Loreena McKennitt is probably one of the smartest musicians you will ever come across. For one, she can play at least four different instruments, but more so than that is her deep interest, knowledge and research on Celtic history and their travels throughout the world. Many songs were preceded by stories of her time in Europe and Asia Minor, where she often re-traced the steps of our Celtic Ancestors. It may surprise some to know that her adventures took her to Turkey, Mongolia, China, and parts of Eastern Europe. In a way, it makes sense given the gypsy lifestyle of many early Irish settlers (Irish travelers as they are known). Like her personal journey, the audience experienced a musical voyage that spanned many cultures, genres, histories, countries, and styles.
While McKennitt is technically classified as a Celtic musician, her music is not the rah-rah get-up-and-dance sea shanties or fiddle playing jigs and reels one would normally associate with the style. Rather, her songs are more traditional Irish Laments, each piece an intricately woven dream of time, space, and sound. A sufferer of synethesia would be right at home during a Loreena McKennitt. She has a powerful and ethereal soprano voice that is enhanced by the many instruments on stage.
Speaking of instruments, there were quite a number of then. McKennitt had seven backing musicians – many of whom made multiple sounds. Toys that appeared on stage were: electric guitar, bouzouki, udin, hurdy-gurdy, bodhran, triangle, drums, djembe, clarinet, Uilleann Pipes, tin whistle, double bass, cello, and electric fiddle. McKennitt herself played piano, keyboards, accordian and the harp. That’s quite the list. Given the sheer volume of instruments, as well as McKennitt’s European travels, it is not surprising the concert expanded beyond Celtic and delved into world music. There were French-inspired tunes (a given considering the accordion), middle eastern, and klezmer (again, not surprising given the hurdy-gurdy, which although it is a Hungarian instrument, is commonly found in gypsy culture in Romania and across Eastern Europe). There were even tunes that came from the town of Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of Northern Spain. While the town is more known as christian Pilgrimage sight due to St. James Cathedral and the road to it – The Way of St. James (which inspired the 2010 movie The Way, starring father and son duo Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) – it also has a very rich musical culture.
This was a show that had all the elements working (a coincidence that McKennitt’s first album was titled Elemental). McKennitt was a tour-de-force playing for almost three hours – two full sets plus two encores – and had about four standing ovations. Her music almost put me to sleep a few times, not because I was tired, but because that when I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the stage sink in, I was keenly aware of a metaphysical, spiritual, almost out-of-body experience trance-like state that it put me in. While I am a huge fan of Celtic music and anything with a fiddle and/or bodhran, McKennitt reminded me of what a beautiful and majestic instrument the harp is. I’m still feeling the peaceful aftereffects. It is a musical journey that was an epic tale of history, manifested by eight glorious musicians.