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Barra MacNeils bring East Coast Christmas to Auditorium stage

Dec 2, 2018 1:28 PM by: Leith Dunick
THUNDER BAY – Growing up in Cape Breton, Christmas was always a joyous time of year for the MacNeil family.

The never-ending party was filled with festive food, friends and family, and of course, plenty of music to celebrate the holiday season.

For the past 35 years, five members of the family have been touring the world as the Barra MacNeils, trying to capture that magic and share it with the world.

On Wednesday they’ll bring their East Coast Christmas tour to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, helping the city find its Yuletide spirit as the holiday season kicks into full gear.

Stewart MacNeil said Christmas has always been a big part of his family’s calendar.

“At home it would be a time when we had a lot of people dropping in and we had a lot of impromptu traditional music and a lot of laughs and great food. Things came to a halt,” said MacNeil, reached by phone in Banff, Alta., home of the group’s latest cross-country tour stop.

Christmas has played a huge role in the Barra MacNeil’s success over the years. The group, which hails from Sydney Mines, N.S. and includes siblings Lucy, Boyd, Stewart, Kyle and Sheumas, has released three Christmas albums.

The band, as comfortable singing beautiful Gaelic ballads as they are pounding out foot-stomping instrumentals, plan to share the best of the best of those records, songs like Miner’s First NoelOn the Very First Christmas and Children’s Winter. They’ve also been known to cover Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Rita MacNeil’s For Mary, For Joseph.

Stewart MacNeil said the show is a mixture of traditional Christmas music and songs that the audience can sing along to as well.

“A lot of the show is about our experiences growing up as a family in Cape Breton and the memories of Christmas and the music as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of music that we grew up on that’s part of the show, but there’s also music you might have heard on the Hebrides at a midnight mass on Christmas Eve,” he said.

“We have three albums of Christmas music that we feature in the show and there certainly is a strong cultural component that I think gives the show a strong identity.”