Natalie MacMaster is a real Canadian treasure.
The internationally-renowned fiddler has brought the Cape Breton, N.S. musical tradition to the world and has collaborated with the legendary Chieftains from Ireland, American legends Béla fleck, Faith Hill, Carlos Santana, Alison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma as well as Canadian stars like Jesse Cook and the venerable children’s performers Sharon, Lois and Bram.
Along the way she has won or been nominated for Grammy Awards, Juno Awards and East Coast Music Awards. She is a member of the Order of Canada and has been awarded three honorary doctorates.
But stopping for lunch on a showery, flurry day in Princeton, B.C., MacMaster is pre-occupied with ordering lunch for she and her daughter Mary Francis on their way to a gig in Port Alberni that night.
“Pardon me, they want me to look at the bread, sorry,” she said before putting the phone on hold at a restaurant in Princeton.
MacMaster is on a six-show tour of B.C. that concludes with one stop in Seattle, Wash. and includes a stop in Nanaimo on March 15 at the Port Theatre.
The show is being touted as an intimate acoustic performance with a three-piece band that involves MacMaster and her longtime pianist Mac Morin and includes her daughter Mary Francis, an accomplished dancer, fiddler and pianist in her own right.
“The show is a different experience from a typical Natalie MacMaster show in that it is more up close and personal,” MacMaster said.
She expects to connect with the audience more between musical numbers, talking about life on the road, parenting and whatever else crosses her mind.
“But it’s still a high energy show,” she said.
Which, of course, it would be given the style of music MacMaster has made a long and rewarding career of playing. Cape Breton music is virtually straight out of the Highlands of Scotland, brought over by Gaelic settlers of Nova Scotia. There it steeped in the traditions of the homeland while absorbing the New World experience. MacMaster grew up with this music and learned it from family members through the legendary Cape Breton kitchen parties and ceilidhs.
MacMaster has been playing professionally for 37 years but she still loves performing and still loves the music. In fact, she looks forward more to performing now than she ever has. As she matures as a performer she has become more comfortable with herself.
“I really feel connected to who I am when I perform shows,” MacMaster said.
But it also provides an escape from the pressures all women feel as primary caregivers and breadwinners.
“Life can become a bit of a blur. It’s a very self-giving role so most mothers, especially mothers with young children, don’t have a lot of time to devote to their own interests, so you kind of put that on the back burner for a while,” MacMaster said.
MacMaster can relate after continually touring and recording through her seven pregnancies and subsequent toddler years. She and husband Donnell Leahy – a master fiddler in his own right and a musical partner as well – have seven children.
She says this smaller-scale tour and stage show gives her a little time to get back to what it was like at the start of her career.
“To get the time just to have me again onstage with my going back to what I did my previous to parenting, it’s very special to me now and I’m very grateful for it,” MacMaster said.
Besides solo performances (she has toured and recorded with her husband and family over the last few years, in addition to solo work), MacMaster was able to record a solo album that was released in 2019 and the response has been very positive, resulting in a nomination for a 2020 Juno Award as well as showing strongly on the Billboard charts. Sketches is a return to a solo sound with a fiery collection of traditional tunes and medleys mixed with new compositions which were recorded with longtime collaborator, guitarist Tim Edey.
“It turned out real great,” MacMaster said. “It was a really great little package.”
As for the future, MacMaster has “tons of stuff” on the go involving writing and creating, touring across Canada later in the year and performing in “really fun festivals.”
It’s safe to say, this country loves Natalie MacMaster. And you know what, she loves this country and her place in it.
“It’s great to be Canadian. It’s great to be a fiddler. It’s great to be a mother. It’s great to be united to the country coast to coast by an instrument; the incredible style of fiddle music that exists from one sea to another. I really feel traditionally our culture is strong.”
WHAT’S ON … Sketches: An Acoustic Evening with Natalie MacMaster at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Sunday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $47.50 to $57.50, available at the Port Theatre box office.