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Barra MacNeils to bring sounds of East Coast Christmas to Weyburn

The Cape Breton-based family group returns to Weyburn for their national Christmas show tour

WEYBURN – A long-standing Canadian favourite, the Barra MacNeils will bring the unique sounds of Christmas music from the Maritimes to the Cugnet Centre stage in Weyburn as the next installment of the Weyburn Concert Series on Monday, Nov. 28.

The family music group has been in Weyburn before, but they haven’t performed here since they headlined the “World’s Biggest Fowl Supper” event to raise money for what is now the Cugnet Centre.

With 38 concerts over just 36 days, the tour began on Vancouver Island, B.C., on Nov, 17, and will wrap up on Nova Scotia’s East coast Dec. 22, touching down in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and finally their home province of Nova Scotia.

The concert features a highly entertaining mix of traditional seasonal repertoire along with entertaining new musical twists, all stamped with their lush harmonies and intricate instrumental stylings.

Fans can look forward to classic favourites including O Holy Night, Ave Maria, Christmas in Killarney and Auld Lang Syne, as well as seasonal stories, music, singing, dance and memories that will extend beyond the season and last a lifetime.

As band member Stewart MacNeil noted, there weren’t very many concerts to do during COVID, other than some virtual shows, and then last year they began a tour in Ontario but was shut down before they could make it back to the Maritimes.

“This is the first year we’re back in the West for a long time,” he said of the group, based in Cape Breton Island.

“We’ve been doing our Christmas tour for over 20 years now. It’s become a tradition for a lot of people who try to make the show every year,” said MacNeil, noting they draw on the music from their three Christmas albums.

The group is known for their family vocals, and “a heavy arsenal of instruments,” he said. “It really has become very popular.”

The music includes some Gaelic tunes, and some very touching moments, said Stewart, and in particular their performance of “O Holy Night” is a very popular selection.

“I know it’s a song that’s been recorded many times, but people really enjoy our performance. The show itself puts people in the mood for the season,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot of banter in the show, and stories about what it was like growing up and having Christmas in Cape Breton.”

He said there was always a lot of music in their home, and at their grandmother’s house, as they were growing up.

“For us it was very positive, the memories of the food, the music, and getting out to have a game of road hockey – all of those things that made Christmas special. When people come to the show, they get a sense of the joy of the season. It’s very much a pleasure for us to do this show,” said Stewart.

The show will take people musically from the “kitchen party” atmosphere to the sounds of a midnight mass, “and everything in between,” he added.

“We are multi-instrumentalists, and everybody is a vocalist as well,” said Stewart, noting the group are five MacNeil family members, plus the bassist, Jamie Gatti, who has played with the group for over 25 years and is very much a part of them.

“It’s something we’ve had a lot of fun with. What I do appreciate about the show is it’s become a multi-generational show. It has that range of feeling in the music,” he added.

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