Loreena McKennitt is a busy woman. Besides being the face of today’s Celtic music, an authority on Celtic history, one of the most successful independent musicians of all time, owner of her own record label, Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the founder of the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, the two-time Juno winner has embarked on another tour.
The world music chanteuse and Canadian icon will be joined by Brian Hughes and Caroline Lavelle, reuniting the Grammy-nominated trio of 2012’s “Troubadours on the Rhine,” for a series of U.S. shows including Segerstrom Center on March 13.
This bare-bones version of McKennitt’s typically extensive backing band allows for a certain kind of magic that KcKennitt said fans will not want to miss.
“It’s more intimate, and certain pieces shine in this setting,” she said during a recent interview. “I think it also allows for more of the storytelling about my research and travels. Instead of a big number of musicians having to sit around waiting for me to finish talking, I only have two.”
The set list will be largely comprised of songs from “Troubadours on the Rhine,” along with a new addition exploring a time in history very close to McKennitt’s Irish-Canadian heart.
“I’ve inserted a 15-minute segment [a combination of poems, eyewitness accounts, and songs] devoted to a very particular period of Irish-Canadian history, from the time of the famine in the 1840s to the time of the Civil War in 1921.”
McKennitt’s interest and sweeping knowledge of Celtic music and history can be traced back to her time spent in a woodworking shop in Winnipeg, where Irish and Scottish alike would meet and trade traditional songs and stories.
“People would bring their instruments and play songs or play along with other people’s songs. Folks would come with vinyl recordings and you’d borrow them from each other. Because you would have to import them, it was very difficult to get some of those recordings, so it was a good hub for that, and a camaraderie went along with that.”
That’s an appropriate example of her “Village” philosophy; a communal and regional intimacy and uniqueness that has been lost with the introduction of mass media.
“As a child you just had your family and your village,” she explained. “This village life was often very, very rich with social activities that could be music, or dance, or storytelling, or food, and I think that once television came into our houses we became more passive and feeling like those kinds of activities were relegated to the past and didn’t have much relevance to us. Now that we’ve tasted 20 years of the digital experiment, we’ve realized that maybe it’s more shallow than we had expected.”
McKennitt’s shows harken back to this experience of a shared culture, enriching her songs with the context of Celtic history, poetry, and stories, an experience she clearly relishes.
“We really look forward to touring. I often feel that the people who come to my concerts, they’re very interested and passionate about a lot of things that I’m interested and passionate about, and were we to all live closer we’d probably be friends.”
With boundless curiosity and such a studious nature, McKennitt has always been a self-starter. Back in the 80’s, she started her own record label out of her kitchen (Quinlan Road), which she still runs to this day.
“I wish I could say I knew what I was doing at the time, but I really didn’t,” she said with a laugh. “It was more like I knew what I didn’t want, or what didn’t feel comfortable.”
One of the perks of owning your own label? Re-releasing your catalogue on vinyl. Troubadours on the Rhine will be available March 8, an exciting turn of events for McKennitt, who obviously misses some of the niceties of eras gone by.
“There used to be that great anticipation of it. You would go to the store, you had that relationship with the store owner who loved pairing their customers with music. Then there’s bringing the package home, opening it, smelling it, the ritual of putting it on the turnstile. Those of us who were old enough to experience vinyl richness and ritual will probably be very happy that this is back. The question is, will those who haven’t grown up with vinyl, is there enough to it that satisfies a contemporary mind, because what you don’t get of course is the portability—you still have to turn it over,” she said laughingly.
Tickets for Loreena McKennitt start at $49. Call (714) 556-2787 or visit SCFTA.org.