Masters of the fiddle and Celtic music, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, are once again back on tour with their Celtic Family Christmas concert tour, and touching down in Cranbrook on November 14.
The couple’s two oldest children, accomplished musicians and performers in their own right, are joining them on stage, to help kick off the Christmas season.
Natalie MacMaster last played Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre in March, 2020; a sold-out show that was Cranbrook’s last live concert before the pandemic shut things down for an extended duration.
Back on the road, MacMaster says the spirit of Christmas is a throughline that reconnects not just the pre-pandemic days with the post-pandemic days, but our childhoods with our adulthoods. That’s the spirit that Celtic Family Christmas brings to the stage.
“I cherish that feeling,” MacMaster told the Townsman in an interview. “The world is changing — thank God Christmas still feels like Christmas. You get attached to the things of your childhood that felt right and good and true, and as you age you find you treasure those things more now.”
And like that spirit, each year that MacMaster and Leahy bring that show out on the road, there is a fresh charge.
“The freaky part is, that when we do a Christmas show, I think ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I love in a show, I can’t imagine what we’re going to do next year.’ And then as a whole year of life passes, with all the things you can’t foresee, and by the time the next year comes around, you like ‘I want to change this, and I want to change this,’ and you do it, and you think ‘that’s where I want it to be, and how I’m going to top this next year?’”
Even though the pandemic restrictions were lifting last year, MacMaster and Leady only did four shows in 2021, staying within Ontario.
“But I’m grateful for that — we got to do four awesome Christmas shows last year.”
So now, this year, there is that sense of joy and excitement getting back on the road.
“I think the thing that makes a person enjoy life, or be happy, or at peace, is feeling fulfilled,” MacMaster said. “As much as we tried our best to embrace the changes of the last couple of years, I was not fulfilled. There is nothing that gives me greater peace than knowing I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. For me, music is that. I’m thrilled — there are multidimensional waves of joy coming from my heart.”
This year, A Celtic Family Xmas, which contains a theatrical element that will thrillingly traverse time and continents while contextualizing the music and its players, will touch down across Canada, including Cranbrook Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m. at Key City Theatre.
“Donnell and I have spent the last couple of weeks refining details,” MacMaster said. “First of all, the set is really cozy, candlelit and that sort of thing. “
But being so early in the Christmas season, the show will have a different vibe than if it were, say, right before Christmas.
“We don’t want to do the same thing then as we would on December 2,” MacMaster said. “It’s just a different headspace. So we want to work with that headspace, and we have this concept of just guiding people in the night of the concert, as the concert goes on, just where we’re at and where we’re heading for. Connecting that to when we were kids, how we were at that time and what we knew was coming.
“For example, in November, kids were and are prepping for school concerts — and the songs and the music tended to be a little more light-hearted. And as we get closer to Christmas, you’re talking more about the real meaning of Christmas. So it’s just going through the course of the night in that kind of fashion.”
MacMaster and Leahy’s two oldest children will be accompanying the tour. Mary Frances Leahy, their oldest daughter, has finished her debut recording of original music, and will be featured on fiddle. Their son Michael will be featured on accordion, guitar and step-dancing. And Remi Arsenault, a talented guitarist from PEI, will be part of the band.
There’s other news in the MacMaster-Leahy realm — they just finished their fourth CD together. “Canvas” will be released in March.
“We’re featuring some pieces of material that we’re very thrilled about. One of the tracks we share with YoYo Ma — we’ll be playing that piece for the first time.”
Rhiannon Giddens is also featured on the album, singing a Gaelic song that MacMaster wrote about her grandmother (Woman of the House).
MacMaster and Leahy, among Canada’s most renowned fiddlers, have toured extensively over the years both together and separately, selling out venues across the continent. MacMaster, an Order of Canada recipient, has released 11 albums, won two Juno Awards, 11 East Coast Music Awards and is a Grammy Award nominee. She has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Jesse Cook, Allison Kraus, Johnny Reid and many many more.
Leahy is a three-time Juno Award winner, with his internationally acclaimed music/dance group. He is widely recognized as one of the best Celtic fiddlers in the world and is widely known for his high energy playing style.
Celtic Family Christmas plays the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook on November 14.