Updated: Feb 6
Toronto, ON - I first remember hearing Loreena McKennitt in 1997 shortly after the release of her 5th studio album titled The Book of Secrets. The first song I had ever heard from her is called "The Mummer's Dance". With my Canadian East Coast roots, specifically Newfoundland and Labrador, the folk music from the province is engrained in my very fibers. Newfoundland's culture is steeped with Irish, English and Scottish influences. The music is no different, and I completely adore it. So when I heard "The Mummer's Dance", I immediately soaked in the sound.
Loreena McKennitt was born in Manitoba, Canada but her music is a clear indication of her love of Celtic music. The multi-talented musician's 3rd studio album is entitled The Visit, which was released in 1991. This album was a breakthrough for Loreena McKennitt, and now, 30 years later, she brings her remarkably talented musical companions to Toronto's iconic Massey Hall to honour the album's release.
The venue for this show was very dimly lit and the older crowd were all dressed to the nines. I recently attended one of the most energetic shows I've ever seen in Australian rock band Airbourne (see that review and show photos here). As Loreena and her band took the stage and started the show with the song "Full Circle", from the 1994 release The Mask and the Mirror, I knew this was going to be something completely different.
McKennitt has assembled a band of world class musicians here, and is nothing like I have ever seen live. As the sounds from harps, cellos, violins, double bass, guitars, accordians, and piano fill the venue, it brings such a gentle state of zen. Cellist Caroline Lavelle even performs with a recorder. Remember that dreaded instrument that everybody had to play in grade school and always ask "Where did playing the recorder ever get us?"? Well, catch some of the sounds from this English musician and you will see first hand, the beauty that lies therein.
Loreena McKennitt - Vocals, Harp, Piano, Accordian
Caroline Lavelle - Cello, Recorder
Brian Hughes - Guitar
Hugh Marsh - Violin
Dudley Phillips - Double Bass, Bass Guitar
With a deep history, there are typically many stories to tell in Irish, and UK culture, and is something Loreena seems fond of sharing as well. Between tracks, she shares her involvement with Indigenous culture, and her tie ins with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Sadly, Loreena lost her fiance in a drowning accident and set up a charity in The Cook Rees Memorial Fund in Water Search and Safety. Through this initiative, Loreena was appointed as Honorary Colonel of the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron.
Loreena McKennitt also shares some history about her harp. She explains to us that her harp is a troubadour harp and that she first purchased it in 1981 and used to busk at Toronto's St. Lawrence Market in the 1980s. With a laugh, she tells us how she used to pay off other buskers if they got to her spot earlier than she did.
At the end of the first half of the set, Loreena explains that the band will play the complete 1991 album The Visit, from beginning to end. She explains that their was some debate with the band as to whether she should provide some commentary between songs, and it was decided that they should play the album straight through. With this, the crowd claps, and with a laugh, she says "Oh... ok then!" Turns out the celtic musician is actually quite funny too. The intimate chat adds a completely different element, to the extremely relaxed atmosphere, and it's quite appealing to me.
And with the second set, the band plays The Visit, from beginning to end, as promised. As with the first set, I take notice of the crowd. The silence is actually deafening, as they sit in complete awe, engrossed by the performance on stage. The dark, moody atmosphere adds to the ambiance, and I'm enthralled by what I'm witnessing here.
Still to now, I have not heard the song that raised my awareness to this Canadian artist. At the completion of The Visit, she graciously thanks the audience for their presence. The band gets up, bows, and they exit stage left. I think "Wait! They haven't played 'The Mummer's Dance'"... but alas, the sweet encore!!!
This stuff is what fantasy sounds like to me. I imagine riders over the green hills of Ireland. It completely eases a stressed, anxious mind, and brings me to a state of comfort and calm. This type of concert is something I have never actually seen first hand, but it's definitely not going to be the last.
A Hundred Wishes
Ages Past, Ages Hence
The Star of the County Down
The Bonny Swans
Never-ending Road (Amhrán Duit)
All Souls Night
Between the Shadows
The Lady of Shalott
Tango to Evora
The Old Ways
The Mummer's Dance
show date: October 3, 2022