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An early Christmas present: Barra MacNeils to bring East Coast sounds to Orillia May 31

Nova Scotia siblings, about to release a new album, will perform at Orillia Opera House later this month.
No, they’re not half a year early. Orillians who are used to seeing the Barra MacNeils perform their Christmas concert at the Opera House are in for a spring surprise. The Nova Scotia band of siblings will be at the downtown venue May 31.

“It’s been a while since we’ve done a non-Christmas show in Orillia,” Stewart MacNeil, one of the group’s multi-instrumentalists and vocalists, told OrilliaMatters.

They’re not hitting the road simply because they want to; they will soon release a new album for the first time in a few years.

“It is nice to have a new Barra MacNeils project that features what the band does best,” he said, which is “a mix of new and old” sounds, with East Coast party tunes, ballads and an unexpected cover: ABBA’s The Way Old Friends Do.

“It has that end-of-the-night feel — toasting the good times,” MacNeil said. “It was very suitable. I think, possibly, the song is better suited to the Barra MacNeils than to ABBA.”

Barra MacNeils fans will find both the familiar and the fresh on the new album. The Cape Breton traditional music is there, “but we’re not afraid to step over the boundaries,” MacNeil said.

“Some of the songs might feel, for a lack of a better word, a little mainstream, but it still sounds like the Barra MacNeils,” he said.

The band performed earlier this month at the East Coast Music Association’s 30th-anniversary celebration in Halifax, where the audience got to hear new tunes.

“It was nice to road-test some of the new material,” MacNeil said, adding it was well received by the crowd.

The MacNeils — Stewart, Kyle, Lucy and Sheumas — started performing together in 1980. Their other siblings, Ryan and Boyd, later joined the group. Ryan will not be on the upcoming tour, as he is living with his wife in South Africa. However, Jamie Gatti, who has been playing bass with the band for 20 years, will be hitting the road with them.

“He’s like an old shoe,” MacNeil said with a laugh. “He’s very much a part of the family.”

MacNeil is excited to perform songs new and old for Ontario audiences when the band tours the province, starting May 23 in Huntsville and wrapping up June 7 in Brockville, and he thinks they will especially appreciate Lucy’s contribution to the latest tracks.

“Lucy really shines on this with some beautiful ballads,” he said. He expects to bring the Christmas show to town again later this year. “It’s become a real tradition for people,” he said.

Ahead of the new album’s release, the band has made a single — Living the Dream, written by Stewart MacNeil — available on Apple Music and Spotify.

For more information about the band, visit or check out its Facebook and Instagram pages.

For tickets to the May 31 show in Orillia, visit or call 705-326-8011.