Fiddle dee dee

Canadian musician pumps life into Celtic tunes

Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster was in Toronto on Aug. 8 but only for a few hours.

After a brief stopover, she and her musical entourage were heading back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the Grammy Award-nominee lives.

Fiddle player Natalie MacMaster will headline the Seventh Annual Free Outdoor Concert Friday night on the northeast lawn of the Lied Center. The concert starts at 7 p.m. The Family Arts Festival is from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Lied Center's courtyard area.

MacMaster spends most of the fall and spring on the road. In the summer, the touring schedule is pared back to weekends. While the road can be grueling, she thrives on being in front of an audience.

“The crowd is where I get my energy,” she said.

MacMaster and her band, which includes bagpipes, piano, bass, guitar and drums, will be headlining the Seventh Annual Free Outdoor Concert at 7 p.m. Friday on the Lied Center lawn.

“It’s very much upbeat and danceable music with Latin influences, African, flamenco, but mostly Celtic music,” she said, describing the tunes she and her backup musicians plan to pay on the Lawrence stage.

MacMaster, 29, is one of Canada’s most respected and beloved musicians. She has performed alongside Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, The Chieftains, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Hornsby, Bonnie Raitt, Ricky Skaggs, Mark O’Connor and others. She received a 2001 Grammy Award nomination in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album for “My Roots Are Showing.”

About two weeks ago, she was featured in an hour-long live concert broadcast on the Bravo channel that showed she could do a mean Irish step dance while sawing away on a violin tucked under her chin. MacMaster said the response to the televised concert was stunning: Her mother, who helps manage her career, is still busy filling 150 orders for her new “Live” CD that came in after the broadcast.

MacMaster is a master of the Cape Breton style of fiddling. She comes from a musical family with Scottish lineage; she is the grandniece of veteran fiddler Buddy MacMaster.

“Cape Breton music is rooted in the Scottish tradition, in the mid-17th century,” she said. “There’s no improvising but you can add your own tastes. But a good violinist from home would stick to that. In Cape Breton, there’s more fiddle players per capita than anywhere, but in (the whole) world that would only be a speckle.”

While she will always play in the Cape Breton style, MacMaster is also sure she will spread her wings to embrace other genres such as funk, rock, techno, Latin and pop.

“It’s not like it’s a conscious decision,” she said, explaining that her drummer introduced an African groove to one of her songs while her guitarist’s interest in flamenco infiltrated their music making.

MacMaster plans to release a DVD around Christmas and another CD early next year. She hopes to focus more on songwriting, which she describes as a “forced process” in her case. And, of course, she will continue touring.

“I will never end doing it (touring) completely,” she said. “I enjoy performing live, but not at this pace, not forever.”

Celtic fiddle player Natalie MacMaster and her five-piece band will perform 7 p.m. Friday at the Seventh Annual Free Outdoor Concert on the northeast lawn of the Lied Center.The Family Arts Festival will coincide with the free concert. The festival is from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Lied Center’s garden courtyard area on the east side of the building. Festivities will include prize giveaways, concessions, free balloons, clowns, face painting and information provided by arts and community organizations.The outdoor concert is free and open to the public. If the weather is inclement, the concert and arts festival will move inside the Lied Center.For more information, call the Lied Center, 864-ARTS.