It started with Lyle Lovett in July and continued just a few weeks ago with My Fair Lady, but this week is when the Mount Baker Theatre’s 2012-2013 season kicks into high gear with two shows that feature artists that have a combined seven decades worth of playing and performing under their collective belt.
First to take the stage at the Baker will be fiddler extraordinaire Natalie MacMaster, who will showcase both her knowledge of Cape Breton music and her impossibly nimble way with a fiddle at 8pm Sat., Oct. 20.
As everyone who knows me is well aware, I harbor something akin to hatred for certain musical instruments. For instance, I find that the inclusion of the harmonica almost never enhances a song, and a run-in with a bagpiper can serve to ruin my whole day.
The fiddle, on the other hand, is an instrument I have a deep affinity for. And when it comes to folks who have the ability to explore all the musical nooks and crannies into which this instrument can journey—and do so with grace and abundant charisma—MacMaster is unmatched. It’s likely that few people ever say they want to grow up to be a world-class Cape Breton fiddler; however, when you start to display a certain mastery of the stringed instrument at a mere nine years old—as MacMaster did—the notion doesn’t seem quite so farfetched.
And being from a family chock full of renowned fiddlers doesn’t hurt either.
Indeed, MacMaster comes from a clan of accomplished Cape Breton fiddlers, although she’s strayed from those familial and musical roots to incorporate everything from Irish and Scottish music to bluegrass into her considerable repertoire. It’s this ability to transcend genres and styles, as well as her skill as an entertainer (being from a family of performers, it’s likely she comes by this talent honestly as well), that makes her so popular with audiences close to home and far away from her Nova Scotia roots.
After MacMaster and her fiddle relinquish the Mount Baker Theatre’s mainstage, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will show up to claim it at 7:30pm Wed., Oct. 24.
While the band has achieved acclaim and won awards almost since its inception in 1966 (when a very young Jackson Browne performed both guitar and vocal duties for the group), the band will always be known for such hits as their version of “Mr. Bojangles” and a catchy little ditty called “Fishin’ in the Dark.” Indeed, I harbor memories of cruising down the road during a late-summer evening during my high-school years singing along to “Fishin’ in the Dark” with my four best girlfriends.
This is proof that: 1. Certain songs have the ability to transcend generations and genres (my friends and I, who came of age during the grunge era, could hardly be considered country music fans) and 2. My burgeoning hipster sensibilities were no match for such a powerful sing-along jam.
Of course, if all the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had in its musical arsenal was one mid-’80s hit song, they would not have been able to eke out a four-decade-long career that is still going strong even today. Through personnel changes, name changes and the inevitable changes that come via time and experience, the band has retained its status as one of the progenitors of popular country music and remains an inspiration for all who follow in their trend-setting path.
In fact, on just two of their albums alone—the seminal Will the Circle Be Unbroken, volumes one and two—the band collaborated with Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Levon Helm, former Byrds Chris Hillman and Rodger McGuinn, and more. If it’s true that people are judged by the company they keep, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band should receive favorable judgment indeed, given this rarefied group of legendary musicians and performers.
Whether you find yourself drawn to the lively and masterful fiddling of Natalie MacMaster or the down-home sounds of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (or both), there’s little doubt that the Mount Baker Theatre is your destination for a foot-stompin’ good time. Dancing in the aisles, while it may not exactly be encouraged, is certainly understandable.
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