Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy
Thursday, November 30th @ 7pm
Fuller Hall - St. Johnsbury Academy | St Johnsbury, VT
The entertainment world is filled with extraordinary stories. But few match the beguiling true-life tale of Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Canada’s reigning couple of Celtic music, whose dazzling career achievements underpin an incomparable off-stage life.
Indeed, when two of the planet’s very best fiddle players married in 2002, the proverbial mantelpiece was instantly crammed with JUNO and East Coast Music Awards. Though MacMaster and Leahy followed different trajectories—she a Cape Breton native who could step-dance before she could walk; he the oldest brother of acclaimed family group Leahy—both had assuredly crested the traditional music peak.
Their first recorded collaboration, 2015’s “One,“ which was followed by 2016’s “A Celtic Family Christmas” (and which cemented the couple’s status as powerhouses on the seasonal circuit) confirmed MacMaster and Leahy were as dynamic working together as they were working apart.
That’s no small feat when your combined album sales exceed one million; when past collaborators include classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bluegrass star Alison Krauss and banjo ace Béla Fleck; and when your ecstatic fan base (which boasts Shania Twain and The Chieftains) stretches from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Sydney, Australia.
“The fiddle was definitely common ground for us when we first got together,” MacMaster, recalls with a chuckle. “But I was so in awe of Donnell’s family, of 11 siblings who could play and had a family band. And here I am now doing almost exactly the same thing. Well, kind of.”
MacMaster is referring to her and Leahy’s six musically gifted children, who today are the centrepiece of the MacMaster/Leahy live set though not because the couple necessarily envision showbiz careers for Mary Frances, Michael, Clare, Julia, Alec, and Sady. Rather, the pair realized early on that being on the road without their kids was infinitely harder than touring with them. That the children were already being home schooled (MacMaster has a teaching degree) made enacting that decision easier.
When vintage comedian W.C. Fields famously quipped, "Never work with animals or children," he clearly hadn’t seen the MasMaster/Leahy clan fiddling, step-dancing and positively delighting audiences.
MacMaster reflects. “This whole thing—first playing music by myself, then playing music with Donnell, then touring with Donnell and the children and all of us playing music together—has evolved in a very natural way.
True-life stories in the entertainment world (or anywhere) don’t come more remarkable than that.