Loreena McKennitt Richard Haughton photo

I have been a fan of Celtic music all my life. Many years ago I got the opportunity to interview Loreena McKennitt and meet with her after the Canadian singer/songwriter’s performance at Merrill Auditorium. I think it was in the early ’90s when she was touring to support “The Visit” album. I was stunned by the purity of her voice, the warmth and confidence present in the music she created, and her presentation of it live was transformative to me to the extent that it left me speechless and in total awe of McKennitt’s talent.

I recently learned that she was returning to that venerable venue on Oct. 11, touring with the 32nd anniversary of that break-out album that went worldwide via Warner Music Canada. Needless to say, I asked for the chance to chat with the influential global artist once more and was thrilled when she called me from her Quinlan Road’s office in Stratford, Ontario. I began by asking her when the last time she played Merrill Auditorium was?
McKennitt: Well, I think it would be fair to say that it’s been five or six years for sure, something like that.

Q: I don’t know how I missed that one but seeing you are returning, I have to ask: Will this upcoming show be a solo performance?
McKennitt: No, I’ll be having some very longtime colleagues of mine with me. There’ll be Hugh Marsh on fiddle, Caroline Lavelle on cello, Brian Hughes on guitars and Dudley Phillips on bass, that’s the configuration.

Q: What will you be performing?
McKennitt: The music is going to primarily focus on “The Visit.” We’re going to perform the whole recording in order (laughter). But because we had released another recording called “Lost Souls” after we last toured in the United States, we’re also going to be featuring pieces from that recording, which we never really toured on. So that’s kind of what we have in mind.

Q: Well, having gone on your website, it looks like this new tour actually begins in Portland.
McKennitt: Yes.

Q: And that’s neat because not a lot of tours begin in our fair state.
McKennitt: And it’s such a beautiful place, too, it really is (laughter). And I also know Portland from the standpoint (that) we’ve mastered with Bob Ludwig there for many years, he’s a guru.


Q: He knows his stuff.
McKennitt: Oh, for sure, for sure, yeah.

Q: Now, are you working on something new now, a new album, maybe?
McKennitt: No, we just announced a European tour for March through April of next year, and we’re likely to launch another European one next summer. We’re just trying to figure out the path forward. It’s been very tenuous, as you can appreciate, with COVID; usually you start building a tour a year in advance but because the unpredictability of COVID, and the mere nature of the fact that if I were to get (it) we cannot get insurance for that, so I’m not working on anything new.

Q: I was not aware of the intricacies of hitting the road to go out and do shows.
McKennitt: The touring world continues to be quite unpredictable and when something like a pandemic comes along then the touring industry is pretty precarious; so we’re moving step by step and see how much we can do where and how long. I mean, anything could be possible, this could actually be my last year of touring all together, it depends on the conditions of the landscape.

Q: Now if you do decide that this is your last year of touring, and I truly hope that that is not the case, are you going to continue making music?
McKennitt: Well, there’s not a business argument to do that. To make the kind of music that I have, which has involved a lot of eclectic instruments and musical genres and idioms from around the world, that’s actually quite an expensive creative footprint. So what’s far simpler is to just go into the studio and do something with the piano or the harp, or bass and cello or something; but that kind of music that I’ve created, particularly since ’91 through to “An Ancient Muse” that was released in 2006, is actually a very expensive musical footprint. So, do I want to, or can I, execute my creative ideas with just piano, guitar, cello and violin? Not really, (chuckle) not really. And then there’s the business model of the music industry with streaming where you get paid maybe 10 cents per 1,000 plays or .00013 cents on Google where you used to be paid 25 cents per song on vinyl or CD. It’s a business model that’s just not viable to go and make new music. I think that’s why you see a lot of very, very talented musicians leave the industry, leave their profession, and that leaves either the highly, highly accomplished, like the Taylor Swifts and those mega-artists, or you’ve got young people who don’t have families who are just starting out and they might even be very, very well-known but they may not be making much money at all. They may be sitting below the poverty line.

Q: This is so disheartening to hear you say these things because as someone who has been a music journalist for over 50 years now, to hear that things are bottoming out like this, it’s like a punch in the gut, as I imagine it must be for you, as well!
McKennitt: Well, I mean, it is hugely disappointing, I don’t think it had to be this way but we’re coming to comprehend the so-called unintended consequences of unfettered technology that’s come from Silicon Valley and all those other tech companies.

Q: What then is the answer, if there is one?
McKennitt: I say to the public, when you have choices, buy as directly from the artist as possible, reflect on the fact that analog and physical things have a lot to offer: liner notes and production notes, and that, most importantly, actually, in those formats, artists get more than they do in a streaming format.

Q: This has been a very enlightening chat. I’m certainly more informed about the industry than I was before and I thank you for that. Now, is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article about your return to Merrill Auditorium on Oct. 11th?
McKennitt: Well, I think for me probably the main focal point that people would be interested in is that we are going to perform the whole recording, in order, from top to bottom, of “The Visit” and then I’ll be playing after that some of the pieces from my last studio recording called “Lost Souls” that we’ve never toured in the United States on. So they’ll be hearing new material there, and there will be some of my old stories and old jokes, as well (laughter).

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@myfairpoint.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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