A multi-award winning Celtic and roots-inspired family band will cruise the Island’s coast as part of a social tour this month.
At the heart of the Edmonton-based group, siblings Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade and Solon McDade first started performing together with their parents in the ’70s. In their youth, they entertained members of the British royal family, as well as audiences for the Commonwealth Games and Expo ‘86.
After playing in separate bands for several years, the siblings teamed up again and formed the McDades in the early 2000s when they realized they missed the ‘family edge.’
Approximately a decade ago, the siblings were the subject of a feature-length documentary called The McDades – Brother Brother Sister Making Music that celebrated family, music and what it takes to make it as as non-commercial artists in Canada.
Bassist, vocalist, composer and producer Solon described their concerts as high-energy with a “real mix of genres.”
“It’s not a typical Celtic music show or folk show,” he said. “Our roots are definitely in Celtic music and folk music, but we do improvising – we have extended solos. And we try to feature all of the instruments in the band.”
Solon said the family band is influenced by different world music, and as such, their sound is “a bit more of an adventure.”
“You can see us one night and the show will go a certain way, and then you see us another night and it might be something completely different. It’s pretty fun that way,” he said.
Although the siblings will often work collaboratively on new material together, they also perform covers of well-known Canadian songs, such as on their latest album, The Empress, which features a rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1974 song Sundown.
“When we were travelling in Europe, a lot of people would ask us what Canadian music was like. We always say like, ‘Well, we’re playing Canadian music,’ but that’s a really hard question to answer. So we learned some different cover tunes … [and] we’d say ‘check this out, it might be a song that you know.’ And a song like Sundown is very well known all over the place.”
As with most of their albums, The Empress also features a French song, Les Trois Capitaines, as a nod toward Canada’s bilingualism.
Solon said he’s always loved speaking French since he not only grew up attending French immersion in Edmonton, but lived in Montreal for many years. The group has tried to include at least one French song on their albums to also show the value of what it brings to their music and how it enriches their lives.
The name of the album, Solon said, was inspired by the third card of the Major Arcana tarot deck, and shows an artistic rendition of Shannon on the cover.
“The character of the empress is something that we were drawn to, like a powerful woman who nurtures and has a Mother Earth element to her that is taking seeds of things and helping them to grow into a bigger thing,” the bassist said. “And Shannon has always played a big role in co-producing – she’s really great at motivating people to elevate their performance.”
For their Nanaimo-premiere concert on Feb. 22 at the Unitarian Hall, the group plans to play new songs from The Empress as well as favourites from past albums.
The McDades will also stop at the Old Church Theatre in Courtenay on Feb. 23, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Victoria on Feb. 24, the Quadra Village Community Centre on Quadra Island on Feb. 25, and the Rogue Folk Club in Vancouver on Feb. 26.
In addition to their existing Juno Award, Independent Music Award and Canadian Folk Music Awards, the family band has also been nominated for three CFMAs in 2023, including Instrumental Group of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year and Ensemble of the Year, as well as a Juno nomination for Traditional Roots Album of the Year.
Tickets for the Nanaimo show can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.ca.