Natalie MacMaster
at the Whitaker Center
for Science & the Arts,
Harrisburg, PA
(28 April 2005)

Although she had just performed her way through a two-hour-long, high-octane show, she sat there, fresh as a daisy and with all the time in the world, perched on the edge of a table, talking merrily to concert-goers, signing CDs and posing for photos. If nothing else, Natalie MacMaster is fit.

But of course, she is much more than that, as the concert at Harrisburg's Whitaker Center showed. She is an exquisite fiddler, full of fire and finesse, a delightful dancer with elegance and agility and an extremely entertaining all-round performer with a deep-felt desire to demonstrate and share her Cape Breton culture.

For some, an evening of traditional music might seem a little dry. MacMaster performs in such a way that she brings out the best in her music, making it accessible to one and all. She has always attracted some of the best accompanists to help enhance her approach and her current lineup is no exception. Long-time guitar partner Brad Davidge is joined by multi-instrumentalist Matt MacIsaac, bassist and singer John Chiasson, Allan Dewar on piano and Miche Pouliot on drums. During the two sets, the six musicians appeared in various permutations, ranging from the full band to Natalie standing alone. And the music ran the gamut from straight-up traditional to jazz, with almost everything in between.

There is such life in MacMaster's approach to playing. The bow sits lightly in her right hand, yet flies across the strings while the fingers of her left hand perform an intricate dance. There is never a feeling of being rushed. Her sense of ornamentation and embellishment show a mastery of not just the instrument, but also the style. And she is able to fit all this into complex arrangements that enhance the tunes, allow her colleagues to shine and keep the focus on her as group leader.

It was an evening of highlights and contrasts: Dewar and MacMaster playing alone in the old style, Chiasson's vocal performance of "Autumn Leaves," a pipes solo by MacIsaac, Davidge singing "Danny Boy" in a most original and enlightening way -- but it alway came back to Natalie MacMaster.

Reels, strathspeys, jigs, marches -- a rainbow of typical Cape Breton tunes, many with connections to related styles such as Scottish or old-timey, but all played with the skill and vibrancy expected from this talented musician. She took a solo set, standing alone center stage, tapping her feet in time, progressing from one timing to the next as she moved through the tunes. Her technique is to be marveled at: the delicate touch of her fingers, the consummate control of the bow. The set ends and she slips into a strathspey with the full band, taking advantage of the driving rhythm section while weaving harmonies and switching lead with the pipes. She understands the music and its effect better than most.

There is rarely a moment when her feet are still. She taps and moves and sways, adding her own foot percussion as she plays. And at times, she bursts into a complicated routine worthy of Gene Kelly. With her dancing, fiddling and charming conversations, she is a complete performer. Fit as a fiddle, too -- over two hours of playing and still enthusiastic and welcoming to her exhausted fans.

- Rambles
written by Jamie O'Brien
published 28 May 2005