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SYDNEY MINES – Going on tour is nothing new for the members of the Barra MacNeils who have probably played in every city, town and village in Atlantic Canada but the one tour they did go on this summer took them places that even flutist Stewart MacNeil never expected to reach.
The band was part of the One Ocean Expeditions Fins and Fiddles tour through Atlantic Canada earlier this year, going to such places as Les Isles de la Madeleine, the Gaspe Peninsular, Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and two highlights, St. Pierre et Miquelon as well as Sable Island. While they played on board for those taking part in the tour, it was also a rare opportunity for seasoned travellers like the Barras to see some rare sights.
“We got to go ashore on Sable Island,” said MacNeil on Thursday. “It’s such a mythical place and I never imagined I would be stepping on shore there to see the horses.
“I didn’t get to play for the ponies but it was certainly a unique moment that I won’t forget.”
In a career filled with special moments, some of the biggest involves their annual hometown concerts to be held this year on Monday, August 12, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney Mines.
“It’s definitely one of the highlights of our summer,” says MacNeil. “We get to see people we haven’t seen in a while and even some people who have never been to a Barras concert.”
When you consider the Barras have been together for 32 years, it does seem unlikely that there are still people who haven’t seen the Celtic stalwarts on stage. They’re known throughout the world as one of the top Celtic music acts and the accolades keep coming. This year they won Entertainers of the Year from the East Coast Music Awards, an honour generally considered by musicians to be the biggest award you can get from the ECMAs.
In addition to several Cape Breton concerts next week, the Barras will do a series of concerts in the fall and then in November and December they will go on their annual Christmas tour across Canada which will end in Cape Breton a day or two before Christmas. Final details on those tour dates are still being worked out.
But if you need a Barra fix before then, the band will be doing a show at the Savoy on October 12 as part of Celtic Colours.
But until then, the band prepares for the Sydney Mines show, rehearsing special tunes from their extensive catalogue. There are some tunes that only get played here but the extra work getting them ready is worth it.
“It’s always been great to play our hometown – for us, it’s a labour of love.”