PICTOU – Laughter and visitors were integral parts of Stewart MacNeil’s Christmas growing up in Cape Breton.
The Barra MacNeils bring the sounds of their newest holiday album to Pictou on Monday. SUBMITTED
For the last 13 years, his ritual has been performing holiday shows with his family.
“It’s become a tradition for all the people. They make it part of their Christmas.”
This year won’t be an exception, with the Barra MacNeils stopping in Pictou next week during their East Coast tour.
The tour comes right after the release of their newest album, “O Christmas Three.”
“For people that know the first two, it feels like it’s part of a set of three.”
Many of the songs come from Cape Breton artists, including Rita MacNeil’s “For Mary, For Joseph.”
Although it’s one of Rita’s lesser-known songs, Stewart said it’s always been one of his favourites.
He remembers the band recording back-up vocals for the original track during the summer, taking turns in front of the microphone.
“It’s funny how Christmas music is made sometimes.”
The band’s first Christmas special with Rita is what pushed them to make their own festive record.
“The legacy of her songs, they’re certainly going to live on for a long time,” he said.
The new album also features Bruce Guthro, Ron Sexsmith, as well as traditional pieces.
Recording has its benefits, but performing live and interacting with their fans is what has kept the band going for the past 26 years.
MacNeil said it’s satisfying to put all their effort into a show and have the audience respond.
Their original fans continue to come to their shows, and pass down the admiration to their families.
“I think those bonds develop over the years.”
It never gets boring for MacNeil, partly because of the variety.
Aside from vocals and step dancing, he also plays accordion, the tin whistle, the flute, the bouzouki and the guitar.
“I think if I just did one thing, I’d get tired of it.”
Writing and learning Gaelic songs keep it interesting as well.
He said Celtic music has so much to offer, a never-ending pool.
“That’s what we grew up on. It’s very much a part of who we are.”
They’re looking forward to their show at the deCoste Centre on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
Tickets range from $25 for students to $38 for adults.
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