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Author Topic: Natalie MacMaster concert - Oct. 23, 2008  (Read 1197 times)
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« on: October 25, 2008, 10:11:24 PM »

Hi everyone!

Sorry it has been so long since I last posted anything on this Forum; I’m nearing the end of the first semester of what should be my last year at my community college before I transfer to a university. Things have been really busy for me lately, but fortunately I made plans way ahead of time to see Natalie MacMaster live in concert in my home city of Tucson, Arizona on October 23.

Since my mother and I had bought our tickets over the phone last June when sales opened, we were able to get good right-side-center row seats about ten rows away from the stage. I remember becoming really nervous after we had taken our seats. I was just as excited and anxious as I had been in October 2005 when I went to see Celtic Woman, and although I didn’t know what kind of night I was in store for, I was certain I would love every minute of it. My mom had no familiarity with Natalie, but I assured her she was going to enjoy her performance. She asked me whether Natalie played a style similar to Mairead’s, and I replied that it was a little different and that the Cape Breton sound and traditions were similar to but not the same as the Irish ones. Natalie does know how to play the Irish style, as well, but that night she would mostly stick with the Cape Breton tunes. Centennial Hall, the name of the theater that’s located on the University of Arizona campus, was packed but was not completely sold out. The majority of the crowd seemed to be made up of middle-aged men and women, though I did see a lot of college students and a few children who looked middle school to high school age.

The show began around 7:30 PM with the event sponsor saying a few words. He mentioned that he sponsored the event because he had loved going out to see the acts held at Centennial Hall for fifty years straight and that he was doing it to give something back to the community. Then there was a huge round of applause as he introduced Natalie and her band. They casually walked onstage, not looking the least bit afraid, and played their first tune before Natalie took some time to talk about her bandmates. The group that performed that night consisted of a 14-year-old cellist named Nathaniel Smith, a Highland bagpiper named Matt MacIsaac, a pianist named Mac Morin, and a drummer/percussionist named JD Blair. There was also a bass guitarist who, for some reason, isn’t mentioned in the program. I can’t recall his name, but I’ll still mention his role in the concert nonetheless. JD, as Natalie joked at the beginning of the show, toured with “Shania something” a few years ago, while Matt was known by Natalie as “the King of the Pipes.” The young Nathaniel had joined the band when he was just 13; he was recommended by many of Natalie‘s close friends when she told them she wanted to add a cello player to her band. Mac was multi-talented in his own right and recently released his third album. At least two members were from Cape Breton Island besides Natalie, and I can clearly recall that one was from Troy (in Nova Scotia).

The bagpiper turned out to be just as charismatic onstage as Natalie herself. Whenever Matt chimed in with his Highland pipes during a song, the audience would really start getting into the music and the instrument itself lent this kind of extra excitement to the concert. Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined it without the pipes. There was one song in which Matt played solo and without any accompaniment; it seemed to have lasted around five minutes. He definitely showed off the versatility of the Highland bagpipes as well as his raw skills with them. Matt not only played the pipes with extraordinary dexterity, he also played the tin whistle and banjo throughout the concert. At one point, he even played two tin whistles at once to create a quintessential Celtic tune. He sat on the left-hand side of the stage and often switched back and forth between the pipes, whistle, and banjo.

The piano, as Natalie commented, had its own Cape Breton flair to it. Mac mostly played backup for the band, but there were two parts of the show in which his talents were showcased. The first was a solo piece in which he proved to me that practically any rhythm that can be played on the Highland pipes, no matter how complex, can be played on the piano. The second occurred after Natalie playfully took Mac by his tie and led him to center stage, where he showed off his remarkable step-dancing and tap-dancing abilities. Mac and Natalie also square danced briefly during one of the last songs.

The drummer, JD, was also charismatic. He played the national anthem with his drumsticks during one of his solo parts, which evoked lots of laughter, and played a great drum solo right afterward that showed off his capability. His full drum set and outgoing personality were a perfect addition to Natalie’s fiddling and Matt’s pipes. JD not only kept the beat, he added a characteristic edginess to the group’s overall sound.

The bassist was also incredible, though his solo part seemed shorter than those of his bandmates. He typically jammed next to JD on the right side of the stage. With bass guitar and cello as backup, Natalie’s band sets itself apart from the usual Celtic ensemble.

I was most amazed by Nathaniel, who was able to go on tour this year because his mother homeschools him. I never saw a cellist play Celtic rhythms before, but he was consistently on the mark and always gave his own unique feel to the individual songs. Nathaniel managed to keep up with Natalie‘s furious fiddling, which impressed me a great deal (especially considering the high-speed pace of some of the reels). I can understand why Natalie wanted to add a cello to her group; in the hands of an experienced virtuoso, it has a haunting quality and jamming element to it that is well suited to the Cape Breton tradition.

At one point toward the end of the show, Natalie took off her heels and played (and danced) barefoot. She even did the Moonwalk, which the audience immediately recognized and responded to. Her trademark blend of step-dancing techniques is something to behold; it just can’t be adequately summed up or described in a show review or magazine article. It was mostly the hard-shoe dancing that wowed the audience, but even without shoes Natalie could still bring the house down.

In addition to the great music, there were lots of funny and cute moments. After the first song, for example, Natalie asked whether there were any natives of Nova Scotia in the crowd, and there were some excited screams. Three people near the front of the stage yelled out that they were from that part of Canada, and she replied, “three people; that’s enough for a fight!” During that same pause in the action, she revealed that she was pregnant and expecting another child. She wasn’t sure yet whether it was a boy or girl, but she said the baby was due in February. She also mentioned her husband Donnell and that she was in the audience watching along with the music fans last February when Leahy came to Tucson.

Much later and after the intermission, Natalie had the lighting technician lower the lights so that her two small children could be wheeled onto the far corner of the stage in their carriage (albeit very briefly). The crowd melted at seeing the little ones and Mac began softly playing a lullaby on the piano for the occasion. They were asleep, and had been backstage with some of Natalie’s friends and family. On that note, Natalie revealed toward the end of the night that the woman who was managing the small merchandise booth outside the concert hall was her mother, who had flown in from Cape Breton to see her perform and help out with the CD and DVD sales.

During another pause between songs, Natalie and the band told the audience about what things they had bought at the Tucson Mall a few days prior. Mac got up and showed off his new jeans, and it suddenly turned into a hilarious moment that I’m still smiling about today. JD began playing a steady “runway beat” on his drum set as Mac strutted up and down the stage from his piano, showing off his wardrobe. Both Natalie and the entire crowd laughed out loud at that one.

The last act was perhaps the most uninhibited one, for by then the audience and I had gotten used to the traditional sound and were clapping along to the beat. At the end of the show and after a brief encore, the performers strode to the edge of the stage, formed a line, and took their final bows. I could tell that no one wanted to leave; many people just stood there in standing ovation, applause which lasted many minutes after the band had departed backstage and out of view. I could easily see on some of their faces that they wished it wasn’t quite over yet. The concert was two or three hours from start to finish, but time seemed to go by quickly.

All in all, there was plenty of  humor, toe-tapping fun, and raw talent to fill the show. The audience was very lively - at one point, I noted that the entire front row on my side of the theater was dancing in their seats. There were only one or two slow songs that I can remember, and the rest were what musicians would call reels and fast-paced jigs. The type of tune that most got the crowd going was the one that began at a leisurely pace and accelerated into a fast-paced reel. It was easy to judge how unique the Cape Breton sound was by listening to the tunes, and I could also see an easy connection between traditional Scottish music and Bluegrass music here in the States. I could easily tell that Natalie loves her job as a musician, too. Besides being one of the nicest people you could ever meet, it was very apparent that she was truly enjoying herself as she played for us; she approached every song with a renewed joy that I continue to identify her with. If Natalie ever makes another visit to Arizona, whether it be in Tucson or otherwise, I definitely want to be at that show. I now consider myself a Cape Breton music fan for life, even though I’ve only just begun learning about the rich tradition. As Natalie said at the end of the show, “See you in Cape Breton!”

« Last Edit: October 25, 2008, 10:15:45 PM by Aldhelm » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2008, 12:26:27 PM »

Wow! Nice review! Sounds like a great night. The folks here at CrestFest are trying to get her here for the concert the first weekend of August next year. Not sure  they'll get her but I'll sure go if they do. Thanks Collin!

An fidléir's mínealaíne i sprite iomlán sin
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« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2008, 02:17:14 PM »

She's fantastic Aldhelm.  I'm glad you were able to see her live and enjoyed the concert!  Grin

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