the effort, with the foundational principles of focusing on several different styles of Celtic roots music traditions and getting the music and dance to as many people as possible. In 2012, the first Acadia Trad Festival was held at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
The festival enjoyed success and growth over the subsequent years. By 2017, the weeklong Trad Festival hosted seven Celtic music styles, 11 public concerts in six venues, 120 full-time students, and 150 afternoon workshops – drawing international acclaim. In 2018, a new team led by Jennifer Torrance and Nancy Neff took the helm, successfully obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for Acadia Trad and continuing the Festival’s high standards of artistic excellence. Sadly, the 501(c)(3) voted to close in early 2020, and COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the festival scheduled for that summer.
In early 2021, a devoted group of past attendees and volunteers led by Dave Wasserman, Heather McAslan, Ellen Mahoney, Chuck Donnelly and Kerstin Gilg began brainstorming how to give new life to the Acadia Trad Festival. The group formed a working advisory committee and worked to professionalize the Festival by hiring a part-time year round staff and recruiting a world-class faculty that’s at least half new each year to ensure traditions evolve.
With great joy and excitement, a reimagined Acadia Festival of Traditional Music & Dance is scheduled to return to College of the Atlantic in June 2023. Remember: it’s not just the tunes, the dancing, the musicians or the traditions – it’s the magic that happens when we put it all together. Young artists learn from master tradition bearers, then bring their own unique gifts to the endeavor – thus the traditions are learned, celebrated and they evolve. The traditions are alive.
Image and video credit: Dylan Ladds
The Acadia Festival of Traditional Music & Dance is a project made possible by a grant from the Maine Traditional Music Association and supported by Fractured Atlas, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit devoted to empowering arts organizations. Website art by Anabelle Keimach and Annelise Papinsick.