Natalie MacMaster & Friends:
Bringing the World Home
at Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre,
Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton
(6 October 2006)

It was nice to have the Celtic Colours opening take place on the doorstep of Cape Breton and just miles from the headliner's childhood home of Troy.

The two words one hears most often associated with Natalie MacMaster's shows are "energy" and "energy." The show tonight confirmed every word. Natalie, on stage, is high energy and fairly electric, so it's no surprise that the music and the night flowed with the same vigour.

Natalie and her band opened the show with a rousing reel set, and then Natalie moved from fiddle to feet on an uptempo dance number with solid pounding by drummer Miche Pouliot.

One set had the band seated around Natalie as if they were holding a home jam session and they swung off a number of great tunes. Natalie even switched to banjo and that was a portent of things to come with Bela Fleck. This amazing New York banjo player showered us with a range of styles and arrangements -- and left no doubt about why he's a multi-awardwinning player-performer.

Carlos Nunez has been a favourite of Celtic Colours festivalgoers since 2002, so he was a strong choice for this event. He is a colourful player with his many pipes and he enlivens the music so you almost see it flowing out over the audience. He sends it out there as a gift for each person in attendance.

Hayley Westenra, the young singer of Welsh-Irish background who comes from New Zealand, opened many hearts and is sure to gain new fans with her clear, true voice. Her renditions of "Ave Maria" and "Both Sides Now" were youthful and strong, giving new character to these timeless songs.

The crowd were treated to some special Cape Breton moments when Natalie's husband Donnell Leahy joined her and they played the "Anniversary Waltz," when their mothers, Minnie MacMaster and Julie Leahy, took a turn stepdancing, and when Natalie's uncle Buddy MacMaster played with her for a set backed by members of the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association.

The most important thing to note is that as big as the concert was with the large venue, the PBS cameras, the big screens, the large crowd and the enormous stage, there was still a real and vibrant Cape Breton atmosphere surrounding the concert and it was the people in the audience as much as the performers on stage who contributed to that. Audience anticipation has become a wonderful and marked characteristic of this festival and if it can be generated at the large venues as well as at the smaller ones, so much the better.

With a lot of mixing and matching musicians to keep it all interesting, this was a blend of all the right ingredients for a Celtic grand opening. On the other hand, it was a gigantic warm up wrapped in a fine-large Cape Breton welcome for what's promised on the following eight days and nights across this island.

by Virginia MacIsaac
21 October 2006