Tarbot, Cape Breton’s Music Festival was founded by Steve Grose (Stephen Grose) and Jane Grose. The Groses had moved to Cape Breton from Toronto in 1975 and opened a craft shop along the Cabot Trail. Steve loved the music scene in Cape Breton and thought that an outdoor concert or festival would be an interesting way to highlight the best musicians on the island. He had no event planning experience, but did a little research and booked each act with a phone call. Everyone he called said yes, which lead to the first concert on August 28, 1977.
The site of the festival was the Dean Family farm in Tarbot, Nova Scotia, which was located about 3 miles (5 km) from the Groses. Malcolm Dean (1897-1988) had an amphitheater shaped hill on the property and thought a music festival was a great idea. Dean refused outright payment and instead collected and sold all the beer bottles left on the hill after the concert as his compensation.
The Tarbot Music Festival lasted three years before being shut down. Neighbours of the Dean property in Tarbot did not like the noise and felt their security was threatened with so many people coming to the area. A petition was circulated to stop the festival and was ultimately successful, with the last concert held in August 1979.
During its existence, many people enjoyed attending the festival to see popular Cape Breton acts, such as Sam Moon, Kenzie MacNeil, Ronnie MacEachern, Lori and Dennis Cox, Leon Dubinsky, Lee Cremo, and many others. A record, Tarbot Anthology: Live Recording of the Tarbot Music Festival, was released in 1978 featuring performances from the first festival in 1977 (See: R-58 in the Beaton Institute’s Sound and Moving Image Collection). The corporation “Tarbot, Cape Breton’s Music Festival” was dissolved in 1984.