Cape Breton Christmas in Vermont

What has blond hair, plays a mean fiddle and dances like she was born with taps on her toes? The woman who stole my life, Natalie MacMaster. She’s cute, she’s funny, she rips on the fiddle and step dances like there’s no tomorrow. She has a husband, 3 kids and still holds a kick-ass band together that tours the country blowing audiences away with her rhythmic fiddle tunes.

From Twinkle Twinkle Little Star  to Tullochgorum, Cape Breton Fiddle Maven, Natalie MacMaster, once again mesmerized audiences last night at the Flynn Center in Burlington. I’ve been a huge fan of this Cape Breton fiddler since I first started playing fiddle over 10 years ago. This must have been at least the 9th time I’ve seen her in concert and each time I watch her I’m amazed at how refined she’s become. She just plain puts on a great show! With her fast fingers and fancy footwork you can’t help but want to dance when you hear her play.

A voice over of her little daughter telling Christmas stories prompted an angelic Christmas tune that started the evening. The show was peppered with audio clips of her mom describing Christmas at the MacMasters and stories of how Natalie got started playing (hence the Twinkle Twinkle reference).  It was touching. A local high school choir sang a few carols in the second set and of course Natalie played her ripping reels and danced around the stage like snowflakes gliding through the air on a windy winter’s night.

In recent years, she’s had a full on rock band backing her up. The last time she came to Vermont she ditched the rock band and focused on  the roots of Cape Breton music. Two years ago she hired cellist Nathaniel Smith, who joined her band at the age of 13.  Nathaniel adds a colorful flavor to the traditional fiddle and piano sound. Last night she told the story of when she asked Darol Anger, Mark O’Connor and a few other legendary musicians, who she should get to play cello in her band,  they all separately recommended Nathaniel. And I can see why. This now 15-year old, has a mature set of chops and his stage presence is confident and musical. Hard to believe he’s so young.

The talented pianist, Mac Morin, spent the night tickling the ivory, making jokes and ripping out a dance number or two with Natalie. And instead of  her normal drummer and drum kit, Natalie hired percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Cathy Porter who played accordion, washboard and a variety of other percussion instruments. I don’t know about you but I find the best percussionists know when to jump in with a beat and also know when to back off.  Cathy had it going on.  She really added a nice flavor to the music without taking anything away. It was tight. And John Chiasson, who has been playing with Natalie for quite some time played guitar, bass and even whipped out a few vocals on some Christmas music.

My seat was in the balcony, (the best acoustics in the house) and I swear the floor was shaking from everyone dancing. Once again, she had everyone on their feet and clapping for more. Here is a video of one of my favorite tunes (not from last night though – sorry) that Natalie always plays impeccably at her shows. Enjoy! And by the way, Natalie will be coming back to Vermont in the new year with her husband Donelle Leahy for a show that should not be missed.  Check out her schedule for more details.

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