Barra MacNeils

The Barra MacNeils are, from left, Lucy, Kyle, Stewart, Boyd and Sheumas MacNeil. Missing is bassist Jamie Gatti.

Cape Breton Island’s MacNeil family could teach a thing or two to dysfunctional families.

Aside from growing up as siblings, they’ve been performing together for almost three decades and all still live in the same small community they grew up in.

“We work hard and are fairly diplomatic about most things,” said Stewart MacNeil. “We have our moments like any family, but we all love what we do and consider ourselves fortunate to be able to do it.”

And to say they spend a lot of time together is an understatement. Throw in the performance, practice and recording times, and it makes co-operation even more important.

“We've been performing as a group now for more than 27 years,” said MacNeil.

So it’s only fitting the family comes to the Kelowna Community Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 17, to perform A Celtic Christmas, celebrating the most cherished of annual family events.

Christmas specials have become a yearly event for the Barra MacNeils. Their 2000 TV Christmas Special is still broadcast every year in Canada and the U.S., and they recorded another special in 2007. And then there are the annual Christmas tours.

“But the live concert evolves every season with new material and arrangements; so other than there being some common selections, the live concert is longer, with more material and energy,” said MacNeil. “It’s difficult to convey the energy of a live concert experience on TV.”

As a group, there are six of them — only bassist Jamie Gatti is not a MacNeil, but Stewart MacNeil says he has been with the group for so many years he is considered “an honourary MacNeil.”

The group has recorded 17 albums and is regarded as one of the best live acts in the Celtic world. Their recordings have included their own original songs as well as tried and true standards, both instrumental and vocal, some of which have achieved Gold record status in Canada.

There’s a good reason the family group is deeply rooted in Celtic music, culture and history.

“The Scottish and Irish heritage prevalent on the East Coast (including Newfoundland and Labrador) brought with it the music, the culture and the traditions,” said MacNeil. “Many of those elements are alive and well in the modern day out East.”

The Barra MacNeils have been to the Valley a number of times, but always manage to change things up a bit.

“We try to add new material and new twists to the show all the time to keep it fresh,” said MacNeil. “We all have ideas from time to time and we try things out to see if they work or fit.”

And that’s why a Barra MacNeils live concert experience brings so much more to the stage than other live acts. It includes multiple lead vocalists, beautiful sibling harmonies, top drawer instrumental prowess on a wide variety of acoustic, stringed, percussion and wind instruments, as well as comedy, dancing and storytelling

Although Celtic music holds a high place for the Barra MacNeils, it’s not the only musical genre on their iPods.

“We all listen to a wide variety of music — jazz, classical, folk and popular current music, country, pop and rock,” said MacNeil. “We love it all.”

And it all stemmed from their home life when growing up.

“Depending who was playing, singing or dancing at any given time, you might hear anything from folk to country to traditional tunes,” added MacNeil. “It all helped shape us.”

Quick Facts:

Who: The Barra MacNeils

When: Tuesday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Kelowna Community Theatre

Tickets: $41.50, available at the box office at Prospera Place by phone at 250-762-5050 or online at All seats reserved.

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