Entertainment Local

Barra MacNeils perform in Barrie on Sunday

By Susan Doolan, Special to Postmedia Network

The Barra MacNeils bring an East Coast Christmas to Barrie’s Georgian Theatre Sunday. Tickets are $50, available at the box office, 705-739-4228. SUBMITTED

The Barra MacNeils bring an East Coast Christmas to Barrie’s Georgian Theatre Sunday. Tickets are $50, available at the box office, 705-739-4228. SUBMITTED

Celebrate the season with the Barra MacNeils.

It’s almost like taking a trip to the East Coast for the holidays except the five siblings are bringing their family Christmas here, to Barrie, this weekend.

The concert is part of a cross-Canada tour which has become an annual tradition for the MacNeils.

“It’s everything from a Cape Breton kitchen party to midnight mass,” said Stewart MacNeil, the middle sibling of six who span an 20 years in age between the youngest and oldest.

The MacNeils mark their 30th anniversary this year and their 17th cross-Canada Christmas tour. The Christmas concerts began after a guest appearance on one of Rita MacNeil’s televised holiday specials. It sparked lot of mail requesting the music the group performed - their arrangements of traditional carols and family vocals and sister Lucy’s solo version of O Holy Night were a hit.

The MacNeils started out with a small tour of the East Coast and it’s continued to snowball ever year.

The Barra MacNeils have also recorded three Christmas albums, among other music, performed in a couple of their own holiday special for TV, as well as live concert tours around the globe.

Growing up in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, Christmas was a time when people would drop by, enjoy some food and refreshments and spontaneously play music together. It is the spirit of these Christmas kitchen parties that the MacNeils bring to their live concerts.

“It’s really about the traditional carols, stories, a cappella music, a few good laughs and everybody is featured in the show, and of course, the step dancing and fiddling,” said MacNeil, adding that it will include music from all their Christmas recordings. “There are also a lot of interesting, wonderful pieces of Gaelic music, new and old, and contemporary songs written in the last few years.”

Today, it is the MacNeil siblings who drop in to their parents’ home for visits Christmas evening after spending the day with their own families. All live within 45 minutes of each other with the exception of Ryan, who lives in South Africa, his wife’s home. They grew up around music, and their mother, who was not a professional musician, encouraged them to play together. She taught herself how to play the piano and guitar and wrote songs and she wanted her children to have formal music lessons.

“She’s a wonderful traditional step dancer and teacher as well,” said MacNeil, adding that they were exposed to a lot of different styles of music and while it influenced them, the core of what the group does is traditional.

Today, Lucy, Boyd, Stewart, Kyle and Sheumas play a variety of instruments from the accordion to the guitar, piano, fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, banjo, Celtic harp, tin whistles, bouzouki, flute and more. Long-time member Jamie Gatti joins the group on bass. And there’s always some step-dancing, all learned from their mother.

For Stewart, who continues to live in Sydney Mines, Christmas is special because it’s a time to be thankful, to stop the clock for a bit, take stock of the year and get ready for the next.

The MacNeils finish their Christmas tour in Halifax just before the holiday. The new year will see a new album, a mix of traditional elements, instrumental, original and contemporary songs, which Stewart feels will start another chapter for The Barra MacNeils.

The Barra MacNeils bring an East Coast Christmas to Barrie’s Georgian Theatre on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $50, available at the box office, 705-739-4228  

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