SYDNEY, N.S. -- Known for fiddle music and fall foliage, Celtic Colours is one of the Maritimes most popular music festivals.

This year, the annual Cape Breton festival was forced online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But organizers say the virtual performances didn’t stop the show from going on, or thriving, with big crowds tuning in digitally.

“We can confirm that we had over 250,000 qualified views of our 11 concerts over the week,” says Mike MacSween, executive director of Celtic Colours.

Like most annual events, the 2020 version of the Celtic Colours International Festival had to go virtual.

MacSween says he knew that some aspects of the iconic event couldn’t possibly be the same.

“When they’re out in communities, in small, intimate community halls and churches all around Cape Breton Island, the experience is magical. And as you probably can imagine, it is hard to replicate that online,” says MacSween.

But when artists took to their virtual stages and started playing, the musical magic was as spectacular as ever.

“The people there, they made it super easy,” says performer Adam Young. “And it definitely had that Celtic Colours feel, even though we couldn’t see the audience.”

The online turnout was actually larger than the 2019 version of the festival, which sold roughly 24,000 tickets for in-person concerts, and had just over 100,000 tune in online.

“It’s encouraging to see where the folks were viewing from” says MacSween. “It was a good mix of folks from here in Atlantic Canada, and from around the world.”

The online concerts were free. With no revenue at the gate, and no tourism spinoffs, there was a financial hit from the festival.

But organizers say plenty of online viewers showed their love for the music by making donations.

Now the hope is that things will be back to normal for Celtic Colours 25th anniversary year in 2021.

“We’re encouraged about the future of the festival,” says MacSween. “We just hope that we’re able to get back to inviting the world to join us next year.”

“But if we can’t do that, I think this was a great format,” adds Young.

Organizers say the concerts are available to watch online until the end of the month, so those viewership numbers are expected to continue to grow.