As It Happens

Cape Breton's Ashley MacIsaac plans online music festival during COVID-19 pandemic

Ashley MacIsaac and his friends are putting on a "quarantine ceilidh" for Canadians stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

'People can't come out to see our shows, so we're going to bring it to your living room'

MacIsaac used to be known as the bad boy of Celtic music — she if he has settled down any, at his shows on P.E.I. this weekend. (Ashley MacIsaac/Facebook )


Ashley MacIsaac and his friends are putting on a "quarantine ceilidh" for Canadians stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

A ceilidh — pronounced kay-lee — is a social event featuring Scottish and Irish folk music, traditional dancing and storytelling. 

"It's pretty simple. A lot of people are going to get bored of watching reruns and continuing to see how many times they can watch Stranger Things on Netflix over the next couple of months," the Cape Breton fiddler told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We're musicians. We're used to traveling. We can't do it. People can't come out to see our shows. So we're going to bring it to your living room."

He says he already has country singer George Canyon and comedian Bette MacDonald on tap to perform during the digital festival, which he aims to livestream April 1 on his website and social channels.

"If it goes sideways then I'll have to say 'April Fools,'" he said with a chuckle. "But, no. Everything is coming together nicely."

Stay home, urges prime minister 

More and more Canadians are practicing what's called social distancing, limiting their interactions with other people as much as possible to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

Across the country, schools, events and businesses are closing, and many companies are asking employees not to come in to work for the foreseeable future. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated the importance of social distancing on Monday as he announced widespread new restrictions at the Canadian border. 

"By staying home, you can not only protect your health and that of those around you, but ensure that our health-care professionals and our health-care systems can focus on those who need their help. This is an adjustment for all of us. We know that staying home is an important step to protect the community and each other. We all have to do it," he said. 

"But I want to remind all Canadians that social distancing doesn't mean we have to stop talking to each other. Pick up the phone. Write an email. FaceTime. The strength of our country is our capacity to come together and care for each other, especially in times of need."

Trudeau announces new travel measures to slow spread of COVID-19

3 years ago
Duration 1:59
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Canada is barring entry to most travellers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents — one of a set of extraordinary new measures being introduced to fight the spread of COVID-19.

That's exactly why MacIsaac says the ceilidh is needed — that, and performers need to earn a buck.

"I just lost all my work between now and July. Every musician that's out there makes their living on live touring these days," he said. "All of a sudden, [you're] put in a position where you don't have a platform to perform for people."

He says he's aiming to keep the price cheap — between $4 and $6 to watch or download the performances. But if he manages to wrangle up a sponsor, he says he'll make it free for everyone.

Either way, he noted, you'll save money on drinks.

"And you don't have to get dressed up," he said. "You can sit home in your underwear and watch the ceilidh."

We're we're entertainers and we feel onstage what it's like to feel the human connection, and we can't lose that even if we can't leave our homes.'- Ashley MacIsaac, musician 


There are now more than 175,000 worldwide cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including 407 in Canada.

Four people in Canada have died.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. 

Public health experts agree social distancing is the best way to protect those who are most vulnerable. 

As we adjust to this new normal, MacIsaac says it's more important than ever to remain connected. 

"We're entertainers and we feel onstage what it's like to feel the human connection, and we can't lose that even if we can't leave our homes."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with Ashley McIsaac produced by Katie Geleff and Sarah Jackson. 


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